Simply Double Creepy Sunday Nite Surreal: Just Leave the Rotting Bodies in the Spare Room!

Both films have that right amount of reductive 70s horror enchantment….!

CRIMINALLY INSANE 1975

Alden in Criminally Insane 1975

Priscilla Alden is Crazy Fat Ethel…

Now let me say right here and now, that I do not advocate fat-phobic themes and story lines. I avoided watching this film for that very reason.

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“She’s 250 Pounds of Maniacal Fury” -tagline

But on one particular insomnia ridden night, I felt the urge to try and embrace a 70s horror trope for the sake of being well versed in my classic horror knowledge. I have to say that I was truly impressed by the simplistic and claustrophobic view with which I experienced Priscilla Alden’s performance. An unstable woman who is released from an institution after she is deemed ready to face society again. The film is directed fluidly by Nick ‘Philips’ Millard

The opening titles have such a purely creepy simplicity to it, it makes me think of Saul Bass doing a film school project. It sets up the moodiness and the isolation that is pervasive throughout the film.

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And what I took away from this very elementary vision of madness was this… This gem of a horror film is NOT about fear of fat girls, or conflating obesity with mental illness. What I got from the story was that Ethel Janowski is just a mentally ill woman, whose food represented her comfort, her freedom and her identity. And when the interfering people in her life, like her uptight Grandma Janowski (Jane Lambert) or slutty cocaine sniffing parasite of a sister stand between Ethel and her happiness or freedom… Watch out!!!! I won’t even say that Ethel is a likable anti-hero, she’s belligerent, self absorbed, anti-Semitic and homicidal!

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One could say that the food is used as a prop to make Ethel appear more grotesque … Or it might be a commentary on how our culture of excess has unleashed a sort of madness

That’s about it. The idea is that people should be allowed to do what they want even if it’s perceived to be unhealthy for them. Let them eat 6 boxes of Nilla wafers and a gallon of milk. Don’t lock the kitchen cupboard or empty out the refrigerator, don’t be the delivery boy who insists that $4.50 isn’t gonna cover it,treat them like imbecile children nor a nosy neighbor be.

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“Did you know they tried to kill me… that goddam Jew doctor gave them orders not to give me enough to eat… two lousy boiled eggs and a piece of dried toast for breakfast… they were trying to save money and starve me while they were at it…”
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Grandma-“Dr Gerard just wants you to lose a little weight” Ethel- “Why what do I need to lose weight for?”

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I never saw Ethel as crazy because she was overweight. It’s everyone else in the film who identifies her illness as being connected with her being ‘fat. I see her as just another off-balanced damaged soul on that old rickety Ferris Wheel of life., who gets triggered by the people around her to go even more crazy when she feels threatened or out of control.

The mood is fabulous, I think of Don’t Look in The Basement the very stark and realistic tone of the plain environment, that still holds a sense of strange & lurking weirdness. Thanks to the cinematography by Karil Ostman and the sound by Ronald Gertz that works so well to conform to the queasy atmosphere and Ethel’s derangement.

THE CANNIBAL MAN 1973 or Week of the Killer

or (US dubbed release “The Apartment on the 13th Floor”-again misleading as all the murders take place in Marcos’ little historic house that keyholes the backdrop of modernity and the high rise apartments of the nouveau riche.

The Cannibal Man

Directed by Eloy De La Iglesia known for his interesting To Love, Perhaps to Die 1973  with Sue Lyon, Christopher Mitchum, and Jean Sorel.

Just a word of warning there is a very disturbing scene in the beginning that takes place in the slaughter house. Those of you as sensitive to animal cruelty or killings like myself would advise you to skip the first awful minute and get into the wonderful jazz score by Fernando G. Morcillo that leads you out of the charnel house and into the openness of the city.

First to clarify one thing about The Cannibal Man… the film has nothing to do with cannibalism, and it is unfortunate that such a moody psychological film should be anchored with a label that would give the wrong impression of the story. I am a fan of Spanish horror films, and I am actually adding this one to my list of favorites, having navigated around the title and sitting with the film on it’s own terms. A film about an alienated man, who is surrounded by a landscape of modernity taking over the quaint and a pervading sense of loneliness and futility. Marcos is a tragic figure in a very bloody play.

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Vincente Parra is perfect as the virile yet detached Marcos… a fascinating character. the archetypal outsider who stumbles into a whirlpool of trouble in a single moment of fate that makes him spiral into a fog of Sisyphusian madness, filled with a diss-associative savagery that lifts the film out of ordinary gore into art-house butchery.

Marcos works for the local slaughterhouse. One night while on a date looking for a taxi with his girlfriend they find a very nasty and violent cabby who kicks them out of his cab when he gets offended by the couple kissing in the back seat. Marcos argues with him and refuses to pay for the ride. The driver actually physically punches Marcos and then assaults Paula (Emma Cohen) In a fit of rage and legitimate self defense Marcos picks up a large rock and kills Goyo Lebrero the taxista.

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Marco manifests a strange neutrality around the situation. Back at Marco’s house Paula insists on going to the police and telling them what happened. Marco begs her to understand that the police won’t believe it was an accident. “Don’t you see Paula, if I go to the police they will never listen to someone as poor as I am…”

Marcos says that her parents will be furious that she’s been seeing him and he just can’t afford to get into trouble. But… she refuses to listen to him. She breaks it off with him, telling him that she won’t be made a fool of, and marriage shouldn’t be based on lies. You can see Marco begin to uncoil at that moment. “So I can go to the police… or I can go to hell right!”

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Marco places the dead Paula on his bed as if she is sleeping. An act of remorse and his growing confusion….

Marco kisses her as his hands crush the life from her throat, we see her struggle, a close up of her green eyes and Marcos with a somnambulist sense of self preservation, a killing machine that must operate to keep himself one step away from the horrible incident with the cab driver and the insanity that has been let out of his head.

What makes the film so eerie and realistic is this nightmarish cycle, this spiraling out of control pace where Marco must continue to remove all obstacles that threaten his sense of autonomy as an outlier in the world. Even from the beginning we get the sense that he is not as interested in marrying Paula as she is about marrying him.

Once his brother comes to the house, his brother’s fiancée looking for him and her inquisitive father show up, oh and the nice local waitress Rosa (Vicky Lagos) who has had her eyes on Marcos, he must continue to kill each one in order to protect his secret.

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Marcos’ simple little house becoming the ‘killing field’ is more than a bit unsettling.

He begins posing the bodies in his sparse bedroom, using as much room freshener as he can, before the smell of death becomes too obvious. Yet on the outside he acts as if nothing has happened, or that there are several rotting bodies in his bedroom. He then takes them to the slaughter house piece by piece in his duffel bag.

The ordinary look of Marcos’ simplistic home, the bachelor setting, his wall of tools, no frills, no style or I should say money for such privileges is perhaps necessary for the very trappings of an under class worker in the early 1970s. There is an overt sense to the film about classist friction …

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Marcos’ humble working class house….
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Néstor ‘s opulent apartment complex that towers over Marcos little home… the disparity between the classes is an obvious stresser and sub-text to the narrative…

Of particular interest is the relationship that develops between Marcos and the handsome bourgeois Néstor (Eusebio Poncela )who lives on the 13th floor of the high rise behind Marcos humble little cottage. Néstor’s interactions with Marcos allow him to be free of the fear and frenzy he is submerged in. There is an element of homosexual attraction for both men. It’s a poignant chemistry and adds a layer of realism in the midst of the bloody fugue of Marcos’ environment and identity. At one point Marco speaks of his bad memories… Néstor suggests that he should perhaps “bury them’ already. It leaves us wondering if the tranquil authoritative and voyeuristic fellow knows what the mysterious Marcos has been doing but is a silent admirer out of love.

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Néstor perhaps speaks the most telling idea of the story when he tells Marco who warns him about the dangerous wild dogs that roam the area, while walking his Boxer who is in heat… “There’s no danger, a well fed dog is always stronger than the hungry ones”

This has been your everlovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ in any case, never run out of air freshner!

Joan Crawford Interview on Baby Jane “You want to bring the audience in with you, so close to you”

Great little snippet of Joan talking about the film What Ever Happened To Baby Jane 1962 Classic Grand Guignol Cinema.

Baby Jane Movie Trailer

MonsterGirl

Saturday Film Score: “Sweet Charlotte” by Jo Gabriel * Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte

“Sweet Charlotte” by Jo Gabriel from my Gothic Neo-Classical album  The Last Drive In

Tribute to the great Bette Davis! and her performance in the Grande Gothic Cinema piece by director  Robert Aldrich

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part VI conclusion: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “Ruined finery…that’s all I have left”

THE VISUAL NARRATIVE “Ruined Finery”

Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part VI conclusion: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “Ruined finery…that’s all I have left””

MonsterGirl Quicky: Bette Davis with Dick Cavett on Gratitude and Hollywood

BETTE DAVIS INTERVIEW WITH DICK CAVETT: Snippet on gratitude and working in Hollywood

This is why I love this woman; she is immortal, she is extraordinary, there will never be another like her!

M.G.

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Aldrich’s Hag Cinema: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte Part IV “Murder starts in the heart and it’s first weapon is a vicious tongue”

HUSH…HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) – Continued

Charlotte is sipping her coffee and hears a car pull up. She’s holding her shot gun. She sets the china cup down and starts to get up, moving toward the door, we hear a small bird chirping, then the police vehicle is coming up the drive encircled by glorious oak trees. Charlotte closes the door and runs to the great hall calling “Velma!” Velma comes to the top of the banister looking through the wooden slats down at Charlotte. She hangs over the edge “What?” in a long drawn out suspension of the word.

Velma is unpretentious and could be perceived as a crude woman. She’s like an unmade bed or someone who looks like she just rolled out of one, and she doesn’t throw away her words. She strong, sensible and reliable. Velma, disheveled, unkempt by the years of working as a caretaker to her Miss Charlotte, is misleadingly simple yet she is sturdy and obviously faithful to her mistress. Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Aldrich’s Hag Cinema: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte Part IV “Murder starts in the heart and it’s first weapon is a vicious tongue””

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies”

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)

 

Directed by Robert Aldrich, written by Henry Farrell, who also wrote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), How Awful About Allan (1970) and the made for tv film The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) scripted by Lukas Heller and Farrell. Starring, the legendary Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis and Olivia de Havilland as cousin Miriam Dearing, Joseph Cotten as Drew. The inimitable Agnes Moorehead as Velma Cruthers. Cecil Kellaway as Harry Mills and Victor Buono as Big Sam Hollis,  Mary Astor as Jewel Mayhew and a very young Bruce Dern as John Mayhew. George Kennedy as the foreman and extra recasting of Wesley Addy as Sheriff Luke Standish and Dave Willock from Baby Jane.

Aldrich apparently had another hit with his 2nd genre film, which opened to generally positive reviews. With the exception of this scathing review in The New York Times, by Bosley Crowther who couldn’t have been more off the mark, he writes “So calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying.”

Again, I wholly disagree with Crowther, as this film wasn’t meant to be as campy as Baby Jane, and “funny” is an odd word for the film as well, nor was there an unwritten rule that said Aldrich, had to restrain some of the grisly details from this picture. I don’t believe chaining an invalid to a bed, feeding them road kill and slowly starving them to death, is the less disgusting proposal. And as far as being brutally sickening, I see Charlotte as a hauntingly nightmarish allegory.

Let me say that I loved Peter Shelley’s book. He compiled some great examples of the genre and added a lot of information and insight to the subject matter, I was with him all the way, so the few points of divergence in our opinions of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte aren’t a slight to the author at all. According to Peter Shelley in his Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from Baby Jane to Mother , chapter on Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte the film suffered from the absence of Joan Crawford. Shelley considered the follow up film to be a “bloated reprisal of the pivotal components of the earlier film” (pg.57). Actually I think quite the contrary about this suspenseful, understated film. It has less feeling of a”bloated” extension of the first Hag film, as Charlotte appears more distilled, virtually more refined in it’s subtle use of hallucinatory machinations, with a very cogent argument for Charlotte’s sustained ire and melancholy. Shelley considers the location an attempt to surpass the Grande Guignol aspect of it’s predecessor by placing it in a southern Gothic milieu, the Ascension Parish but he thinks it fails with it’s “florid exoticism” again because it lacks the electrifying cast choice by not rejoining Crawford and Davis. Additionally, I say too much of a good thing becomes a device therefor a reuniting of the two would have minimized the impact that the prior collaboration by both film stars made with Baby Jane. I think that Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte is perhaps even an elegant piece and stands well on it’s own, as a taut psychological standpoint of the regressive woman and at it’s very essence is an ideal Grande Dame film.

I think Crawford would have brought a certain purposeful intensity that worked for her in so many films, but would have overshadowed the interplay between Davis’s Charlotte and Olivia de Havilland’s subtle malignant charm of her characterization of cousin Miriam. Supposedly after the great success of Baby Jane, Crawford agreed to do a follow up film. Aldrich encouraged writer Henry Farrell to create a new story called “What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte?” Bette Davis asked that the title be changed to fit the line from the song. And so Aldrich agreed and Davis signed on. Crawford however wanted her name to come first on the credits, unlike Baby Jane where Davis’s name appeared left of screen or side by side. Leftward being the more pronounced association as the star. Bette Davis even agreed to this provision. Once shooting began in Baton Rouge on June 4th 1964 Davis only got to film one scene with Crawford, where she watches Crawford enter the mansion. Otherwise they never did another scene together from that point on. The production was put on hold because Davis was called away to finish some re-shoots on Where Love Has Gone in Los Angeles. Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies””

Grande Dames/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part II: Baby Jane: “You mean all this time we could have been friends?”

“Lunatics are similar to designated hitters.Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside” -Suzanna Kaysen from Girl Interrupted (1993)

*This is featured as part of my Women in Peril series*

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) Directed by Robert Aldrich. The film Stars Bette Davis, Joan Crawford Victor Buono, Marjorie Bennett, and Maidie Norman as Elvira

“But you “are” Blanche, you “are” in that chair!”~ these are the words I often utter to myself or amongst friends, merely cause it tickles me.

I could question whether or not Aldrich made these films as a vehicle in which to translate the lives of the psychologically intricate , often tragic women which he viewed through a sympathetic lens, or perhaps some of his female driven films are an exercise in misogyny.

So was he a misogynist? Perhaps some might find the portrayal of his female characters unattractive, or maybe he didn’t differentiate between his male and female roles. He was definitely more focused on both genders’ struggle. These outliers of society who couldn’t simply fit in, so if the film’s driving character happened to be a woman then it would stand to reason she would also be an outcast or damaged in some way. If he did make a distinction as to the gender, he was mostly preoccupied with the character’s system of dealing with the obstacles they faced in their lives. It does appear that his “women” usually are the solitary focus, while his “men” are framed as groups of men trapped by precarious situations.

Robert Aldrich is still one of my all time favorite directors.

Aldrich always brings us a story that is cynical and gritty with very flawed characters who are at the core ambiguous as either the protagonist or the antagonist. Aldrich studied economics in college, then dropped out and landed a very low paying job at first as a clerk with RKO Radio Pictures Studio in 1941.

He studied with such great directors such as Jean Renoir and it was his training in the trenches that made him the auteur he is, delving inside the human psyche and questioning what is morality? Aldrich went on to become the assistant director, script writer and associate producer, to various filmmakers whom were later on targeted by the black list.

Aldrich has a flare for the dramatic, he likes to break molds and cross over boundaries. He also has a streak of anti-authoritarianism running through the veins of his films. There aren’t just traces of his ambivalence toward the Hollywood machine in his film philosophy, he also conflates the ugly truths beneath the so called American Dream and the “real” people who inhabit that world.

He died in 1983, And while he remained inside the Hollywood circle, he maintained an outsider persona. He memorialized the misfits and outcasts by making them the anti-heroes in his work, all of which ultimately were destined to fall because they refused to play the conformity game. Continue reading “Grande Dames/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part II: Baby Jane: “You mean all this time we could have been friends?””

Grande Dames/ Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema “But you *are* Blanche, you *are in that chair” Part I

What Ever Happen To Baby Jane (1962)

At the start of Baby Jane the screen is pitch black, we can hear a child sobbing. The 1st prologue begins 1917. The screen still blacked out, we hear a man’s voice say “Don’t you want to see it again,little girl?” This is setting up an eerily invasive narrative as we do not know yet if it is something sinister making the child cry. The male voice adds “It shouldn’t frighten you” then a quick jump cut and we are able to see a Jack in the Box toy popping up, causing terror in the child. Now we actually see the little girl staring at the toy with tear soaked cheeks as she gasps for air.The toy has disturbed her with it’s quick movements and odd expression. There is a shot of its peculiar face which has an uncanny shedding of tears down it’s tin cheeks. The use of children’s toys in horror films has often been used as a mechanism to evoked fear or otherworldly dread in us, as if they might embody some incarnate evil. Here is a great link to Horror Film History’s website.

http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/index.php?pageID=childsp

Next we hear vaudeville music and see Baby Jane Hudson’s name up in lights on the marquee of the theater. The theater is sold out, Jane is tap dancing in spot light, to Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River” in front of a packed house.Her father is waiting off stage with Blanche and their mother. He is rallying her with encouragement from the wings while the wife looks solemnly at him, simultaneously young Blanche is looking at him with resentment. Both figures are feeling left out. Young Blanche is played by Julie Allred who was marvelous as little Priscilla in the Boris Karloff Thriller episode Mr.George.

Mr Ray Hudson played by Dave Willock comes out to a cheering audience holding a banjo, and tells the crowd okay folks one final request. A little freckle faced boy stands up and requests “I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy” And so the lights dim and father sits at the piano to accompany his little girl on this very popular tune.The voice has such a warbling vibrato that it makes little Jane sound bizarre and incongruous (no offense to the singer Debbie Burton) as a child’s voice. She sings with such a sugary exaggeration. Jane’s got the affected style of performer down to all the over reaching body gestures indicative of a ham. Holding the letter to her heart, kissing it, looking upward toward the ceiling sky. “And wish you were here with us to love” as she sings this line she wraps her arms around herself clinging as if the embrace a lover but meant for her father.

Mr Hudson, Jane’s daddy comes out from behind the piano and joins his daughter in a dance,which make them appear as if a romantic couple. From the side of the stage we see the expressions on Mrs Hudson’s face and young Blanch , there is obviously no room in the father and Jane’s relationship for either sister Blanche or the mother.

After the performance a little boy runs on stage and hands Jane a replica Baby Jane doll of her very own. Jane’s daddy is a showman all the way, “folk’s have you ever seen such a lovely doll” (he in fact has objectified his daughter, as well as exploited her for profit “a genuine Baby Jane” doll. “And kids remember you can tell your moms that each and every one of these genuine beautiful great big dolls is an exact replica of your own Baby Jane Hudson.” Continue reading “Grande Dames/ Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema “But you *are* Blanche, you *are in that chair” Part I”

MonsterGirl’s Quote of The Day! What Ever Happened To Baby Jane

” But you are Blanche ; You are in that chair”-Bette Davis, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane