FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Oct 6, 2008

Film Club: Strait-Jacket

Holy crapping crap, did I pick a good one with Strait-Jacket, folks! William Castle + Joan Crawford + axe murders + wigs = I AM IN HEAVEN without my face, for my face has been rocked way, way off.

The story is oh so simple in its simplicity: Lucy Harbin (Joan effing Crawford) came home early from an out of town trip to find her younger husband (Lee Majors!) post-flagrante and sound asleep in bed with his chosen floozy. Lucy doesn't scream and yell, oh no; rather, she grabs the nearest axe and makes with the axing, giving the lovers a number of whacks that seems to exceed the Lizzie Borden-recommended forty.

Her young daughter Carol witnesses the slaughter; earlier she witnessed her dad and the floozy floozing out- I guess you could say that Carol had an exceptionally great night.

Lucy is shipped off to the nuthouse ("Extra! Extra! Love slayer insane!") and now it's twenty years on. After moving in with her aunt and uncle, Carol (Diane Baker) has grown up to become a sculptress, a superfox, and the fiancee of the small town's wealthiest, handsomest bachelor, dairy farm heir Michael (John Anthony Hayes). Lucy returns, much plainer and, we hope, much more sane. At Carol's urging, Lucy gets a wig, some jangly bracelets, and a new dress in a bid to pretend that, you know, the last twenty years never happened. Will it work? I mean, wigs can do anything, can't they?

Lucy and Carol work on mending their relationship and getting to know each other, but before long Lucy seems to be slipping back into Cuckoo Town. She hears voices (or does she?) and wakes up to find her victim's heads in her bed (or does she?); she can't keep her eyes off of pointy objects or her daughter's fiance.

Before you know it, Lucy has flipped her new wig and people start losing their heads (like, totally literally), including my man George Kennedy who makes a sweaty appearance as a farm hand.


There's so much awesomeness in this movie, I don't know how they managed to pack it all in to a mere 93 minutes. There are countless touches that make this film a true delight- Joan Crawford trapped in a stripey weirdo bathroom, Joan Crawford knitting like...well, knitting like a madwoman, Joan Crawford lurking, Joan Crawford chopping, Joan Crawford lighting a match by striking it on a spinning jazz record, and OH GOD the film's climax...the list goes on and on.

As you've probably gathered, a great deal of the fun in Strait-Jacket comes courtesy of Joan Crawford. Yeah sure, on the one hand this film is pure William Castle-flavored schlockiness; however, Crawford treats this like it's a much better film and somehow you almost- almost- forget that she's a woman of sixty playing a woman in her forties- and her twenties. Her performance is amped up to eleven but somehow manages to remain largely just shy of pure camp. She's all over the map in the best way possible: she's frail, she's tough, she's brash, she's shy, she's sane, she's psycho. It's obvious she opted to portray Lucy Harbin as if she were Mildred Pierce, Crystal Allen, or any other of the venerable characters Crawford brought to life throughout her rocky career. As such, you find yourself both rooting for and afraid of Lucy- both reactions completely unexpected in a B-trash flick like Strait-Jacket.

Anyone who knows anything about Crawford's personal life will find plenty of parallels to think about with this film, from the Pepsi product placement to that ending (which I just can't give away- it's a treat that needs to be witnessed, not read about), Strait-Jacket is quite the metaphor for the aging starlet's career path.

It cashes in on Psycho (after all, this was also penned by Robert Bloch), it cashes in on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (and every other middle-aged woman as kookadook flick from the '60s); it's lurid and cheesy and it's not so good and it's fucking great...and lord love a movie that ends with this:


Big props and many thanks to the Film Club Coolies, y'all!
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24 comments:

Overthinking It said...

That was an astonishing movie. My two cents can be found by clicking these words. Hey Stacie, is there a way to tell you that the review is up other than in these comments?

Margarita said...

http://iwannabeinthesequel.blogspot.com/2008/10/final-girl-film-club-straight-jacket.html

I wrote a review for it. I really loved this film!! I'm so glad you brought Joan Crawford into my life.

Bill Walsh said...

Wow, that sounds thirty-two kinds of axemurderlicious. The cast alone makes my head spin. Plus Bloch & Castle?! The mind reels.

Paulina Bunyan, she is.

Stacie Ponder said...

You can email me a link to your review at

stacieponder (at) gmail.com

if you like.

Thanks guys! Wow, I introduced someone to Joan Crawford?? My life is complete!

Margarita said...

As is mine! :)

Leetal said...

Oh god I completely forgot. Oh procrastination, why do I suffer so! I shall watch and review this because it looks too awesome to miss, and fully participate next time.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I totally forgot about the Pepsi stuff and the striped out bathroom. I also forgot about the most badass way to light a match ever.

I liked Homicidal better, but this was still chock full o' awesome.

A full 90 minutes of ax murder would have been even better.

padma said...

Let me be the second person to thank you for bringing Joan effing Crawford (and her kick-ass eyebrows) into my life. I never saw this movie coming!

Stacia said...

My god I love this movie! I can't believe I forgot about the Pepsi product placement. Easily one of the best parts of the film.

Pierce said...

Hah! Stacie, I was waiting for you to use the phrase "Wig out" but you went with the equally awesome flipped her wig.

This movie freaking rocked!

I actually watched it not long after watching "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" for the first time. It was a good week!

Dr. Hackenbush said...

I loved Strait-Jacket, one of Castle's best and if anyone wants to see it and has Turner Classic Movies, it's on later this month.

I also want to second Homicidal which completely blows Strait-Jacket away in terms of awesomeness and you even get William knitting at the beginning.

NATHANIEL R said...

thanks for this one. I'm a Crawford devotee but not from her horror work so it was a treat to see this for the first time.

it got me to thinking about how badly this genre needs a revival for our aging movie queens.

Alisha said...

great movie

Winnowill said...

Stacie,

I only discovered your blog last week and have been reading voraciously and laughing until my sides hurt. I've quickly developed a serious girl-crush on you, especially since you sang the praises of the great Strait-Jacket. Only Homicidal tops Strait-Jacket in the William Castle oeuvre (did I just use oeuvre and William Castle in the same sentence?), and the Joan Crawford goodness is unstoppable. I was reminded of this when I saw the scenes in Mommie Dearest when Crawford subs for daughter Christina on that soap opera. That makes about as much sense as the sixtyish Crawford aging from twenties to forties in this film. Willful denial, thy name is Joan!

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Joan frequently played flawed mothers who paid dearly for their failings--not just here, but also in Berserk! and (after a fashion) Trog. That's one reason I don't buy into Christina's version of events; you can't play that role so often without understanding its ramifications in your real-life relationships.

God, that beheaded Columbia logo makes me feel so guilty for laughing, every single time...

Arbogast Alucard said...

Hey, Stacie, you're pretty funny for a girl!

oqpbano!

David said...

Great description of a bravura Joan performance. Gotta give her credit, she never did anything half ass. You may be interested in HAYWIRE! based partly on Strait-Jacket opening Oct. 13 in Chicago.
http://www.handbagproductions.org

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

Loved Strait-Jacket, thanks for recommending it! I gotta say, Crawford seemed to be actually drunk during her drunk flirting scene, which just made it all the more fun:)

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A nice blog~

RoaOC said...

Stacie, you are the awesomist blogger in the blogaverse. Your reviews and recaps over at AE make me laugh soo friggin' hard. Anywho, I'm a late comer to your Film Club and I plan on watching Straight Jacket tonite, tomorrow or sometime between tonight and the release of GnR's next album. Speaking of Joan C., I found this hella cool Youtube clip of her doing
screentests for Straight Jacket. Cool stuff. She was definitely one of a kind.

Search Engine Optimization Services said...

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

Gray Witch said...

Joan still had it!

Esther said...

Hi, Stacie,

A friend just turned me on to your blog - YOU ROCK! And I am a major Joan Crawford fan, so thanks for this write-up on "Strait Jacket" - one of my favorites. Keep up the excellent job on your blog!

Esther at Stax o' Wax
www.stax-o-wax.blogspot.com

The Monster said...

I loved this film. The fact that it is so similar to 'Psycho' only adds to the enjoyment. Its almost a 'remix' of that film, and a trashy, hysterical one at that!