Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Castle|
|Produced by||William Castle|
|Written by||Robert Bloch|
|Music by||Van Alexander|
|Cinematography||Arthur E. Arling|
|Edited by||Edwin H. Bryant|
William Castle Productions
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$2,195,000 (rentals)|
Strait-Jacket is a 1964 American horror-thriller film starring Joan Crawford and Diane Baker in a macabre mother and daughter tale about a series of axe-murders. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film was directed and produced by William Castle, and co-produced by Dona Holloway. The screenplay was the first of two written for Castle by Robert Bloch, the second being The Night Walker (1964). Strait-Jacket marks the first big-screen appearance of Lee Majors in the uncredited role of Crawford's husband. The film's plot makes use of the psychological abuse method known as gaslighting.
Lucy Harbin has spent twenty years in a psychiatric hospital for the decapitation axe-murder of her husband (Lee Majors) and his mistress, after catching him cheating on her. After she is released, she takes up residence at the farm of her brother Bill Cutler and sister-in-law Emily.
Lucy's adult daughter Carol, an artist and sculptor who was adopted by the Cutlers, also lives on the farm. She is seemingly unaffected by the grisly murders she had witnessed as a three-year-old child. Carol encourages her mother to dress and act the way she did in the past. Lucy begins playing the vamp and makes passes at her daughter's fiance Michael Fields. She then shocks his parents with a sudden tantrum when they consider their son's marriage to Carol out of the question.
A series of brutal axe-murders then begins, with Lucy's doctor, who is found in the freezer, the first victim, followed by the shady hired man Leo. All signs point to Lucy as the murderer and some believe she is still insane, and should be returned to the hospital. The climax of the film reveals that the murders have actually been committed by Carol.
She has gone to great lengths to make her mother appear to have returned to being a murderer by doing things to stoke Lucy's anxieties. When Carol kills, she disguises herself as her mother, even wearing a mask she created to duplicate her mother's head and face. All this has been done in the hopes that somehow, with Michael's parents out of the way, she could marry the handsome, wealthy young man.
As the film ends, Lucy calmly accepts her responsibility for her daughter's illness and hatred and announces that she is going to visit Carol in the hospital where she is now confined.
After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other older actresses, including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, made numerous horror movies throughout the 1960s. Strait-Jacket is one of the more notable examples of the genre sometimes referred to as psycho-biddy or Grande Dame Guignol.
Crawford replaced Joan Blondell in the role of Lucy Harbin after Blondell was injured at home prior to shooting and could not fulfill her commitment. Crawford's negotiations included script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary, and 15 percent of the profits. Anne Helm, who was originally cast in the role as Carol, was replaced by Diane Baker, reportedly at Crawford's insistence. Baker and Crawford had appeared together in the film The Best of Everything (1959). Baker asserted that the original actress for her part, Anne Helm, had numerous problems with Crawford. According to Baker, Crawford said, "it wasn't working out, her timing was off, she wasn't getting it, she wasn't seeing eye-to-eye, or she wasn't working the way Crawford wanted to work" on the 'making-of' featurette on the DVD of the film.
During the film's original release, moviegoers were given little cardboard axes as they entered the theater. At the end of the closing credits, the Columbia logo's torch-bearing woman is shown in her traditional pose, but decapitated, with her head resting at her feet on her pedestal.
Critics disliked the film but praised Crawford's performance, the general critical consensus being that she was better than the material. Variety noted, "Miss Crawford does well by her role, delivering an animated performance." Judith Crist commented in the New York Herald Tribune that "it's time to get Joan Crawford out of those housedress horror B movies and back into haute couture ... this madness-and-murder tale ... might have been a thriller, given Class A treatment." Elaine Rothschild in Films in Review wrote, "I am full of admiration for Joan Crawford, for even in drek like this she gives a performance."
Bosley Crowther, however, wrote a scathing review of both the film and Crawford's performance in The New York Times, declaring, "Joan Crawford has picked some lemons, some very sour lemons, in her day, but nigh the worst of the lot is "Strait-Jacket". He goes on to call the film a "disgusting piece of claptrap."Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post also hated the film, calling it "likely to stand as the worst picture of the year ... Apart from the absurdity of the plot and the chilling predictability of lines and situations, 'Strait-Jacket' is inexcusable for its scenes of violence."
The film has reasonably high reviews on the Internet Movie Database, with a score of 6.8 out of 10, based on 3,706 votes (February 2018). The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. The film also maintains an 80% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 5 reviews.
Assisted by Castle's promotion gimmicks, including in-person appearances by Crawford, the film was a big hit.
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