Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Straightjacket (1964)

Eyebrows manicured, Vaseline on the lens, axe ready---roll camera, Mr. Castle.

William Castle directs this nutty B-horror classic starring the delightfully off kilter Joan Crawford. Straightjacket opens with a flashback of Lucy Harbin (Crawford) arriving home, finding her husband drunk with another woman in their bed. Their daughter, Carol, is asleep in the next room. Lucy spies her cheating husband through the bedroom window and in a rage she grabs an axe, charges the house and chops the pair up in glorious Bill Castle fashion.

Twenty years later a grownup Carol (played by the incredibly cute bob-haired Diane Baker) recalls that ominous night as she tells the tale to her friends and her fiancé, Michael. Carol is anxiously awaiting the release of her mother after her twenty year stint in the nut house.

When Lucy arrives at the bus station we immediately see that she’s slow to aclimate to life outside the institution. Carol does her best to help her mother relax by buying her new clothes, jewelry and a perfectly creepy wig. This seems to help her state of mind, save for her bizarre conversations with the farmhand slaughtering chickens (played by a young George Kennedy) and a drunken flirt fit with Carol’s soon-to-be husband, Michael. But it isn’t long before the axe starts swinging again.

Michael’s parents don’t approve of his marriage to the daughter of a convicted and questionably rehabilitated axe-murderer which leads to a showdown between his mother and Lucy. When confronted with the rumor that she was away in a sanitarium Lucy finally lets it rip in blood-curdling Crawford screech, “No, it was an asylum! And it was hell! Twenty years of pure hell!”

At this point Castle kicks the crazy into high gear with bizarre plot twists, subliminal suggestion, rubber masks and a Crawford vs. Crawford showdown that will blow your mind.

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