Strait-Jacket (1964)
Review by Dindrane

Directed by William Castle
Written by Robert Bloch
Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes


Rating: NR

Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Skip it, unless youíre a die-hard slasher fan

Carol Harbin (Baker) has had a very hard life. As a child, she watched her mother kill her father and her fatherís mistress with an axe. Now, twenty years later, it looks like Carolís life is turning around, as sheís about to be married. But now her mother (Crawford) has been released from the asylum, and bodies are starting to stack up again. Whatís an innocent young girl to do?

The ďasylum/lunaticĒ subgenre of slasher films is usually very creepy, and Iím a huge fan of cinematic psychos in general, but this one just didnít quite make the grade. The plot is no big surprise, even when they seemed to think, in making it, that it would be...and I canít help thinking that another thirty years of film history isnít the problem. As Joan Crawfordís last movie, it would have been nice had this one been of a higher quality, but it just isnít. Even people who enjoy a good slasher pic now and then will be disappointed by the artistic integrity of this film. Yes, Crawford still has it, and Baker is a lovely little ingenue, but thatís about it. Even Crawford canít save this one from being mere camp.

The audio and video quality are better than you might expect, but not stellar. As with many horror films, the filming is often murky, though we are treated to many nice close-up shots of the lovely actresses posing for the camera. Crawfordís costumes deserve the additional attention they get here. Luckily, black and white is generally sharper than color to the human eye. The producers of the DVD did take some care to do the best they could, but with B-movie film stock this old, thereís bound to be some deterioration, and it was probably never the best.

The extras are actually surprisingly beefy. The recently-filmed featurette is a nifty look behind the scenes, but all too short, at about twenty minutes. Itís fun to see the trailers and the screen test, but the real star here is the text discussion of Crawfordís make-up and her costuming. Even people who donít usually pay much attention to these visual elements in a film will be drawn into these discussions, as well as learn a great deal about how such decisions are made when they seem fairly straightforward.

Basically, if you love slasher movies, then you should give this one a rent as an homage to an early scream queen and a real star. It has a gut-level entertainment. If, on the other hand, you arenít keen on the slasher genre, or whatís more, you arenít entirely sure ďslasherĒ should be a genre, donít bother with this one. Itís never quite creepy enough to be truly frightening, and the predictability of the plot ruins what shock value the gore might even have.

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