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, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 18, 2022

SHOCKtober Day 18

I tells ya like I'm sure I tolds ya: I will never stop going to bat for the magnificence of William Castle's Strait-Jacket! I reviewed it here once upon a time, I wrote about it for TCM's Movie Morlocks (R.I.P.) (you know what, R.I.P. to all the film blogs, film sites, and writing that has been lost over the years once someone in charge decided that traffic didn't bring in enough advertising dollars to justify the costs of even simple maintenance. I'm not saying that my work needs to be preserved for all time, but it's wild thinking about how much of it is just...gone? Sometimes by my own hand whilst in a pique of 'this isn't good' or even just a bout of boredom, sometimes when sites I don't control go 404. I suppose there's some kind of lesson in there about the freedom that comes with recognizing or confronting the ephemeral nature of our existences, that nothing really matters and so everything matters. None of us can know how long we'll be remembered when we're gone or even if we'll be remembered at all. It's another notion that grants a bit of freedom--we're all just ashes in the end, so girl, have a nice summer and take a chill pill (and other yearbook platitudes) and don't worry that someday even the words you're writing right now will be gone. How is that my business? Will history blame me? Or the BEES?)

Anyway, now that that mini existential crisis is out of the way...Strait-Jacket! It's so great. It even made an appearance in my Top 20 Faves in that SHOCKtober from a couple of years past. Here's what I wrote about it:

It's not William Castle's most bonkers movie, but oh, is Strait-Jacket so much fun. As Lucy Harbin, Joan Crawford takes an axe and gives her cheating lover forty whacks, then emerges from the asylum years later and attempts to rebuild her life and her relationship with her daughter (played by a young Diane Baker, aka one Senator Ruth Martin, she of the fantastic suit). Is Lucy holding on to her sanity? Or is she responsible for all the freshly axed heads rolling around?

It is absolutely as campy as it sounds, of course, but Strait-Jacket is so much more than that thanks to Crawford, who turns in a bravura performance. She approaches the role like she approached every role, committing to Lucy Harbin the way she committed to, say, Mildred Pierce. She goes over-the-top as she vamps it up, putting on her jangly charm bracelet and practically shoving her fingers in the mouth of her daughter's boyfriend as she hits on him. But she also lets us feel the weight of Lucy's guilt and pain over her past and all the years she lost. Seeing her desperately try to hold on as it seems her sanity is slipping away again isn't merely a horror movie "will she or won't she?" thrill, it's downright heartbreaking. She's awards-worthy, quite frankly, in a movie that also features really fake-looking decapitated heads. Actresses like Crawford are why the subgenre is called Grand Dame Guignol, after all. Strait-Jacket is a treasure.
I stand by those words! And so with all that blah blah out of the way, today's favorite character is...


Yes, in one of cinema's most insane twist reveals (this is a William Castle movie, after all), Lucy's young daughter Carol has been running around chopping up people with an axe whilst wearing a mask of her mother's whole damn head. It's a pretty good mask, really, which points to Carol's skills as a sculptor. If only she hadn't used those skills for such nefarious doings! Artists, amirite. So eccentric.

The mask is incredible on its own, sure. But it's also a key player in a tussle fight between Joan Crawford and Diane Baker wearing a rubber Joan Crawford face. You know what? I don't care if every word I've ever written goes poof, so long as this is remembered forever!

1 comment:

Steve said...

The mask was so good that, even though I was convinced fairly early on that Carol was doing all the killing, when she killed Michael's father in the closet, I wavered and thought it was Lucy after all.