Cult Movies: Crazed Horror Strait-Jacket, perfect for a Friday night cult classic

Straitjacket

NO ONE could sell a movie quite like producer-director William Castle. If that meant putting extra bums on movie theater seats, there was no gimmick too cheap or sensationalized for the self-proclaimed king of America’s B-movie.

From wiring movie theater seats to vibrate at key horror moments in Vincent Price’s 1959 shock The Tingler to providing an absurd “fear break” for cowardly patrons unable to sit down during his shameless rip-off Psycho Homicidal ( 1961), Castle did it all.

However, for his 1964 film Strait-Jacket, the director had his ultimate gimmick and unique selling point: Joan Crawford as an axe-wielding maniac.

Crawford plays Lucy Harbin, a farm owner who returns home early one night to find her husband Frank (Lee Majors) in bed with his mistress while her innocent daughter sleeps in an adjacent bedroom.

Driven mad by the vision of infidelity she witnesses, Lucy takes a well-positioned ax and proceeds to bludgeon her husband to death, decapitating him in the process. All of this happens in front of the daughter, who watches as her mother is finally taken to a secure mental institution.

Two decades later, Lucy is returned to the care of her now grown daughter Carol (Diane Baker), who is building a life in her mother’s former home. The problem is, Lucy keeps having flashbacks to that bloody night 20 years before and all the axes lying around the farm aren’t exactly helping her keep it on a level playing field.

There’s also Leo (played by the great George Kennedy), a creepy farmhand, to consider, and as the fresh bodies start to pile up, the locals start to believe that Lucy is up to her old folks again. beheading towers.

In many ways, Strait-Jacket is, despite the pulpy subject matter, one of Castle’s most high-profile productions. Made for Columbia with Psycho writer Robert Bloch on board to provide the script, it was a step above the more egregious B-movie material he normally peddled. Adding the imperious Joan Crawford to such a concoction of box office bait is just icing on the cake.

The actress was enjoying a commercial renaissance after the gothic craze of What Happened To Baby Jane? and plays his meaty role here with absolute conviction, leveraging every crazy moment on screen for all it’s worth.

It applies the same melodramatic magnetism it brought to more respected films such as Mildred Pierce and adds a little horror hokum to the mix with a Tinsel Town charm all its own.

Fast and fun from the get-go, this delivers edgy horror effects for its time – the constant axe-chopping and brutal murder scenes are still working in a crazy way – and never stop until that frankly insane climax leaves you jerking off and wondering “did I really just see that?”.

A hard-to-sell William Castle masterpiece and a fabulous late turn by Joan Collins make Strait-Jacket the perfect fit for a Friday night cult classic.

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