Strait-Jacket (1964)

WILLIAM CASTLE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BBBB

USA, 1964.  William Castle Productions.  Screenplay by .    Cinematography by .   Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Joan Crawford is a camp classic delight in this surprisingly engrossing psychodrama. As a young woman (played in flashbacks by Crawford at the age of 59) she hacked up her husband and his girlfriend to pieces, then spent twenty years of her life locked up in an asylum. Now released and declared sane, Crawford is sent to live with her brother and sister-in-law on a remote farm where they have been raising her daughter () since she was incarcerated. Baker is thrilled to have her mother back and desperate to make up for all the years that she missed out on having her near, so she buys her mother the clothing and jewelry she used to wear and has her sport a wig to replicate her youthful appearance. All seems to be going well, but is it? Crawford behaves strangely in her get-up and starts giving Baker’s new boyfriend the fish eye, and there’s that small matter of heads that continue to be chopped up now that she’s back in town. It is pure B-movie kitsch, complete with bad makeup effects and contrived setups for its violence, but at the centre of its false dialogue and stilted performances Crawford is a wonder to behold: this is a woman who had film stock flowing in her veins, and her years in the movies contribute to a performance that is strangely laughable but impressively smooth at the same time. There’s no denying the strength of her experience, and thanks to that the film is incredibly watchable and compelling. Of course, it’s also hilarious, and while you can see its influence in many films (Almodovar’s Women on The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver immediately come to mind), it is safe to assume that its influence on the planet’s drag queen population is far stronger. Features the uncredited screen debut of Lee Majors.

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