A filmmaking and acting legend team up for the genre classic “Strait-Jacket”, which gets a special-feature packed Blu-ray release from Scream Factory.
Director: William Castle
Producers: William Castle and Dona Holloway
Special Effects: Richard Albain
Cast: Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes, Rochelle Hudson, George Kennedy, Edith Atwater, Mitchell Cox, Vicki Cos, Patricia Crest, Laura Hess, Howard Hoffman, Patty Lee, Lynn Lundgren, Lee Majors and Robert Ward
Released By: Shout!/Scream Factory
Release Date: August 21st, 2018
Film legend Joan Crawford gives a terrific performance in this chiller from pioneer horror movie producer William Castle.
Crawford plays Lucy Harbin, a woman who goes berserk when she finds her husband in bed with another woman. With her three-year-old daughter accidentally witnessing the grisly act, Lucy axes the couple to death. She spends twenty years in a mental institution for the double murder.
After she is released, she moves in with her brother (Leif Erickson), his wife and her own daughter (Diane Baker), now twenty-three. Her nightmare is over … or is it? When a spate of axe murders start occurring suddenly in the neighborhood, police think Lucy has reverted to her old ways. The truth is finally revealed in a rousing, blood-chilling finale.
I have my mother to thank for my appreciation of Joan Crawford. While growing up I was exposed to the many dramatic and romantic roles she played during her career, but it was not until later in life that I became aware of a horror sub-genre she practically help to invent: the psycho-biddy, Grande Dame Guignol, or better known as Hagsploitation!
Legendary director William Castle always knew how to sniff out a hit, and this film was no exception.
The lead role was originally supposed to go to Joan Blondell, but she was injured before shooting and Crawford was brought in to replace her. While many would consider WHAT HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? to be the film most would say was her best horror title, I find that STRAIT-JACKET is a more dynamic performance — and a film that does a fantastic job keeping you guessing.
Her acting is so STRONG that you feel as if she is playing two separate characters. THIS is the definition of what modern day actresses should be striving for when looking to play a believable manic character.
Not a guts and gore film by any means, there are still a few segments that are quite shocking for this time period.
The Deep Dive
*Warning: Plot Spoilers*
As the film opens, we see that Lucy Harbin has spent 20 years in a psychiatric hospital for the decapitation axe-murder of her husband (Lee Majors) and his mistress, after catching him cheating on her. In a flashback sequence, we see the events that lead up to the gruesome murders. Little did Lucy know that her 3 year old daughter Carol witnesses the horrific events.
We see flashes of her beheading and continuously hacking away at the bodies while being super-imposed over a scene of her writhing around in a strait-jacket. We cut to 20 years later and see her daughter Carol, now 20 years older, as she talks to her fiancé about her mother coming to stay with her after 20 years in an asylum. She is going to take up residence at the farm of her brother Bill Cutler and sister-in-law Emily, as the doctors think this is the next step in her therapy and recovery. Bill and Emily leave to pick up Lucy at the station while Carol works over her nervousness.
Carol is an artist and sculptor who was adopted by the Cutlers and also lives on the farm. While she is nervous about seeing her mother for the first time in 20 years, she seems unaffected by the ghastly murders she had witnessed as a three-year-old child. She shows her mother a bust she made of her while she was away, and it drives Lucy to tears due to her daughter’s talent and the memories of how she used to look.
Carol begins to encourage her mother to dress and act the way she did in the past, but it seems to open up another side of Lucy that has been long kept away. They go shopping for new clothes, but before long Lucy thinks she hears the neighborhood kids mocking her. She also has vivid nightmares of severed heads being in her bed. She seems to calm and thinks it is all bad dreams. Lucy eventually meets her daughter’s fiancé, but things do not go very well. She begins playing the vamp and makes passes at Michael in front of Carol.
A doctor from the asylum stops by the house to see how Lucy is doing, and it appears that his presence disturbs her greatly. Lucy tries to put on a good face while the doctor is there, but as he continues to question her, she becomes more and more agitated. He brings up her nightmares and it enrages her, making her leave the room. He talks with Carol about Lucy, and he tells her of his intentions to take her back to the asylum.
He goes looking for Lucy but is attacked and killed by someone wielding an axe. Later that night, Carol sees the doctor’s car still outside the house but sees no signs of him. She moves the car to the barn where no one else can see it. Later she sees one of the hired hands painting the car with the intentions of keeping it himself. She tries to fire him, but he teases her about Lucy being crazy. He later gets beheaded in a barn out back.
Lucy winds up having an argument with Michael’s parents when the mother objects to Carol and Michael wanting to marry. Bodies begin to pile up, but is it Lucy reliving her past or is someone trying to drive her mad all over again? You are going to have to watch to find out!
*End of Plot Spoilers*
The Digital Details
NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, And Constantine Nasr
NEW Joan Had Me Fired- An Interview with Anne Helm (Run time of 6 minutes, 43 seconds): Somewhat of an interesting trivia piece, this is an interview with actress Anne Helm about originally being signed for the film, her interactions with Joan Crawford, the difficulties she had hitting her marks and her eventual release from the film. Certainly shows that Crawford had just as much power on the set as a director or producer.
NEW On The Road With Joan Crawford – An Interview With Publicist Richard Kahn (Run time of 6 minutes, 35 seconds): Great interview with publicist Richard Kahn talking about William Castle’s incredible career, how William met Joan Crawford, Crawford’s power and control on the set, her PR campaign tour to promote the film and the kindness she extended to those on the tour with her. Very nice nostalgia piece!
Battle-Ax: The Making Of Strait-Jacket (Run time of 14 minutes, 40 seconds): Great featurette that has mini interviews with Don Glut (film historian), Michael Schlesinger (Columbia Pictures Repetory), David Del Valle (film historian) and Diane Baker (actress). It highlights how Castle’s dream project was to make a film written by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) and the start of WHAT HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Crawford) and how he got his wish! It also spoke to the special demands Crawford requested for the film and how Castle relented to her wishes. Nice historical piece on a film many may have let slip through the cracks!
Joan Crawford Costume And Makeup Tests (Run time of 3 minutes, 29 seconds): A great look at the make-up and lighting tests for the film.
Ax-Swinging Screen Test
- Discs: 1
- Format: NTSC
- Color: Black and White
- Rating: NR
- Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (1.78:1)
- Language: English
Once again, Shout!/Scream Factory digs deep into its archives to bring us a lost gem from a Hollywood legend!
From a technical aspect, the movie has an almost pristine and sharp picture, and the sound is very rich and enthralling as well. It is also nice to see the wealth of special features they were able to obtain for this release. EVERY special feature is more than worth the value of the release — giving the viewer a nice look, not only into the career of Castle and Crawford, but also a great overview of this long standing but rarely talked about sub-genre.
For me, the two crowning jewels of this release are the Joan Crawford Make-Up and costume footage, as well as the Axe Swinging Test Footage. By today’s standards, they may seem trivial and small. But considering the time frame this movie was made, and that it is footage of Hollywood royalty portrayed in them, this is no small feat.
For fans of William Castle and Joan Crawford, there can be little doubt that this release is everything that you could ever ask for! I highly recommend this release to everyone looking for something that is both old and new.
Movie Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Blu-Ray Rating: 8 out of 10