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Grand Guignol or High Camp?

Grand Guignol or High Camp?

In retrospect probably both, but who cares? All I know is that a rare 35mm print of Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), starring Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Victor Buono, plays Enzian tonight (Tuesday) as part of the increasingly popular, bi-weekly Cult Classics series. This landmark personality-disorder horror film, thriller, black comic Gothic chiller, or whatever you want to label it, could be considered a direct descendant of Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD, and it scared the crap out of me when I was little. But so did William Castle’s STRAIGHT-JACKET (also starring Crawford), which upon recent viewing as one of the Midnight Features in this year’s Florida Film Festival, now plays as an absolute camp classic that is flat-out hilarious and bizarre.

Sibling rivalry reached a new pinnacle of perversion in this twisted tale of two sisters under one roof, one a former actress now confined to a wheelchair who’s dependent on the other, a former child star now both demented and highly resentful. Scary and fun and featuring one of Bette Davis’ most memorable and over-the-top performances, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? also proved to be quite influential, triggering a decade-long run of horror films starring older actresses in psychotic roles. Davis herself (along with Olivia de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead) followed it up with HUSH…HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE three years later, and other titles like DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! with Tallulah Bankhead, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? with Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters, and WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (Winters again!) tried to cash in on the trend. And of course, I couldn’t get enough of them in those pre-teen years–a cheap thrill is a cheap thrill.


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