Straight-Jacket, 1964. 9/10

Lots of horror going on here; both psychological and physical. Joan Crawford makes a perfect ax murderer. Nice work by the supporting cast as well; Diane Baker as Lucy Harbin’s (Crawford’s) daughter Carol plays such a sweet, pert girl, that her freaky transformation comes as a shock.

Leo Krause, as a slack-jawed ‘hired hand’, makes an uncouth counterpoint to Lucy Harbin’s more sophisticated nutty personality. It does take some suspension of disbelief when Carol’s darker side is unmasked, so to speak. But looking back, we can see that Carol is not just a nice girl in love; she has an agenda.

Her demeanor around her mom is odd; she’s soft and cuddly, then abruptly cool, as though she’s studying Crawford. Dangling the past in her mom’s face–the outfits and family memorabilia–is obviously not appropriate for someone who has nothing but bad memories and experiences of the past.

There’s so much misdirection with Krause’s oddball antics and the smug self-involved Mrs. Fields (Edith Atwater) cutting up the scenery with snide remarks. So our sympathy lies with the seemingly innocent Carol, with her sensible adoptive parents. From the doctor’s murder on, however, Carol begins to show her hand.

I’ve got to admit I was taken in the first time around, and couldn’t fathom why she would apparently ‘help’ her mom hide evidence of what seemed a no-brainer: that her mom had killed the doctor. It’s certainly cunning that the two essentially switch roles. In fact Carol becomes her mom’s doppelganger.

The only problem I had with the plot is Carol’s motivation for her killing spree. Certainly her boyfriend’s mom looks askance at the idea of her son marrying Carol. But if Carol doesn’t make her mom more unstable, wouldn’t that lead to a conventional family get-together? If Michael’s mom can’t see anything unusual about Lucy, who in Carol’s family would she find objectionable? Michael’s mom is an out-and-out bully though, interrogating Lucy at the dinner as though she were a lower life form.

Lucy’s hallucinatory scenes are great; the eerie music really cooks up the horror. Although the dressing room telescoping into an abstract cell was wild, I thought the best effect was the background of expressionist paintings and drawings against the opening credits.

Strait-Jacket maintains suspense with its chain of horror. There’s some hokey special effects (bloodless decapitations), but not much else to complain about. Can’t lose spending time with this horror-fest. 9/10.

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