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Wayback Wednesday: Strait-Jacket (1964)

I was really hoping for more violent murders. 

If there’s one genre of movie I haven’t given enough attention to, it’s definitely horror. Which is ridiculous because in the last couple of years, I’ve come to really appreciate and enjoy horror movies! Specifically, classic slasher movies like,  Halloween (1978) and Scream (1996). By the way, check out my reviews for those movies, here and here. I’ve also come to GREATLY enjoy old, psychological, creepy, horror movies about seemingly ordinary people who just lose it and start killing people. Movies like, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Psycho (1960). By the way, if you haven’t seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Psycho, find a way to watch them ASAP. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Strait-Jacket (1964) takes the camp and psychological horror of both of those movies and blends them together into a mildly frightening, but still pretty entertaining story. Joan Crawford hacking people up with an axe? I’m here for it!

Screen Shot 2020-07-20 at 7.54.39 PM
Credit: / Columbia Pictures

Strait-Jacket tells the story of Lucy Harbin, a woman who spent 20 years in a psychiatric hospital after axe-murdering her cheating husband and his girlfriend. Recently released, Lucy goes to live with her daughter Carol and does her best to re-adjust to regular life. When a string of murder victims appear though, Lucy begins to question if she’s as sane as she believes.

I’ll be honest with you guys…part of me was hoping that this movie was going to be much campier than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still an element of camp running through the movie (all that glorious overacting!), but I was expecting Strait-Jacket to be more on the same level as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Y’know…dead rats, falling down staircases, questionable make-up, horrible singing…Seriously, if you haven’t seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? you’re missing out. I was surprised that this was much more of a grounded story, one that feels like a chilling tale you’d tell around the campfire. Strait-Jacket is a simple, straightforward, B horror movie that in both writing and production, feels almost like a stage play. Everything in Strait-Jacket is very confined. The handful of actors only converse with each other, there are only about three or four sets, and the story never requires things to be escalated to a bigger stage. Keeping things on a smaller-scale obviously is beneficial for behind-the-scenes purposes, but as a viewer, it also amps up the dread and suspense.

Keeping 90 per cent of the movie’s terrors confined to the Harbin family farm is genius. Isn’t that one of the scariest things about horror movies? Knowing that there’s an evil presence stalking your home but not being able to leave? I know it scares the shit out of me! Strait-Jacket leans into the more realistic side of horror and crafts a movie that will make you think twice about the rusty old axe that’s out in your toolshed. I’d even go as far as to say that tone-wise, it’s very similar to a Hitchcock movie. A much more watered-down version of course, but the similarities are there nonetheless. Just like a classic Hitchcock thriller, Strait-Jacket is filled with heaps of betrayal, deceit, and mystery. Oooh, and a pretty good twist that the movie cleverly laid the groundwork for! The only thing it’s missing? More murder. Look, maybe it’s just me and my love for the macabre, but I was kind of hoping for more of a bloodbath. There’s a decent amount of murder, but I guess I wanted Lucy to go full Jack Torrance with that axe. Crawford on a countryside killing spree is much more the type of movie I had in mind.

Speaking of Crawford, it’s her starring role as Lucy that is hands down the best part of this movie. Though the role might not be as meaty as the ones that solidified her as a star, the legendary actress still manages to deliver a mesmerizingly chilling performance. The only member of the cast whose performance is worth noting, if we’re being honest. Whereas the rest of the cast sounds like they’re reading their lines cold or without any inflection, Crawford absolutely GOES FOR IT. She utilizes every acting trick in the book and ends up turning out a solid performance. Whether she’s playing Lucy as the timid recluse, the vibrant seductress, or the unhinged murderess, Crawford is thoroughly believable. The best actors can take a so-so role in a so-so movie and still deliver a worthwhile performance. In Strait-Jacket, Crawford does exactly that.

Strait-Jacket wasn’t amazing enough for me to say I loved it, nor was it cheesy enough to say that it’s so bad it’s good. Actually, it reminded me a lot of classic Universal monster movies like, The Wolfman (1941) or Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Obviously those movies are much more impressive and legitimately scary, but they’re similar to Strait-Jacket in that they both blend spookiness and silliness to make for a fun movie night. If you’re going to check out Strait-Jacket for yourself, I recommend turning off all the lights, grabbing a bottle of wine, and watching it with your friends on the couch. You’ll have a blast! Oh! Go ahead and make it a double-viewing with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? while you’re at it.

Have you seen Strait-Jacket? Are you a fan of Joan Crawford?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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