By 1964 William Castle had already cemented himself as a reliable exploitation entertainer; he didn’t just craft interesting horror films, he made them into a gimmick that inflated the audience’s participation in the terror. For Strait-Jacket, Castle employed popular schlock writer Robert Bloch – most notable for his 1959 novel Psycho which Alfred Hitchcock set to film – for a script that followed the psycho-biddy formula of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and even utilized the key star Joan Crawford. The result? An exploitative hackfest that is surprisingly effective in its thrills and even a bit sympathetic to its murderess.
Crawford plays Lucy, a cuckquean who finds out about her husband’s affair and quickly puts an end to it via ax – all while her daughter Carol watches on. She’s sent away to an asylum for 20 years and finally gets released to a now adult Carol (Diane Baker) who is pleased as punch to have her back, especially since she’s getting married to rich white guy Michael (John Anthony Hayes). The question, though, is whether Lucy has actually improved after her stay at the asylum, since she’s having trouble adjusting and a doctor’s disappearance indicates that heads have again rolled.
Castle’s direction is fluid and less campy than expected considering Crawford’s tendency towards over-the-top theatrics. Instead, Strait-Jacket takes things pretty seriously, with the film constantly asking the viewer to question Lucy’s state of mind. Drama often overshadows the film’s violent scenes – which, at the time, were fairly gratuitous – but Baker and Crawford work well together and the familial strife with Michael’s parents about Carol being inappropriate for him add another level of devilish spectacle.
The ending’s twist may not exactly surprise, but it does generate some emotion all the same, as Bloch shows that one small action can ruin lives even generations down the line. Strait-Jacket is pulpy fun and at 90 minutes, it’s a bit more even-keeled than some of the other psycho-biddy films of the time like Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte or What’s the Matter with Helen?
Scream Factory has given Strait-Jacket its first Blu-ray release with a 1.85:1 HD scan of the film. Overall, the movie looks good with both white and black levels looking clean and crisp. The film shows a good grain layering that can occasionally become chunky in certain sequences; however, this is a very good look for the film. Audio comes in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and sounds perfect, with no issues. English subtitles are included, which can occasionally lack punctuation.
Extra features are surprisingly robust here and include a 6 minute interview with Anne Helm, who was originally slated to play Carol before Joan Crawford got her canned; there’s also a new 8 minute interview with publicist Richard Kahn, who shares stories about being on the road with Joan Crawford when she was making guest appearances in theaters. A new audio commentary from historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, and Constantine Nasr round out the new extras. Vintage features include a short making-of featurette, costume and makeup tests on Crawford, and a look at the filming of the first infamous beheading scene. Theatrical trailer and still gallery are also provided. No reversible cover art but you do get a still from the film.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is a great release for Strait-Jacket and anyone interested in Crawford films or Castle pictures will want to pick this one up to add to the collection.
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, And Constantine Nasr
- NEW Joan Had Me Fired – An Interview With Anne Helm
- NEW On The Road With Joan Crawford – An Interview With Publicist Richard Kahn
- Battle-Ax: The Making Of Strait-Jacket
- Joan Crawford Costume And Makeup Tests
- Ax-Swinging Screen Test
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery