What Ever Happened to Baby Jane ? (1962)

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Or, What happens to ageing Hollywood actresses. This adaptation of the novel by Henry Farrell (by Lukas Heller, a regular Robert Aldrich collaborator) was the first of a cycle of so-called hag movies. Hardly director Aldrich’s intention, he nonetheless fuelled it himself by doing a sort-of sequel, Hush … Hush Sweet Charlotte two years later with Bette Davis and the original star proposed here, Olivia de Havilland.  Davis and Crawford’s offscreen rivalry made their casting as desperate old ladies with one living off faded childhood stardom, the other failed actress condemned to a wheelchair, a riff on rumours feeding into Hollywood legends plundered here with gusto. This is a marvellous comment on what the theorists might call the monstrous feminine, the terrible toll that Hollywood takes on actresses, and the sheer deadening effect of living in a dayglo Los Angeles suburbia. Who knew what went on behind the walls of all those Spanish houses before this came along? The twist is brilliant. Perfect California Gothic.

The Beast in the Cellar (1970)

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There was a cycle of hag horror films which commenced in the early 60s with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and that of course remains a classic dayglo Los Angeles Gothic. There were some variations on the theme, including this late entry in the English cinema, produced by the venerable distributor and horror exploitation maestro Tony Tenser (who also has Polanski’s Cul De Sac on his CV as well as Witchfinder General).  Starring Beryl Reid and Flora Robson, grandes dames with daddy issues who live together in a country cottage, a spate of murders occurs in the locale and eventually the culprit is caught … in their cellar. It’s well shot but a bit silly however the gravitas has to do with the beast’s origins in World War conflicts and confusion. A song co-written by Barry (Delilah) Mason doesn’t hurt plus appearances by Tessa Wyatt and Irish actor TP McKenna add some theatrical chops. They don’t make them like this any more …