Hag Horror

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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Lino
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Hag Horror

#1 Post by Lino » Sat Jun 04, 2005 5:45 am

(file this under "Annie's continuing explorations of genre cinema" or "Silly request # 437...or something")

Following the success of Robert Aldrich's Whatever happened to Baby Jane? starring the amazing duo of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, more films in the same or similar vein came rushing in - it came to be known as "Hag horror". Personally, I like to call them "Old Dames with axes" movies. Er, right. So, among them were Whatever happened to Aunt Alice?; What's the matter with Helen?; Who slew Auntie Roo? (can you spot a trend here?); Hush...hush, sweet Charlotte; Dead Ringer; Strait-Jacket; Die! Die! My Darling; The Nanny.

Having only seen the first one and finding it worthy of repeated viewings, I am curious of the other (who are thankfully all out on DVD except for The Nanny). Any recommendations or thoughts?

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#2 Post by whipsilk » Sun Jun 05, 2005 9:55 am

My small hag horror collection includes the two Shelley Winters titles (What's the Matter with Helen? and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?). The latter is a real bore, besides having the most tin-eared title imaginable (why not Who Slew Auntie Roo? -- a much more euphonious title). ...Helen isn't bad, although its Hollywood setting is a little too close to Baby Jane. I'll add three other titles to your short list, two of which top almost everything else you've mentioned.

Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?, which was produced by ...Baby Jane's Robert Aldrich, has two wonderful performances at its heart, by the incredible Geraldine Page, who utterly steals the show in a tour-de-force of bitchy kitsch, and Ruth Gordon, who's fascinating just because this may be her most restrained performance ever. It's not a very good movie, but enormous fun. It has the added advantage of another aging great, Mildred Dunnock, in a tiny role. It's also shot on what must be the nastiest color stock available. Highly recommended.

Die, Die, My Darling is worthwhile for Bankhead alone. It also has a somewhat more interesting plot than most of its haggy cousins. I haven't seen it in a while, but I do recall thinking that Piper Laurie was channeling Bankhead from this film in Carrie. Also a treat -- Donald Sutherland in an early, eerie role. And as a Hammer film, it has a sensibility that's very different from the Aldrich-style films. Also highly recommended, even though it's only available in a hideously overpriced DVD from Columbia.

Now for the new additions, none of which are yet available on DVD:

Shock Treatment (1964) isn't really horror, but features Lauren Bacall in a role typical of hag horror (she runs a mental institution). Nurse Ratched pales next to Bacall's Dr. Beighley. The downside is that the principal role is played by Stuart Whitman, that most wooden of all oaky actors. Combine hag horror and The Snake Pit and you'd have this film. Featuring Olive Deering, who played the melancholy June in Caged.

And now things get really good. The titles below are close to the top of my want list, as both are superb examples of the genre (although only the first of them really qualifies as "hag horror"):

In 1971's Blood and Lace (not to be confused with Mario Bava's far inferior Blood and Black Lace), the lead is taken by Gloria Grahame. I haven't seen it in years, but I recall it being surprisingly and viciously gory. Grahame is wonderful, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) that she spends much of the movie under what looks like about twelve pounds of vaseline on her face. Great fun!

I've saved the best for last. 1981's Night Warning (aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker and Momma's Boy) features the incredible Susan Tyrrell in a performance that's more over-the-top than almost any other performance I can think of. It's hag horror because of the nature of the lead, despite the fact that Tyrrell was under 40 at the time. She not only chews the scenery, she digests it for us as well. It's quite remarkable. But her performance isn't the only pleasure in this film. Bo Svenson almost matches her intensity, playing a sheriff that's about as nasty as they come. Marcia Lewis is a delight as a nosy neighbor. And for those who like skin, there are several shirtless shots of a very pretty Jimmy McNichol, and a topless scene with a pre-Newhart Julia Duffy. I can't understand why Anchor Bay or even Blue Underground haven't picked up this gem.

Thanks for your post, Annie. It's stimulated me to order two titles missing from my tiny collection -- Die, Die, My Darling and the somewhat tame Dead Ringer.

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#3 Post by Michael » Sun Jun 05, 2005 2:07 pm

Well it looks like I'm a fan of the Hag Horror because I enjoy most of the titles mentioned above. Annie, did you make up that title?

Of course, Baby Jane is the queen of them all. The next best one is easily Aunt Alice which features two of my favorite actresses Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon. Geraldine Page seems to really enjoy playing the most incredible bitch ever. Even though Page is so lovely as Mrs. Watts in The Trip to Bountiful and insanely chilly in Interiors, Pages Claire Marrable in Aunt Alice is my personal favorite performance of hers. I also love Ruth Gordon but I prefer to remember her as Maude of Harold and Maude.

Strait Jacket is okay but it has one of the greatest shots of Joan Crawford ever. That is when she steps out of a train in a sexy dress, smoking just before catching her husband in bed with another woman.

I've not seen Die, Die My Darling yet. I'm going to order it.

Night Warning sounds really intriguing! With Jimmy McNichols!? As a kid, I had a silly crush on the McNichols siblings. When is Little Darlings gonna come out on DVD?!

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#4 Post by Lino » Sun Jun 05, 2005 5:02 pm

Michael wrote: Annie, did you make up that title?
No, I just read it somewhere in the middle of a film review and then started hunting down other titles that might fall in that category. I don't think it's a very known or even accurate genre nomenclature but the fact is that there are a lot of films that after Baby Jane's success, clearly jumped on the "hag" bandwagon. I still say that my own "Old Dames with axes" is more fun! ;)

Thank you very much whipsilk for your additions! Seems like this recent craze of mine has a long way to go and a lot of fun films to check out too!

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#5 Post by whipsilk » Mon Jun 06, 2005 1:15 am

I didn't mention Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte in my survey above, and should have. It's absolutely one of the masterpieces of the genre, with a cast to die for. Besides Davis, there's Olivia de Havilland replacing Joan (apparently Joan even shot a few scenes, but ultimately couldn't bring herself to spend another couple of months with Davis --a story I love claims that during the filming of Baby Jane, Bette insisted that a free Coke machine be installed on the set -- Joan was shilling for Pepsi at the time). And Joseph Cotten, Mary Astor, Bruce Dern, George Kennedy, Ellen Corby, Victor Buono, Cecil Kellaway -- whew! But for me, the real treat of the film (other than Davis' magnificent screeching -- "What do ya think I asked ya here for? COMP'NY?") is Agnes Moorehead as the white trash housekeeper Velma, in a genuinely bizarre and outrageous Oscar-nominated performance. It'll be out in August in a Fox Studio Classics version, so the gorgeously evocative cinematography (far superior to that of Baby Jane) should look splendid again. It is a real treasure from the 1960s; of the two I've always thought Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was the superior (and far more entertaining) film. You've got a treat coming, Annie.

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#6 Post by Lino » Mon Jun 06, 2005 3:25 am

Wow! You really know your business, whipsilk! Glad I've got you as my "Hag Horror tutor"! :)

The way you describe them makes them even more enticing! Be sure that I will check them out ASAP. As a side note, I'd just like to say that I just love when I find out unexplored alleyways of cinema that somehow seemed kind of buried or not widely documented - that just makes them more interesting to me.

Hush(...) really sounds fantastic and August can't come soon enough! And right in time for my birthday too!

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#7 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Jun 06, 2005 7:04 am

Also check out The Anniversary another from the Bette Davis British period three years after The Nanny. It has Bette as a one eyed, cane wielding mother-in-law from hell!

And Joan Crawford did her own British horror with Beserk! in 1968.

Even though it is not really a horror, Mommie Dearest has to be almost there with: "NO....WIRE....HANGERRRSSS!"

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#8 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 06, 2005 5:32 pm

Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? made my "Best 10 When You Were 10" list. I caught it on TV when I was about 4 years old and it scarred me for life (even though all I could remember was the excruciating murder of Ruth Gordon and something about Alsatians and christmas trees). When I managed to see it again several years ago, I was pleased to see that it held up quite well. Geraldine Page is phenomenally unpleasant; Ruth Gordon is surreally saintly. The rest of the film and cast are pretty cheap, but that pair is so rivetting you hardly notice.

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#9 Post by Gregory » Tue Jun 07, 2005 12:12 pm

I think Misery is interesting as a more recent entry in this genre, possibly an homage to the earlier films. I haven't read the novel or seen the film since the time they came out, but I remember them as a notable take on the "spinster" genre. The isolated woman is depicted as obsessive and violent as opposed to insecure and pathetic as in a film like David Lean's Summertime.
Aside from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I haven't seen most of the films listed in this discussion, but I'd be interested to see whether they also touch on the spinster theme.

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#10 Post by Lino » Wed Jun 22, 2005 10:49 am

I managed to see Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice last night (thanks, Michael!) and although I enjoyed it tremendously, the first thing I noticed straight away was the strangeness and peculiarity of the settings: Tucson, Arizona! It kind of works but it caught me off guard at first. Then I got used to it and I agree that it makes all the sense to place the story there.

Now for the goodies: before I go on to rave about the two main ladies, let me just point out that the cinematography is simply splendid. How on earth were they ever able to get those colors and amazing definition of skin tones on those conditions is beyond me! Bravo!

And what can I say about Geraldine Page's performance that hasn't been said here before? What a knock-out she is! And the best thing is that you can literally see all that's going on in her head througout the film just by looking at her face! Bitchin' amazing, if you pardon the pun.

Now off to watch more Hag Horror fun!

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#11 Post by Penny Dreadful » Wed Jun 22, 2005 5:14 pm

Strait-Jacket is a real treat as well, despite some major campiness and the fact that the movie was definitely an attempt to cash in on the Psycho/Baby Jane craze. Joan plays an axe-murderess who has come back home after 20 years in an insane asylum, ostensibly "cured." As always, Crawford gave her all, and the film is chock full of amazing and bizarre moments. The best is probably when she's trying to seduce her daughter's fiance while wearing a ridiculous wig and a dress with giant sunflowers all over it. She lights a match off a spinning record, takes a drag from her cigarette, then saunters over to whisper sweet nothings in his ear.

Sweet Charlotte didn't bowl me over so much, probably because it didn't do anything new with the Baby Jane formula. Still, it's worth a look!

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#12 Post by Lino » Wed Jul 13, 2005 11:08 am

Sweet news: Baby Jane is getting the SE treatment in the UK on August, 22nd. Here are the extras:
Special Features

* 1967 BBC documentary on Joan Crawford
* 'Bette David: A Basically Benevolent Volcano' - 1983 Documentary
* Excerpts from the 1983 Andy Williams show
* 'Bette and Joan - Blind Ambition' - featurette

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#13 Post by Lino » Thu Apr 06, 2006 4:36 am

Some Hag Horror fun! The Anniversary with Bette Davis gets reviewed (and it's a score!) and the upcoming re-release of Mommy Dearest is getting a John Waters commentary!!!

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#14 Post by ben d banana » Thu Apr 06, 2006 4:47 am

Annie Mall wrote:and the upcoming re-release of Mommy Dearest is getting a John Waters commentary!
Pure ecstasy!

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#15 Post by Mathieu » Thu Apr 06, 2006 2:47 pm

This is a wonderful topic for discussion, but I'm frankly appalled that no one has mentioned Pete Walker's Frightmare. If there's anything more entertaining than an old dame with an axe, it's an old dame with a power drill.

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#16 Post by antnield » Thu Apr 06, 2006 3:49 pm

Annie Mall wrote:who are thankfully all out on DVD except for The Nanny
Bizarrely, this one got released by Warners in the UK on a double bill with... 'The Blue Lamp'!!!

Be warned it has gone out of print (it was part of the Warners-Studio Canal deal) though some etailers may still have it on offer. Why they didn't release on a double-bill with 'The Anniversary' is beyond me - it just all seems so perverse.

And a quick "seconded" for the 'Frightmare' mention. Any of Sheila Keith's films for Pete Walker are worth of look - and far more frightening that any of the late Bette Davis/Joan Crawford appearances.

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#17 Post by Gordon » Mon Apr 10, 2006 5:42 pm

I saw Die! Die! My Darling! for the first time last night. Holy shit! Tallulah has a field day as the Bible-bashing homicidal hag! The film has two opposing tones, fluctuating from farce to heavy violence, so the experience wasn't as pleasurable as it should have been. But how can you not love a film with a cast like this? Donland Sutherland as a retarded dogsbody and the great Peter Vaughan as a lecherous groundskeeper? Yes! It is also great to see Tallulah in her alcohlic twilight, giving it all she had and slapping Stefanie Powers silly.

"We use not condiments of any kind in this house, Patricia! God's food should be eaten unadorned. We are vegetarian. For instance, this meat loaf is synthetic, compounded of bread, oatmeal, and wheat germ." Mmm, wheat germ. :shock: :lol:

Crazy film. They don't make 'em like that anymore. The 'Hag Horror' is a subgenre that sadly faded away all too soon.

Oh, great Bava-esque cinematography by Arthur Ibbetson (Whistle Down the Wind; Tunes of Glory; The League of Gentlemen; Anne of the Thousand Days), also. Underrated DP. As for director Silvio Narizzano, the only other film of his that sounds interesting is his 1977 effort, Why Shoot the Teacher?, a bittersweet comedy which features Bud Cort as a naive teacher adjusting to life in a rural town in western Canada during the Great Depression. Has anyone see this one - Cort's 70s performances are always worth watching, right?

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#18 Post by viciousliar » Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:31 pm

In my humble opinion, Die! Die! My Darling! sucks to high heaven. Even Tallulah can't save this dud, didn't she suffer from cancer during the shooting? Seen it once, never will I ever see it again. Shy away from it all costs. Merely my opinion, obviously. I just don't get it, Gordon, your taste is usually to be trusted - were you drunk when you saw this movie - a godawful flick can benefit from that, you know. :?

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#19 Post by Gregory » Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:59 pm

I think it's one of the Columbia titles that's going out of print and is currently being offered at DDD at a massive savings. I'm thinking about picking it up to have more of Ms. Bankhead. I've seen her in Lifeboat of course but what I'd most like to see next is some of her 1930s work when she was still forming her reputation.
By the way, Gordon, wheat germ is great stuff if used right. Most of us could be far healthier if we ate enough fiber. Anyway, it's interesting to think that because vegetarianism was so relatively uncommon 40 years ago it was a straightforward way for the filmmakers to establish the fanatical nature of Bankhead's character.

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#20 Post by viciousliar » Tue Apr 11, 2006 2:23 pm

You'll be sorry, Gregory, when you find out that you should have heeded my warning - that is, if you're not in-love with Tallulah's booze- and cigar-flavored voice. She really should have gotten the Oscar for her performance in Lifeboat - Bergman's histrionics have dated rather badly while Tallulah's priceless performance appears to have been ahead of its time; it only seems to have improved with age. Too bad she got so few roles worthy of her talent, her temperament and most articulate bitchiness backfired on her, I feel.

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#21 Post by Gordon » Fri Apr 14, 2006 6:48 pm

viciousliar wrote:I just don't get it, Gordon, your taste is usually to be trusted - were you drunk when you saw this movie - a godawful flick can benefit from that, you know. :?
No, I rarely touch the stuff. I rented the disc, because I am a big fan of Hammer films, Donald Sutherland and Peter Vaughan and this one had escaped me for years, so I pleased to see a region 2 release, as I didn't fancy blind-buying the region 1 edition. It was an amusing diversion after a dull day at work.

Aside from Lifeboat, I have not see another Tallulah movie. I love the stories/anecdotes on her and the attributed quotes:

Tallulah encountered Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at some shindig...

Tallulah, to JC: "Darling you're divine. I've had an affair with you're husband and you're going to be next."

To Ginger Rogers: "Any husband of yours is a husband of mine."

Outrageous! An incredible woman, no question. A shame that she made so few sound films.

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#22 Post by Gregory » Sat Apr 15, 2006 1:24 pm

I love them, too. One of my favorites is "My father warned me about men and booze but he never said anything about women and cocaine." But the funniest one to me is when she saw an ex-lover for the first time in years and said, "I thought I told you to wait in the car!"

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#23 Post by Lino » Mon May 29, 2006 7:06 am


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#24 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Mon May 29, 2006 4:34 pm

Mommie Dearest or Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls - I'm so torn!!! :x

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#25 Post by Lino » Tue May 30, 2006 7:25 am

AMB wrote:Mommie Dearest or Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls - I'm so torn!
That's a no brainer: BOTH, HON! And start eating less. :wink:

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