5.30.2011

"Mad" women

 
Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens (sporting epic hair) in The Mad Room (dir. Bernard Girard, 1969).  This unjustly forgotten gem has never been given a proper DVD release, but it's now been made available through Amazon's burn-on-demand service.  It's a dizzy, melodramatic thriller made during the "crazy middle-aged lady" horror movie heyday of the '60s and early '70s, which began with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and spawned such lesser-known rip-offs as Who Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter with Helen?  They often starred great actresses of the '40s and '50s (Bette Davis, Winters) who had passed their prime but were desperate to keep working, even if it meant taking camp roles.  This one has it all: creepy children's music, finger-painting with blood, bitchy society ladies, a dog who carries his late mistress' severed hand around in his mouth, and Stella Stevens looking f'ing crazy.  After her teenage siblings (Barbara Sammeth and Michael Burns) are released from a mental hospital--they supposedly murdered their parents years ago when they were children--Stevens unsuccessfully tries to hide the truth from her employer (Winters).  The final twist is predictable but effective, and the movie as a whole scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it on cable TV as a kid.

Winters does her best with the material, playing the kind of role she was so often stuck with late in her career--that of the bossy, absent-minded, slightly pathetic matriarch.  The acting is better-than-average all around, and there are some surprisingly well-handled long takes here.  Other sequences aren't as successful, as when Winters' corpse is thrown off the edge of a waterfall (see below).  It's a pale evocation of the much eerier shots of Winters' body at the bottom of the river in The Night of the Hunter.  (Her characters never really took to water, did they?)


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