Psycho Biddy, Qu’est-ce Que c’est: Hollywood Horror House (1970)

Dave juggles golden-era Tinseltown while tripping LSD in hag-horror heaven.

Although it’s hardly tagged with a name that gives it the reverence it warrants, the psycho-biddy genre – or its sleazier moniker of hagsploitation – boasts a mouth-watering glut of films produced in the wake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). The pinnacles lie in such fare as William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) and the Curtis Harrington twofer of What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972), but hidden in the midst of these classics is a film that, until Vinegar Syndrome’s recent release, has been too frequently starved of the love that it deserves for half a century.

HOLLYWOOD HORROR HOUSE – or Savage Intruder as it’s alternatively known – all but vanished upon completion, but it’s a satisfying slice of Tinseltown exploitation that stars a bonafide icon of the Golden Age of cinema, Miriam Hopkins. Her final role, here, she’s far removed from the glamourous pickpocket in her best film, Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 masterpiece Trouble in Paradise, as we discover her rambling incoherently in her bedroom, dressed in a ball gown and wallowing in a bottle of cheap vodka.

Outside her room is the chatter of a party – all imagined – as Hopkins’ character of faded actress Katherine Packard yearns a return to her heyday of societal gatherings and silver screen opulence. However, her life of booze-fuelled solitude is about to change with the arrival of Victor (played by David Garfield, son of Oscar nominee John). He’s an unkempt, shaggy-haired young drifter who works his way onto her staff as a personal assistant.

“Do you have a green thumb?” she asks him, “Well, I’m pretty good at grass” he shrugs.

There’s a clear sexual undertone between the two bubbling subtly beneath the surface which, when mixed with the destructive urges from Victor, swing this alliance from affection to hatred and thrust this picture into riveting territory.

Made eight years after Baby Jane, Donald Wolfe’s sole feature is notable for its expression of the stark change in society with a nod to its more permissive nature, complete with a plentiful supply of trippy, psychedelic sequences. Such rose-tinted hallucinations certainly give the movie a dimension that you won’t find in any of its peers, but this heavy hippy influence merged with aspects of a bygone era delivers something very unique. DP John Merrill (who went on to lens The Day Time Ended (1979) for Charles Band) captures this fusion beautifully.

Academy Award-winning actress Gale Sondergaard (The Mark of Zorro (1940)) makes her first appearance since being blacklisted for twenty years, while the use of silent screen starlet Norma Talmadge’s jinxed mansion ensures the ostentatious surroundings drip with history, solidifying the assertion that Hollywood Horror House is ripe for rediscovery.

USA ● 1970 ● Horror, Thriller ● 100mins

Miriam Hopkins, David Garfield, Gale Sondergaard ● Wri./Dir. Donald Wolfe

890


 

Follow Dave on Twitter @thedavewain

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