Horror Movie A Day: WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971) You mustn't disturb the cook when she’s making something delicious!
Published at: Oct. 23, 2008, 3:05 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
You know, I actually really kinda liked this movie. Is it substantial, does it give us anything new or interesting to consider about the horror genre or stand out as exceptional in any way? No, not really, but I think it’s an interesting little movie.
And in a way it’s the perfect double feature with AUDREY ROSE (thank you, Movie Gods!). Both films center around a parent who has lost a child, except here we have Shelley Winters instead of Anthony Hopkins… and Winters goes fucking crazy… and crazy Shelley Winters is creepy.
Basically the flick starts out with Winters singing to her daughter, laying in a small bed. We see from Winters’ POV that it’s a regular girl, but when we cut out of her POV and watch her exit the room, the camera lingers and then moves to the bed, revealing the dried out corpse of a little girl.
Great opening, right?
Winters is a rich shut-in. She loves kids and spends a lot of her time, energy and money trying to converse with her dead daughter (via a drunk medium who you know right off the bat is a fuckin’ phoney). She also throws a Christmas party for 10 lucky kids at the local orphanage… I guess just to get some children in the house again.
This a coveted treat since only a handful of the orphans get to go on the overnight stay at Auntie Roo’s mansion where she tries to make up for their lack of decadence for the rest of the year with treats, candy, food and presents.
Two trouble-makers, a brother and sister named Christopher and Katy, stowaway when they’re overlooked by the cold bitch who runs the orphanage. OLIVER!’s Mark Lester plays the older brother and young Chloe Franks is the little sister.
One of the great flaws of the movie, what probably keeps it from being something outstanding, is that they don’t play up Lester and his obsession with Hansel & Gretel. He tells the story to his sister to get her to sleep and we hear snippets of inner-monologue from him as he starts to suspect Winters is a witch. She keeps saying things like she wants to fatten them up and even checks little Katy’s fingers to see if she’s too thin.
Now, we know that Auntie Roo isn’t quite right in the ol’ noggin, but just how fucked up and crazy is she and how much of it is springing from the imagination of Christopher? I think if they played up that ambiguity the flick would be well known to this day, but instead we just know that Shelley Winters is crazy and that Mark Lester is interpreting what he’s seeing through the the Grimm fairy tale.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that Winters seems to believe her daughter has returned in the form of Katy (the main reason why I believe the Movie Gods chose this one for me to follow up AUDREY ROSE) and essentially kidnaps both her and her brother and locks them up in a hidden playroom.
One of my favorite movies growing up was Disney’s live-action/animation hybrid flick PETE’S DRAGON, which is where I gained my love of Shelley Winters, especially of this era. There’s something about her… she’s one of the worst over-actors to ever grace the silver screen, especially in the ‘70s. When you can look at her work in that decade and point to THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE as one of her most disciplined performance you know something’s off…
But I love it. Maybe it’s all nostalgia, but when Winters shrilly screams her lines I get all warm inside, which might explain why I not only tolerate her in this movie, but enjoy her work in it.
I’m also finding myself a fan of Mark Lester’s work from Oliver! to the mid-‘70s or so. I found a movie of his called EYEWITNESS (or SUDDEN TERROR) co-starring Susan George that I really enjoy… about a kid who witnesses an assassination and is being hunted by the assassins… of course, he’s the kid who cried wolf, so no one believes him at first.
This kid a bizarre career after exploding onto the scene with OLIVER!, doing a ton of movies that would have gotten him taken away from his parents if he tried a similar path today, like MELODY (still haven’t seen it, myself, but I’d love to… Mark Lester decides to marry a girl his age) and REDNECK, co-starring Telly Savalas and Franco Nero who play bumbling crooks who end up kidnapping Lester who idolizes Nero. It’s a fairly filthy and violent exploitation film.
In this one, he doesn’t exactly give his best performance, but he’s more than passable. Lester gives Christopher a little menace and, like I said above, if they played up the ambiguity of the Hansel & Gretel story a little more, I think they could have really had a gut-punch of an ending when you realize that Winters’ insanity is nothing compared with Lester’s.
There are a few familiar British faces that show up, including Ralph Richardson (ROLLERBALL and TIME BANDITS ftw!) and one Mr. Hugh Griffith as a character dubbed “The Pigman.” When I saw that in the opening credits “Hugh Griffith as The Pigman” I said, “This movie is going to be fucking awesome.” Unfortunately, Griffith is in the movie for two scenes and he’s called The Pigman because he’s a butcher delivering meat to Winters’ house.
Griffith was an Ealing Comedy regular (who should pop up later on in the AMAD column as I hit a run of Ealing comedies) but we covered him in START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT me where he played the witless King Louis. He’s got one of those faces, like Marty Feldman, that is instantly recognizable and he’s so damn funny. Even in his brief moments here he ends up smacking a housegirl on the ass, the dirty old dog.
One more thing before final thoughts, I have to bring up Jimmy Sangster, one of the writers of this movie. His script for this isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s a different little twisted thriller. I want to mention him because those who remember my covering of the Adventure Hammer films (THE TERROR OF THE TONGS, THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES and THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER) might recall that Mr. Sangster wrote all those, too. I get a kick out of stumbling upon these cross-overs with other AMADs.
Final Thoughts: It’s a flawed movie, but if you can stand Shelley Winters it’s one that you might find you enjoy. At least I did. It won’t rank among the best you’ve seen, nor should it rank among the worst, but it’s just different enough to maybe make it memorable. I say maybe because I don’t know how I’ll feel about this in a month’s time, but on first viewing there was no struggling or watch-checking on my part.