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Horror Movie A Day: WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971)
You mustn't disturb the cook when she’s making something delicious!

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.

Here are the titles in the drawing pool for the rest of October: Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here! Now’s the the time to pull the next HMAD! Next up is:

Sweet, one of the “classics” on the list! See you tomorrow for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose

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