"Hag Horrors"

Discussion in 'Movies' started by ClassyCo, Apr 10, 2017.

  1. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    "Hag Horrors", as they have been nicknamed, are a subgenre of the horror film. The subgenre is usually pinpointed to have started with the black comedy/shocker What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). The film, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as battling ex-actress sisters, was a runaway hit, and led to a succession of other so-called "hag horrors" to follow.

    Here below I want to discuss the "hag horrors" labeled as such, and the ones you fellow Soap Chatters have seen.

    The films...
    What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) ... Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
    The Caretakers (1963) ... Joan Crawford
    Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) ... Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, and others
    Lady in a Cage (1964) ... Olivia de Havilland
    Dead Ringer (1964) ... Bette Davis (... and Bette Davis)
    Strait-Jacket (1964) ... Joan Crawford
    The Night Walker (1964) ... Barbara Stanwyck
    The Nanny (1965) ... Bette Davis
    Fanatic (1965) ... Tallulah Bankhead
    I Saw What You Did (1965) ... Joan Crawford
    Picture Mommy Dead (1966) ... Zsa Zsa Gabor and Martha Hyer
    Berserk! (1967) ... Joan Crawford and Diana Dors
    The Anniversary (1968) ... Bette Davis
    What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) ... Geraldine Page
    The Big Cube (1969) ... Lana Turner
    The Mad Room (1969) ... Stella Stevens and Shelley Winters
    Flesh Feast (1970) ... Veronica Lake
    Savage Intruder (1970) ... Miriam Hopkins and Gale Sondergaard
    What's the Matter with Helen? (1971) ... Shelley Winters, Debbie Reynolds, and Anges Moorehead
    Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) ... Shelley Winters
    Dear Dead Delilah (1972) ... Agnes Moorehead
    Night Watch (1973) ... Elizabeth Taylor
    The Killing Kind (1973) ... Ann Sothern and Ruth Roman
    Persecution (1974) ... Lana Turner

    I searched "hag horrors" on Google, and these are the titles I found listed. Some of these films I've never heard of before, and therefore I couldn't say whether or not they are genuine "hag horrors" or not.

    Of the films above, I've seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, naturally, since it started it all. I've seen pieces of Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte and The Caretakers, and I've watched Strait-Jacket and Dead Ringer. As for the others, I might have watched parts of them, but my memory of them is hazy so I couldn't make any comments on them.

    Which have you seen?
     
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  2. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Interesting. I had never heard of this sub-genre before.
    The criterion is...thrillers starring actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood? Or horror mixed with dark comedy?
     
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  3. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    I love the term "grande dame guignol" for this genre (some call it "psycho biddy" but that's way too queen-y somehow for my tastes). When done well, it's one of my favorite cinema trends -- even though George Cukor found it lamentable, not surprisingly.

    A lot of the appeal comes from that end-of-the-world/Psycho/TwilightZone-y vibe that existed in the early-to-mid-'60s. And if you mix that up with quality B&W camerawork, a decent director, and the just exactly right maniacal diva, then how, frankly, could you possibly lose?

    My favorite is HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, and as Bette is being whisked away in a squad car at the end, the old world twentieth century seems to go with her. It's the last vestiges of something.

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    STRAIT-JACKET for me is the most frustrating, because you can see how it could have worked --- I mean, Joan Crawford with an axe? What's not to love?? But Bill Castle, who reportedly hoped to make his "classic" with this movie, instead did some of his sloppiest work even for Castle. It was a C-level film from a B-movie maestro.

    LADY IN A CAGE always makes me think of WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR with Sal Mineo in that it was a rare glimpse, albeit thru a B-movie horror prism, of the mid-'60s meltdown of the inner cities that Hollywood never showed. CAGE gets a bit long winded, though.

    DEAD RINGER is a good B-movie, and much better than STRAIT-JACKET.

    THE NIGHT WALKER with Stanwyck has a marvelous prologue montage obviously put together by someone other than director Bill Castle, and the movie offers a fabulously creepy Vic Mizzy score. And you get Constance and Cecil Colby together! But it falls apart quickly.

    THE NANNY is an excellent A- movie from Hammer and one of Bette's best, early or late, in her big screen career.

    FANATIC (also know as "DIE DIE MY DARLING") gives us a terrific performance from Tallulah Bankhead, a laughably to-period elocution lesson from Stefphanie Powers, and a fun production design. But once Powers gets locked up in the attic, it begins to get draggy as well.

    PICTURE MOMMY DEAD is in color, so it doesn't work for me. But it's definitely of that child-eye-view, nursery rhyme school of period chillers.

    BERSERK was much better when they called it CIRCUS OF HORRORS several years earlier. In my head, the two movies get mashed up with Crawford as Anton Diffring's ex. lol

    THE ANNIVERSARY and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE are acceptable.

    Doesn't THE MAD ROOM also have Michael Burns in it? That's all I care about, the cute little nerd-monster.

    NIGHT WATCH with Taylor is also a downright good movie, with its shrouded, overcast (okay, so it is London) early-'70s vibe. Much underrated and underseen.

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    I haven't seen the others, I don't think.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2018
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  4. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Basically, yes. Most of these films starred actresses who were once at the top of their game, but whose career sagged as she aged, and to remedy their failing popularity, they starred in a series of "shocks", that have been nicknamed "hag horrors". I've also heard them called "psycho biddy" and "hagsploitation" movies. Almost none of them were aimed towards the mainstream moving-going public, although nearly all of them found success with the average filmgoer.

    Davis and Crawford appeared in more of them than any other, possibly because they were the headliners in the film that started it all--What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The initial idea was to have them paired together again, with the same director and some of the same cast, in Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. They both actually signed contracts, but their behind-the-scenes bickering led to Crawford falling "ill" and withdrawing from the picture. She was to be replaced by Vivien Leigh, but she refused, so Davis suggested Olivia de Havilland, who ended up with Crawford's role.

    Yes, most of these films do have a good dose of black humor from what I gather, and many of them were made intentionally campy. I haven't seen but just a handful of them, but I wouldn't mind seeing them all.
     
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  5. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for your insights. As I said, I haven't seen but just a handful of these films, so I couldn't give any concrete comments on them. Greatly appreciated.

    So you considered Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte superior to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Could you elaborate on that please. I've never seen all of Sweet Charlotte, but I've seen Baby Jane several times. Would Sweet Charlotte have worked with Davis and Crawford in the leads, or does de Havilland play it better?
     
  6. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    BABY JANE and CHARLOTTE are sisters: they know each other very well.

    Same director, writer, composer, acting troupe. So both movies have a ton in common, even structurally. Yes, BABY JANE was first. A lot of Crawford fans dismiss CHARLOTTE as "cheap rip-off" but I find CHARLOTTE to be the grander, more poignant film.

    After Olivia DeHavilland replaced Joan, she brought a breezy contrast to Bette Davis, and it worked. Still, one wonders how much darker CHARLOTTE might have been had we seen La Crawford silently wandering the halls and moors of that Louisiana plantation at midnight. It might have been almost too dark in its back-of-a-dark-closet kind of way.

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    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  7. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    BTW: Come to think of it, I think I have seen "What's the Matter with Helen?" and "Who Slew Auntie Roo? and "Dear Dead Delilah" after all. All from the same era as one another. They didn't stick with me, though.
     
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  8. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    I love these stills of Crawford in character on the set. I've never seen them before now. It looks like she was taking full advantage of her character not being a wheelchair-bound crippled this go around, too. She seems to be all decked out as glamorous as she can possibly be, or it least it seems that way when compared to de Havilland's more modest appearance in the screen capture you inserted.

    I've heard multiple different theories as to how Sweet Charlotte would have turned out had Crawford ending up as Davis' co-star. One I heard is Crawford would have again been shrunk in comparison with Davis having the "flashier" role, while another theory is Crawford and Davis would have battled more this go around because their characters were "equals" in this story. Some think since Crawford was out of the wheelchair this time she would have been more of force to reckoned as Miriam than she had been as Blanche. From what I gather, many agree Davis and Crawford would have tried and tried more and more this go around to upstage one another. Having not seen the film in its entirety, I couldn't say which theory I would side with, if any of them. I know I wish Crawford would have sucked it up and stayed, though. Then we would have two Davis-Crawford "hag horrors".

    And on a different note, I read that Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck were under consideration to play Miriam, while Davis was Aldrich's one and only choice for Charlotte. Supposedly, Vivien Leigh received a "lovely offer" to replace Crawford after she "fell ill", but refused to work with Davis. Likewise, Davis didn't want Leigh in the picture, allegedly saying she wasn't right to play a Southern belle. Rumor has it Davis was still a bit miffed that Leigh ended up with "the role of a lifetime" that was Scarlett O'Hara (and won an Oscar for it, too).
     
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  9. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    If you watch I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) Joan is wearing her mid-'60s beehive hairdo and giant choker necklace and is photographed by the same man who filmed CHARLOTTE, so you get a sense of how she would have looked and seemed had she not pulled out of CHARLOTTE.

    She looks like a hornet.

    Except that I SAW WHAT YOU DID is a silly William Castle picture -- although it's still more polished than hapless STRAIT-JACKET.

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    Barbara Stanwyck (a close friend of Crawford) was actually offered the Mary Astor role (and foolishly went off to do THE NIGHT WALKER instead, also a hapless William Castle movie) while Kate Hepburn, as one would expect, never responded to the offer at all (she once said, "I don't have to do the things Bette does," and I guess the closest Hepburn would come to grande dame guignol is SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). And, yes, there's the famous quote from Vivien Leigh that she thought she could look at Crawford's face first thing in the morning but not Davis'.

    Miriam Hopkins (as yet another Scorpio Rising diva tailor made for this kind of material) sadly never made one of these early-'60s shockers, and by the time she did SAVAGE INTRUDER -- which I've seen only parts of -- she seemed at death's door and the era had already changed, so the movie didn't have the same potential. (Hopkins is perfect, however, as Robert Redford's histrionic mother in THE CHASE from 1966; Redford himself was still unable to act his way out of a wet paper sack).

    Why didn't Gloria Swanson get a shot at this genre, one wonders? Especially when you see her in that ALFRED HITCHCOCK episode "Behind the Locked Door." But I guess SUNSET BLVD was her contribution to the form.

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  10. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    I have a fantasy of Mary Astor, Judith Anderson, Miriam Hopkins and Gloria Swanson all playing family members in a dark and stormy mansion, eventually taking a pair of scissors to one another, circa 1964. Unfortunately, the title "Scorpio Rising" was already taken by another movie that year.

    Supposedly, Judith Anderson co-starred in a made-for-TV movie called "The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre" (1964) from PSYCHO's Joseph Stefano that was so scary that it never aired in primetime in America and is considered now to be the holy grail of horror pictures. Reportedly, Martin Landau has the only copy.
     
  11. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    I recall actually seeing I Saw What You Did, but I couldn't tell you a whole lot about it, though. All I remember is it came on TCM, I saw Crawford was in it, I recorded and watched it, but I wasn't thoroughly impressed. I deleted it shortly after, and I haven't seen it again. That's been at least three years ago I would say.

    Now I've never been a big fan of Stanwyck, but I am trying to watch more of her films and become more appreciative of her with an open mind. It's been quite some time since I've seen or even tried to watch one of her films, so my tastes and opinion of her my have changed. (Fingers crossed!) As for Hepburn, I couldn't see her doing these "hag horrors". She seems like she would be "above" lowering herself to that level. The same would go for Vivien Leigh, though. She would be far too "grand" to be scheming around against Davis in a dark Louisiana mansion.

    And I've only seen Swanson in Sunset Blvd, and I would definitely say that performance itself contributed to the same type of audience, although the film was officially classified a film noir, not a hag horror.
     
  12. Top Jimmy

    Top Jimmy Soap Chat Member

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    I recently watched Baby Jane again after so many years, and I still enjoyed it, although it's somewhat marred by the stupidity/implausibility of Blanche and her family doctor in one scene and the actions of some of the other characters.

    Hush Hush
    is very similar to Baby Jane, but somehow quite different. Except for some gimmicky William Castle-like scenes, I would consider it an A picture. The setting is great, and Bette is wonderful in a sympathetic role. She has good support from Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Mary Astor in a cameo appearance.

    Strait-Jacket is good and suspenseful, but not great. Joan is histrionic, but effective in her role. It has its creepy, scary moments.

    I Saw What You Did is silly, but fun. Joan has a small role, but the movie is worth seeing for her "you have to see it to believe it" performance and a twist on a popular suspense movie scene from that era.

    I saw Lady on a Cage once, but don't remember that much about it. The same for Fanatic. Night Walker was pretty good and keeps you guessing.

    I remember that What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice was very good, with an interesting surprise or two.

    Beserk is basically trash, but only worth watching to see how the victims will die and the rivalry between Joan and a trampy Diana Dors.

    I agree that The Nanny is one of Bette's best performances, and Dead Ringer is worth watching as well.

    What's the Matter with Helen? is a very bizarre movie, made interesting by the casting against type of Debbie Reynolds. Her co-star Shelley Winters played a crazy wacko and apparently acted like that while filming the movie, causing Debbie to take delight in a scene where she slaps Shelley.

    I recommend watching Scream of Fear (1961). It's not a hag horror movie, but it has some interesting plot twists and one or two genuine scares. It stars Susan Strasberg and Christopher Lee has a small role.
     
  13. tommie

    tommie Soap Chat Dream Maker

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  14. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    Hush... Hush, Sweet Crawford

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  15. ginnyfan

    ginnyfan Soap Chat Member

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    Love all of those behind the scenes Hush Hush photos with Joan in them. Now I so wish she was in the final movie. Olivia did great with the role IMO, her innocent, good girl look really fooled me the first time I watched it. I don't think it would be the same with Joan, but still the idea of her and Bette, battling it out once again, is too good to pass. Plus Joan looks fab with that glammed up, big hair mid 60s look.

    I assume this thread was inspired by the latest episode of Feud which deals with the whole hag horror phenomenon. Now I really want to watch all of the movies on that list, or at least the ones I haven't seen before.
     
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  16. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    TCM recently ran a mini "Grande Dame Guignol" marathon, showing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Strait-Jacket, Die! Die! My Darling!, What's the Matter with Helen?, and The Nanny. I recorded all five films on my DVR, but because the weather got particularly rough during their showtimes, the majority of them got lost. Over half of Baby Jane wasn't recorded, and the others were rather splotchy, skipping a lot and stuff. I watched all of What's the Matter with Helen?, the 1971 "hag horror" starring Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds. I was simultaneously more bloody and less shocking than I was expecting. I enjoyed it nonetheless. I've seen Strait-Jacket before, so I deleted it once it started freezing and skipping because the weather, and I didn't bother recording The Nanny cause of the weather.
     
  17. Mike

    Mike Soap Chat Active Member

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    I loved this movie and it was have Ann Todd in it.
     
  18. Mike

    Mike Soap Chat Active Member

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    You know, I all wise thought that in the 80's Spelling should have make remakes of these movies with Joan Collins,Linda Evans Stephanie Beacham,Diahann Carroll,Stephanie Powers,Linda Grey,Donna Mills,Michelle Lee,Victoria Principal,Lindsay Wagner,Linda Carter,Kate Jackson,Jaclyn Smith,Cheryl Ladd.Can you image these movies!
     
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  19. ClassyCo

    ClassyCo Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    That would be a great idea. :spinning:

    And let's not forget Farrah Fawcett. ;)
     
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  20. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

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    HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE may have my favorite music score ever -- not just the title song, but the background music. And it's certainly one of my favorite films, Top 4 or 5 easily, and I view it as the pinnacle of the "hag horror/grande dame guignol" genre of the '60s which BABY JANE started.

    I like BABY JANE, and have owned a couple of copies of it over the years, but I've just never felt about it the way I do CHARLOTTE. I guess it's just something I can't be rational about.

    For me, CHARLOTTE is the more forlorn picture, the relationships more layered than the entertaining crazy house that BABY JANE represents. Beyond that, CHARLOTTE always feels to me like the last vestiges of something -- the early twentieth century being swept away just as Charlotte is swept away at the end of the movie.

    It's all teetering on the edge of that chasm which separates both halves of the 1960s.

    But, as I said above, I would indeed be curious to see CHARLOTTE with Joan Crawford in her mid-'60s beehive and giant choker necklaces wandering around the house at night in silence, much more overtly nefarious than she was in BABY JANE. Had Joan not foolishly allowed herself to be run off by Bette during production of the movie, I wonder if CHARLOTTE, the creeper and darker of the two films and one which hit all the gothic horror cliches more directly than most films ever have, might have emerged the better remembered picture -- with the two great divas going head-to-head while able-bodied and in more grandiose circumstances.

    As it is, I'm almost glad that didn't happen. Yes, Crawford's I SAW WHAT YOU DID appearance and persona a year later hints at what her CHARLOTTE role might have been like (and both were photographed by B&W maestro Joseph Biroc) but by her pulling out of CHARLOTTE and being replaced by the breezier DeHavilland, it allows CHARLOTTE to take "second place" in public perception -- which is not entirely a bad thing: the superior movie dismissed by many as "a watered-down redo of...", comparatively shrouded and lost in time. Which seems to be what HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE is about to begin with.



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