Strait-Jacket (1964)

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hollywood suddenly had roles for older actresses, as part of psycho-biddy films. And no one was more in demand than Joan Crawford, who agreed to be in this William Castle film with the following demands: script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary and 15 percent of the profits.

Lucy Harbin (Joan!) has spent two decades in a mental hospital after the axe murders of her philandering husband (Lee Majors!) and his mistress. After she gets out, she moves in with his brother Bill (Leif Ericson, who is also in I Saw What You Did with Crawford, along with his wife Emily and her daughter, Carol (Diane Baker, who Crawford hired to replace Anne Helm).

Ironically, Crawford herself was a replacement for Joan Blondell, who was injured before filming and couldn’t make the movie.

Carol seems happy and unharmed by the fact that she watched her mother sliced up her father and his lover with an axe. In fact, she does everything she can to keep her mother from being depressed, changing her look back to how she appeared when she was young.

Soon enough, Joan is acting the hell out of this movie, a new series of axe murders are happening and George Kennedy shows up looking young and perverted. Oh yeah — you can also totally play a drinking game by looking for every appearance of Pepsi in this movie. Even crazier, the character of Dr. Anderson was played by Mitchell Cox, who was not an actor, but rather the Vice President of the Pepsi-Cola Company. Joan did this one all on her own, without even asking Castle. Oh Joan!

Even though William Castle had the best gimmick of all — an A-list star in a B-movie horror flick — he still gave audience members little cardboard axes for coming to see the movie. And at several theaters, he brought Joan along, coming out to greet her public.

My favorite thing in this entire movie is that the Columbia logo’s torch-bearing woman is decapitated at the end of the movie!

Look — I’m not going to be unbiased when it comes to Joan Crawford movies. This one is ridiculous — a near giallo with Joan acting decades younger than she should — but that makes it so much greater than it should be.

You can get Strait-Jacket from Shout! Factory or as part of the Psycho-Biddy Double Feature with Berserk! from Mill Creek Entertainment.

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