• Strait-Jacket (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Released on: August 21st, 2018.
    Director: William Castle
    Cast: Joan Crawford, George Kennedy, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, Rochelle Hudson
    Year: 1964
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    Strait-Jacket - Movie Review:

    Directed by William Castle from a script by Robert Bloch, 1964’s Strait-Jacket opens with an unforgettable scene in which a ‘young’ woman named Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford, sporting even more makeup than usual to hide her age) arrives home, surprising her husband (Lee Majors, in his film debut) who just so happens to be in bed with another woman. Lucy proceeds to grab an axe and chop them up, all in plain view of their young daughter Carol (Diane Baker).

    Twenty-years later, Lucy (Crawford again, wearing slightly less makeup) is let out of the asylum where she’s spent the past two decades. What’s Carol (all grown up and played by Diane Baker) been doing all this time? She was raised by her kindly aunt and uncle Bill (Leif Erickson) and Emily Cutler (Rochelle Hudson), dating rich guy Michael Fields (John Anthony Hayes) – who mom can’t help but have eyes for after a few drinks - and working on her sculpting skills. When Lucy is brought back into Carol’s life, the younger Harbin does what she can to help her feel welcome: she gets her new clothes, has her try on some fancy wigs (they’re all the rage, you know) and even shows her a ‘Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For-esque’ bust of her mother’s head. Lucy, however, might not be as cured as Dr. Anderson (Mitchell Cox) thought she was – and soon the bodies start to pile up…

    Made with Castle’s typical penchant for shock and style, Strait-Jacket is an effectively shot and wonderfully shadowy southern gothic with some pre-slasher elements that work quite well in its favor. The movie is quick in its pacing and if the final twist is a little obvious to anyone paying attention, it still works. Bloch’s script twists and turns, making us question Lucy’s sanity as the other characters in the film do, and if it is a bit light on character development it makes up for that with some excellent murder set pieces (there aren’t a lot of other major studio films from the early sixties that open with a grisly axe murder the way this one does!).

    The film is also an absolute tour-de-force for Joan Crawford. Following the success of 1962’s classic Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Strait-Jacket sees the actress, nearing sixty at this point, in the second of a few horror pictures she’s make towards the end of her career (I Saw What You Did!, Berserk! And Trog would all follow) – and she gives it her all. Completely throwing herself into the role and laying waste to any and all scenery with some seriously fantastic overacting, Crawford is beautifully bitchy here, scowling her way through the part, gnashing her teeth and leaving the rest of the cast in the dust. Fun supporting roles from Baker, Erickson, Hduson and Hayes are all good, and an almost unrecognizably thin George Kennedy is great in his supporting role as a creepy handyman, but this is 100% Crawford’s show and you get the impression that everyone else involved in the picture knew it (there’s no shortage of stories out there about her acting out on set, requiring re-writes and her notoriously demanding personality).

    Strait-Jacket – Blu-ray Review:

    The 1.78.1 widescreen transfer on Shout! Factory’s AVC encoded 1080p high definition Blu-ray release looks excellent. Blacks are nice and deep, whites are crisp and clean without ever blooming and there’s a nicely defined grey scale covering everything in between. The image is damn near pristine, showing no print damage aside from some small white specks, but it maintains a pleasingly organic amount of film grain. The image is free of compression issues and devoid of edge enhancement and noise reduction – no complains here, Strait-Jacket looks great on this disc.

    The only audio option for the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track, though subtitles are provided in English. No problems here. The dialogue is easy to understand and follow, the score sounds good and for an older single channel track, there’s a decent amount of range and depth.

    A trio of film historians - Steve Haberman, David J. Schow and Constantine Nasr – deliver an audio commentary track and it’s quite good. These guys know their stuff and the fact that Schow knew writer Robert Bloch fairly well before he passed away in 1994 means that there’s some genuine insight into the script and the writer’s thoughts on the material. There’s a lot of focus on Crawford here (how could there not be?) and her acting and presence but also talk of Castle’s directing and marketing skills, how the movie combines gothic elements with some uniquely American traits, the murder set pieces, the casting, the score and more. There’s a lot of information in here, this is very well-done.

    Carried over from the older Sony DVD release is the fifteen-minute Battle-Axe: The Making Of Strait-Jacket featurette that includes some interview footage with actress Diane Baker and film historian David Del Valle. Baker talks about her relationship with the film’s tempestuous leading lady and her thoughts on Castle, who she was quite found of, by way of some interesting stories from the shoot while Del Valle fills in the blanks with some interesting trivia about the making of the picture. The seven-minute Joan Had Me Fired featurette is an interview with Anne Helm who was originally cast in Baker’s part. She talks about meeting and getting along with Crawford at first, only for the elder actress to turn on her and eventually get her kicked off of the shoot! On The Road With Joan Crawford is a seven-minute interview with publicist Richard Kahn wherein he speaks about his time at Columbia and his memories of Castle and Crawford ‘collaborating’ on the picture, and also how Columbia got her to tour and promote the film when it first hit theaters.

    Rounding out the extras are three-minutes of costume and makeup tests featuring Crawford, just shy of a minute’s worth of axe-chopping footage wherein Crawford relieves a dummy of its fake head (this is quite interesting as it’s far bloodier than what was shown in the movie!), a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Strait-Jacket – The Final Word:

    Strait-Jacket is a fantastic movie. At times almost delirious in its high camp posturing, it’s a great showcase for Crawford’s scenery chewing abilities and Castle’s penchant for shock value. It’s also genuinely atmospheric and engaging, even more so in this excellent presentation from Shout! Factory that boasts a beautiful transfer and a nice selection of supplements. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Strait-Jacket Blu-ray review screen captures!