Archive for bette davis

Films That Haunt Me: HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2015 by smuckyproductions

A little break from the snow and ice – let’s travel down to Louisiana, for Robert Aldrich’s follow-up to the Grand Guignol classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” After the success of that film, Aldrich teamed up with Bette Davis again – this tim excluding Joan Crawford, who dropped out for ‘health reasons’ – to create this classic Southern Gothic nightmare called HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE.

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This film starts, like “Baby Jane,” with a bang: the first thing we see (in shockingly graphic detail for the 60’s) is a man getting decapitated. It’s the climax of a love affair between the man and the young daughter of a plantation giant. But who committed the crime? Forty years later, the daughter has grown into an old woman (Bette Davis), trapped in her decaying plantation mansion by the guilt of what she did or did not do. It is far from over, though – when Charlotte’s long-estranged cousin comes to visit, Charlotte begins to deteriorate into hallucinations, hinting at a sinister plot going on in the shadows.

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It isn’t as original of a plot as “Baby Jane,” but it is made unique by the manner of its telling. This film drips with dark atmosphere that is special to the South – sprawling swamps, drifting moss, and thick shadows. The images that populate this setting are equally bizarre. As Charlotte falls into madness, we see what she does – phantasmal shadows crossing the windows; ghostly balls with faceless dancers; and the spectre of her lover, headless, reaching for her. Is any of it real? The film doesn’t give up its secrets easily. And that’s the fun of it. This type of psychological horror yields the most fascinating imagery and tone, because it is allowed to access the subconscious and all its mysteries.

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For the most part, this film plays like a moody thriller – but there are definite moments of pure horror. The shadow-crossed house and Bette Davis’s wafting, nightgown-clad Charlotte provide the perfect platform on which to launch some legitimate scares. Like “Baby Jane” as well, the film is adept at putting the viewer inside a character’s mind, so every fictional experience becomes utterly visceral. It’s a creeping, dread-filled piece of surreal cinema.

And, at the same time, it manages to speak heartbreakingly to a life lived in the past, drowned in guilt. Bette Davis plays her character so tenderly  – chewing scenery, of course, but with palpable sincerity. There is a beating heart to this chiller, even if that heart gushes blood. Charlotte is a woman whose ideals were shattered by violence – to see where that leads her is truly disturbing. The characters around her, too, all seem to have ulterior motives – speaking to secrets kept and deception maintained in the name of greed. The people in this film are drawn boldly and convincingly, yielding most of the terror from their own actions.

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It may not be the masterpiece that “Baby Jane” is, but this film stands on its own, for its revolutionary surrealism and its mastery of Gothic tone. A story of guilt and the capacity of human evil, it is sure to warp your mind – and in spite of its sunny Southern climes, it will chill you like the winter wind.

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Films That Haunt Me: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: two notorious queens of screen melodrama who absolutely hated each other. The Hollywood rivalry. It doesn’t make sense that they would do a film together, but lo and behold, it happened. No surprise that it’s a horror film, either, and one of the most powerful ever made. This is WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

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The film pits Davis and Crawford against each other as sisters, one a forgotten child star and the other a fading Hollywood actress, locked together in their decaying Los Angeles mansion. The former hates the latter because of her long-lasting success; the latter hates the former because, rumor has it, she caused a car crash that landed her sister in a wheelchair. In their old age, their hatred has only grown. And it’s about to explode into some violence.

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“Baby Jane” is a very special film. It was born from the actual conflict between these actresses, and the energy of this conflict is present throughout every scene. But what makes it truly remarkable are the characters. The boiling, unrequited hatred between them resembles something from Shirley Jackson or Flannery O’Connor – pure human grotesqueness.

There is no monster or murderer in this film other than their rivalry, but that proves to be a greater villain than any other. The vicious nature of the sister’s attacks on each other (mainly Davis, as the bitter child star, on wheelchair-bound Crawford) is utterly shocking. Particularly because there is deep emotion behind it, the undeniable bond of sisters.

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The film’s imagery is a necessity to discuss as well. Davis is ingenious as the forgotten Baby Jane, dolled up in a terrible amount of makeup, prancing around like a little girl – or exploding in murderous rages. Watching her prowl through the decayed mansion is a chilling as any screen demon. And the progression of her vengeance on her sister – starting with sisterly pranks, escalating into acts of brutality – is absolutely chilling, even more so because she isn’t doing it fully out of spite. But I won’t give too much away.

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Here we have a perfect example of film alchemy: so many elements gelling almost by luck into a piece of cinema that defies effort. Grand Guignol sets, neo-Gothic imagery (creepy dolls included), two grotesque characters… and a deeply unhealthy sibling relationship, bolstered by the actual animosity between the stars. All of this igniting into a single work of horrific, beautiful film. For that reason it is special, and a must-see – if the viewer is content with having their mind warped for two hours.