After the success of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" (1962), director William Castle hired the writer of the novel "Psycho," and the co-star of "Baby Jane," and came up with this moody body-count film where plenty of heads roll. Castle also used the always-underrated Diane Baker (who coincidentally, had also appeared in a supporting roll in Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie," in 1964) to play Joan Crawford's daughter.
Bloch's story is efficient and very tight, and while the mystery certainly isn't complex, "Strait-Jacket" walks a surreal fine line between high camp-value, and Crawford's genuinely sympathetic performance as an emotionally traumatized woman who can't quite deal with the outside world.
Columbia's print has minor wear, but there's visible grain in a number of shots that's occasionally distracting. The change is quality is oddly most evident between the deliberate soft-focus close-ups of Crawford (who used her own make-up crew, and had cinematographer approval), and the regular sharp images with the rest of the photographed cast. The grays and blacks are fairly stable, and the harsh contrasts for the murder scenes are clean and very effective. The film's mono soundtrack is fairly rich; the music, dialogue and sound effects come through without distortion, and Castle's deliberate sound shocks pay off smoothly.
The included featurette has comments from 3 historians (David Del Valle, Don Glut and Michael Schlesinger, from Columbia Pictures Repertory), fan Don Glut, and recollections from surviving cast member Diane Baker. Baker and Del Valle paint candid, humorous, and compelling portraits of Crawford, and there's plenty of archival stills and news footage of Castle from publicity tours. The featurette also includes snippets from a longer trailer and/or a publicity short in which Castle introduces (and hypes) star Crawford and screenwriter Robert Bloch. Sadly, neither the longer trailer/or short are included on the DVD.
Underscored with looped music are make-up and costume tests of Crawford, and a short series of 'decapitation' effects tests, with Crawford wielding an ax. With the exception of the included "Strait-Jacket" teaser, the other trailers are anamorphic.
Other entries in Columbia Tri-Star's William Castle series also inclide "Homicidal," "Mr. Sardonicus," and "13 Ghosts."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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