This is the latest entry in the always exciting Final Girl Film Club. Click the link to see what all the other cuckoo nutsos are saying.
William Castle never met a gimmick he didn't like. His most famous stunts involved flying inflatable skeletons, fake life insurance policies and giant joy buzzers wired to cinema seats. With his 1964 film Strait-Jacket, he kept all the gimmicks on-screen in the form of taking two of the hottest trends in horror films at the time and fusing them together into one goofy, campy, over-the-top mess.
For Strait-Jacket, Castle took the whodunnit proto-slasher style of Psycho (even going so far as to recruit Psycho author Robert Bloch to write the screenplay) and mashed it up with the then-popular “crazy old bag” micro-genre that's best typified by early 60's thrillers like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte. The film follows Carol Harbin, a young woman who, as a child, witnessed her mother chop up her father and his lover with an axe. After twenty years in an asylum the mother (played by Joan Crawford) comes to live on her brother's farm with Carol. Carol encourages her mother to pick up her life where she left off, outfitting her in a wig and the kind of clothes she wore before her murderous rampage. As Lucy begins to revert to her old ways she is haunted by images and sounds that lead us to believe that she might have not quite been ready to leave the mental institute. Eventually the axe comes out and people begin losing their heads...
Strait-Jacket is a fun little bit of mid-60s camp. It has a twist ending that's not too hard to spot coming but is still good fun in an EC Comics kind of way. Joan Crawford is completely batty and overdramatic and when you put a wig on her head and an axe in her hands, she makes a pretty iconic horror character. When it's all said and done, though, my favorite part of the movie was the Columbia Pictures logo at the end.
That's pure genius my friends.