Produced and Directed by William Castle
Written by Robert Bloch
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Film Editor: Edwin Bryant
Music by Van Alexander
Cast: Joan Crawford (Lucy Harbin), Diane Baker (Carol), Leif Erickson (Bill Cutler), Howard St. John (Raymond Fields), Rochelle Hudson (Emily Cutler), George Kennedy (Leo Krause), Edith Atwater (Mrs. Fields), Lee Majors (Frank Harbin)
WARNING: STRAIT-JACKET VIVIDLY DEPICTS AX MURDERS! That, my friends, is the genius of William Castle. With a tagline like that, how could Strait-Jacket (1964) not have played to theaters packed with kids?
Another sign of his genius is that his gimmick for this picture didn’t require a special viewer or wired seats. It was simply its casting. The axe murderer is none other than the great Joan Crawford. You see, Joan chopped off the heads of her cheating husband (Lee Majors) and his floozie. And oddly enough, as soon as she’s released from the nuthouse 20 years later, people start getting chopped up.
Naturally, everyone suspects Joan, even Joan herself. But being that Castle’s producing and directing from a script by Robert Bloch, we can expect some sorta twist — even if by the second reel, we have a pretty good idea what that twist’s gonna be.
I love Strait-Jacket. You can feel Castle’s ghoulish glee in every swing of the axe, every lopped-off head, every cryptic line of dialogue. He had a way of making movies fun, which has to be the main reason his pictures are still so popular.
Of course, Crawford’s terrific — even though it’s ludicrous having her play her younger self in the early scenes. We feel for her, even though we really just wanna see another head roll. The rest of the cast is functional, which is all they’re called upon to do. George Kennedy snarls his way through the whole thing, and we can’t wait for his appointment with the axe. It’s wonderful.
Mill Creek has brought Strait-Jacket to Blu-Ray in a bargain-priced double bill with Berserk!, a Herman Cohen picture from 1967. In that one, Joan’s the owner of a British circus where people keep winding up dead.
Both films look terrific here — Columbia’s HD masters of their old films are almost always gorgeous. Strait-Jacket really shows off Arthur E. Arling’s crisp B&W photography, giving it an edge over Berserk!‘s color. There are no extras, but with high definition at such a low price, who’s gonna complain?
It’s very easy to recommend this set. I wish the rest of the home video world would take a good look at what Mill Creek is doing with these Blu-Ray pairing of pictures from Crawford, Castle, Hammer and others.