Strait-Jacket is a 1963 American horror film starring Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) and Diane Baker in a macabre mother and daughter tale about a series of axe-murders. Horror regular George Kennedy (Death Ship, Just Before Dawn, Uninvited) also makes an appearance as a sneering farmhand.
Released by Columbia Pictures on January 19th 1964, the film was directed and co-produced by William Castle. The screenplay was the first of two written for Castle by Robert Bloch, the second being The Night Walker (1964).
Strait-Jacket marks the first big-screen appearance of Lee Majors (Killerfish) in the uncredited role of Crawford’s husband.
After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Joan Crawford and other older actresses, including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck, made numerous horror movies throughout the 1960s.
Strait-Jacket is one of the more notable examples of the genre sometimes referred to as ‘psycho-biddy’ or Grande Dame Guignol. During the film’s original release, American moviegoers were given little cardboard axes as they entered the cinema.
Crawford replaced Joan Blondell in the role of Lucy Harbin after Blondell was injured at home prior to shooting and could not fulfil her commitment. Crawford’s negotiations included script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary, and 15 per cent of the profits, plus prominent plugs for Pepsi.
Lucy Harbin has spent twenty years in an asylum where it was “pure hell” for the decapitation axe-murder of her husband (Lee Majors) and his mistress, after catching him cheating on her. After she is released, she takes up residence at the farm of her brother Bill Cutler and sister-in-law Emily.
Lucy’s adult daughter Carol, an artist and “sculptress”, also lives on the Cutler farm and is seemingly unaffected by the grisly murders she witnessed many years in the past as a three-year-old child. Carol encourages her mother to dress and act the way she did in the past. Lucy begins playing the vamp and makes passes at her daughter’s fiance Michael Fields. She then shocks his parents with a sudden tantrum when they consider their son’s marriage to Carol out of the question.
A series of brutal axe-murders begin with Lucy’s doctor, who is found in the freezer, and the shady hired man Leo. All signs point to Lucy as the murderer and some believe she is still insane and should be returned to the hospital…
‘Strait-Jacket‘s strength is its soundtrack. It is very Leave It To Beaver–ish, until there’s some suspenseful part or an ax murder, where some weird quasi sci-fi thing takes over. Very creepy. Crawford delivers a great performance amidst amateurs and Pepsi C.E.O.s, but the movie isn’t anywhere near as good as it could have been.’ Fear of a Ghost Planet
“See 59-year-old Joan play a 29-year-old in flashbacks. See prominently displayed product placement for Pepsi, since Joan was married to the president (and see one of the Pepsi VPs as the doctor in a particularly painfully-acted role). See Joan get wasted and come on to her daughter’s boyfriend by interminably fingering his mouth. See Joan wear a wig, scary makeup, and Gypsy-esque jewelry in an attempt to recapture her glory days.” Junta Juleil, Culture Shock
“When compared to other movies, this film ran at a fair pace, and in its day those decapitations would have shocked its thrill-seeking audience, even though they offered little in the way of gore. Castle would continue his B-grade schlock, but sadly the great roles would elude Crawford, whose later work was confined to low-budget features and television.” Peter Normanton, The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies
Cast and characters:
Joan Crawford … Lucy Harbin
Diane Baker … Carol Cutler
Leif Erickson … Bill Cutler
Howard St. John … Raymond Fields
John Anthony Hayes … Michael Fields
Rochelle Hudson … Emily Cutler
George Kennedy … Leo Krause
Edith Atwater … Mrs Alison Fields
Mitchell Cox … Doctor Anderson
Vicki Cos … Carol Harbin – Aged Three (uncredited)
Patricia Crest … Stella Fulton (uncredited)
Laura Hess … Second Little Girl (uncredited)
Howard Hoffman … (uncredited)
Patty Lee … First Little Girl (uncredited)
Lynn Lundgren … Beautician (uncredited)
Lee Majors … Frank Harbin (uncredited)