The Anniversary (1968)

THE ANNIVERSARY (1968)
Article #1707 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2005
Posting Date: 4-15-2006
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Bette Davis, Sheila Hancock, Jack Hedley

The sons of a tyrannical matriarch try to escape from her clutches during the celebration of the anniversary of her marriage to the deceased father.

Usually, this is the type of movie I shuttle off to the marginal categories, but I consider this one to really be out of the genre, despite its inclusion in Bryan Senn’s and John Johnson’s FANTASTIC CINEMA SUBJECT GUIDE under the “Madmen” category (and hence, its inclusion in this series). Yes, it features a monster, but only in the sense that Bette Davis’s character is one of the cruelest and most manipulative characters in cinema history, but she remains distinctly human. And though she may be mad, it’s not the psychotic madness of horror but the madness of glorying over one’s manipulative power. Its biggest claim to horror is its pedigree; Davis’s last two films had been THE NANNY and HUSH HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, this one was made at Hammer with a script by Jimmy Sangster and direction by Roy Ward Baker. Still, I really find it impossible to class this one as belonging to the horror genre.

It is, however, a deliciously nasty comedy, one that seemed tailor-made for Davis. As the strident, crude one-eyed matriarch of the family, she spews out lines that would never have passed muster in the days of the production code, and plays tricks of such consummate cruelty that you find yourselves glad that you’re not there in person. It’s a fascinating battle; though her sons are weak, the women in their lives are quite willing to take her on, but their ultimate success depends on the support they receive from the sons. Who will win the final battle? I certainly won’t give it away, but it’s good to remember that it’s not over till it’s over. Fans of black comedy and/or Bette Davis will have a field day with this; those expecting a horror movie instead will come away frustrated.

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