Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969)
Article 1859 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2006
Posting Date: 9-14-2006
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Rosemary Forsyth

After discovering that her deceased husband had lost his entire fortune before his death (and leaving her nothing but his stamp collection), a disgruntled heiress decides to make ends meet by employing personal companions and then murdering them for their life savings. However, her new hire suspects that something is up…

The cycle of horror films about “horror hags” (the popular term for horror movies featuring well-known elderly actresses) was one of the more interesting trends of the genre, but I often can’t quite bring myself to look at them as full-blown horror movies. Yes, they have some elements of the genre (this one has a serial killer, of course), but there’s generally a feel about a number of them that makes me want to shunt them off to the “marginalia” category. Still, I’m not sure whether there’s an easy genre classification for these eccentric exercises in gothic black-comedy that fits them any better. At any rate, they’re popularly considered as horror movies, so I’m covering them.

This was the third of Aldrich’s assays into the genre, though this time he’s only a producer rather than a director as well. It’s quite good, but I’m afraid I’m a little disappointed by it, largely because it reminds me so much of two other movies. It certainly has a similarity to WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE , and though both Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon do well enough, I just don’t feel the same fireworks as I do watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford going at it. The other movie it reminds me of is SCREAM OF FEAR , and I’m afraid that this movie just doesn’t have the delicious twists of that one. In fact, this movie’s biggest twist (which I won’t give away here, but anyone who recognizes the movie from the plot description will probably remember it) is brought forward at an awkward, somewhat inappropriate moment that reduces its effect a little bit. Still, it’s a fairly clever movie, and if the occasional moment falls flat, there are some that work very well indeed. Still, I wonder what it would have been like had Aldrich actually directed it. Granted, that’s not a guarantee of quality, as THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE comes to mind. Still, it would have been interesting…

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