By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Children murder their parents.
In 1957 George (Michael Burns) and Mandy (Barbara Sammeth), a brother and sister ages 6 and 4, murder their own parents in cold blood. No one knows for sure which one of them did it except that their older sister Ellen (Stella Stevens) witnessed them standing over their dead bodies in blood soaked clothes. It was her testimony that got them locked away into a mental institution, but now 12 years later they are set free into Ellen’s care. Ellen is now living with and working for wealthy widow Mrs. Armstrong (Shelley Winters) who agrees to allow the children to move in to her sprawling mansion, but then the murders begin to reoccur, but this time Ellen decides to cover up for them in order to avoid the humiliation and publicity.
This film, which is a remake of 1941’s Ladies in Retirement starring Ida Lupino, starts out with a bang by using some interesting visuals during the opening credit sequence. We are also shown flowers finger painted by the children using the dead parent’s blood on the walls of the victim’s bedroom, which I felt sent this thing to unprecedented darker depths especially for its time period. Unfortunately the film cannot sustain its initial momentum and devolves into a talky script that lacks much action or scares. Director Bernard Girard’s stylish direction keeps it watchable, but the film fails to achieve its full potential. Dave Grusin’s excellent music score manages to keep the tension going even when the script can’t.
Stevens looks gorgeous, but unfortunately her acting is sterile. Her wide blue eyes seem to reflect her empty performance and her presence weakens the film. The younger performers who play her brother and sister upstage her particularly Sammeth in her film debut.
I have always loved Winters as a character actress, but her goofy character hurts the dark undertones at least at the beginning. She does improve as it goes along and I enjoyed the way she reacts when Ellen tells her about her sibling’s dark secret and I was disappointed she didn’t remain through the film’s entire duration. Beverly Garland is a scene stealer as an embittered alcoholic wife who makes a big stink at a party and then a little later commits a shocking act.
If there is one thing that really ruins the movie it is the lame, limp ending, which has to be one of the most uneventful finales I have ever seen especially for a thriller. When the credits started to roll I literally did a double-take and asked myself. That’s it?? We just sat through 95 minutes of buildup just for that?? This was also another film where I figured out its twist ending long before it happened and when the ‘surprise’ revelation does come about it is unexciting and even anticlimactic.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: May 1, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Director: Bernard Girard
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video