By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Giving them the ax.
Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) comes home early one night from a trip only to find her husband Frank (Lee Majors in his film debut) in bed with another woman. This enrages her so much that she grabs an ax and chops off both of their heads all while in front of her young daughter. After being institutionalized for 20 years she is released and sent home to live with her now grown daughter Carol (Diane Baker). Unfortunately the ax murders begin happening again and all signs seem to point to Lucy having a bad relapse.
Director William Castle keeps the proceedings compact enough to be entertaining, but borrows too many elements from Psycho and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? while also adding a few to many gimmicks. Having the setting take place on a rural hog farm gives it a little extra atmosphere. The wrap-up is nice, but halfway through the film I had already figured out the twist ending and thus making the final revelation not as shocking or interesting as I think the filmmakers intended.
I realize the gore factor here is quite sanitized when compared to today’s horror movies and yet the scene where Lucy axes her hubby is actually quite effective. We see the shadow of the husband’s body with his head popping off like a cork coming out of a wine bottle. Instead of cutting away like most other films do it cuts back to Joan’s face where she continues to whack and whack and whack while her eyes get wilder with rage, which in many ways makes this far better and more fun than most other ax wielding movie scenes.
The film also brings out an interesting loophole. Namely the fact that can a woman be considered crazy for wanting to chop off her husband’s head after finding out he is unfaithful or is she simply giving the two-timing cad his just desserts.
Baker is good in support and her face is adorable. Her restrained performance nicely compliments Crawford’s more hammy and histrionic one. In fact some may consider Crawford’s acting to be over-the-top and unintentionally funny, but on a camp level it is fun. I realize both her wig and clacking bracelets become a major plot point, but I disliked both. The wig makes her look too much like an old, haggard version of her famous Mildred Pierce character and the constant clacking from the bracelets becomes annoying.
It was interesting to see Leif Erickson cast as a family friend who tries to work with Lucy and her emotional instability as he was at one time the husband of Frances Farmer an actress who also suffered from mental illness and I kept one wondering the whole time whether he was channeling those experiences into his character here. George Kennedy can also be spotted, but his almost unrecognizable as he has jet black hair here, a much thinner frame, and a pair of buck teeth.
Probably the film’s best gimmick comes at the very end where the famous torch carrying lady on Columbia Pictures logo is seen with her head cut off and having it lying on the ground beside her feet.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: January 19, 1964
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Director: William Castle
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video