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By the early 1960ís actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were two Hollywood has-beens and not what anyone would consider as leading lady material. However, along came a little movie entitled WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, which put both of their careers back on the map. In fact, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? gave birth to a gothic horror sub-genre that featured over-the-hill leading ladies, which remained popular for a few years during that decade. After WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Bette Davis went on to make the stylish gothic horror classic HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, in which she portrayed a mentally unbalanced axe murderess. Like Davis, Joan Crawford also found herself tapped to play a mentally unbalanced axe murderess in William Castleís less stylish, but equally entertaining, horror potboiler STRAIT-JACKET ($25).

In STRAIT-JACKET, Crawford portrays country gal Lucy Harbin, who returns home a day early from a trip to discover her younger husband in bed with another woman. Enraged, Lucy picks up an axe and hacks her husband and his lover to death, right in front of her three-year-old daughter. Deemed insane for her actions, Lucy spends the next twenty years in an asylum. When released, Lucy comes home to her brotherís farm, where she is reunited with her daughter Carol (Diane Baker), who has grown up into a beautiful young woman. In an effort to recapture a part of her childhood that she lost, Carol gives Lucy a makeover, which returns her mother to the way she looked just before she was taken off to the asylum. Unfortunately, restoring Lucyís past appearance also dredges up something else from the past- a series of grisly axe murders. STRAIT-JACKET is exploitive horror at its best that benefits from the William Castle touch, as well as a solid cast headed up by Joan Crawford. The supporting players in STRAIT-JACKET include Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes, Rochelle Hudson, George Kennedy, Edith Atwater, Mitchell Cox and an uncredited Lee Majors as Crawfordís axed husband.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made STRAIT-JACKET available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is a great looking black and white transfer of a modestly budgeted film from 1964. The image on the DVD is quite sharp and provides a very solid level of detail. Only shots involving optical fades or effects appear somewhat soft. Film grain is minimal, but it is noticeable throughout the course of the movie. Blacks are completely inky, plus the whites are solid and totally stable. Contrast is fairly smooth and the picture produces a reasonably diverse grayscale. Digital compression artifacts remain well concealed throughout.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is just fine for a film of its age and budget. At normal listening levels there is no significant signs of distortion or background hiss. Dialogue is crisp, clean and completely understandable. There are the expected frequency limitations in recordings of this vintage, but for the most part sound effects and Van Alexanderís musical score a rendered in a fairly pleasing manner. Subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. The featurette Battle-Ax: The Making of Strait-Jacket runs fourteen minutes and includes new interviews with film historians David Del Valle, Don Glut and Michael Schlesinger, as well as actress Diane Baker, who speaks fondly about working with William Castle and Joan Crawford on STRAIT-JACKET. Also include on the DVD is several minutes of footage that comprise the Joan Crawford Costume and Makeup Tests. What makes this footage fascinating is the fact that Crawford is giving a real performance while she is in front of the camera for the tests. An Ax Swinging Screen Test and theatrical trailers for STRAIT-JACKET, 13 GHOSTS and MR. SARDONICUS close out the DVDís extras.

STRAIT-JACKET is a fun horror outing that will appeal to genre fans, as well as those of actress Joan Crawford and director William Castle. Columbia TriStarís DVD edition of STRAIT-JACKET looks and sounds pretty darn good. That, plus the fun extras, makes this a DVD well worth acquiring.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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