It’s well documented that William Castle had aspirations to be Hitchcock, or in many ways rise to his level of filmmaking prowess. Speaking as someone who loves Castle as much as Hitchcock, I’d say they’re about neck and neck, but with different ideas of what constitutes a horror movie. Castle’s talent is theatrics, and with “Strait-Jacket” he takes what is essentially his own version of “Psycho” and stages it as a twisty, occasionally campy, and very cerebral murder mystery. Castle also goes a step forward, turning his killer on their victims with an axe that they use to lop their heads off.
Twenty years after murdering her husband and his lover with an aex, Lucy is released in to the custody of her daughter Carol, who witnessed the event. Now that Carol has built a life and is on the verge of being wed, Lucy hopes to make a good impression. But soon Lucy begins experiencing hallucinations, and mysterious black outs, while people around the town begin disappearing. When Lucy’s doctor from the Asylum visits and then suddenly disappears, she and Carol begin to wonder what’s happening. Is Lucy murdering people unconsciously? Is she still mad? Is someone seeking revenge? Or is this some sick ploy from someone who doesn’t want Carol and her husband together?
There are a lot of parallels you can draw from “Psycho,” as much of “Strait-Jacket” involves the complicated mother and child relationship, the sick turns it takes, the shadow draped murderer, red herrings, murders of characters we don’t see coming, and of course, the big reveal in climax. Castle’s reveal is just as great as Hitchcock’s, as “Psycho” opted for a shock, while “Strait-Jacket” aims for an emotional gut punch. It’s noted in the documentary “Spine Tingler!” that Joan Crawford was not okay with handing the emotional weight of the finale to Diane Baker, so the cuts back and forth kind of lessen the punch. That said, “Strait-Jacket” is a damn good murder mystery that also presents us with heavy shades of a slasher movie long before the sub-genre ever came to popularity.
“Strait-Jacket” is never afraid to get as grisly as possible within the constraints of censors, and despite the fact that most of the murders are committed in the shadows, one scene delivers the full aftermath of what unfolded in the prologue. Robert Bloch’s script is very well paced, allowing us to view the fall out of the vicious murder in the prologue, and then see how it managed to affect mom Lucy and daughter Carol, respectively. A lot of the narrative relies foreshadowing and heavy set up, leaving us to wonder what’s happening to Lucy, and if there’s something more devious underneath the seams. Castle builds a very taut and engaging horror drama that I quite enjoyed through to the very end. I’ve admittedly never seen it until recently; it’s a fantastic horror drama and a perfect companion to “Psycho” if you’re in to a twisted double bill.
The new blu-ray from Shout! comes with an audio commentary with authors/Film Historians Steve Haberman and David J. Schow and Film Historian Constantine Nasr. “Joan Had Me Fired” is a seven minute interview with actress Anne Helm, who discusses meeting with William Castle, and how she met and befriended Joan Crawford, only for her to turn around and get her fired from the movie. “On the Road with Joan Crawford” is a six minute interview with publicist Richard Kahn who discusses working with Castle, and how he was brought together with Joan Crawford.
He also explains how Crawford was the prop for the film much like the Ghost Glasses and Tingler Devices. ““Battle-Ax”: The Making of Strait-Jacket” is a fourteen minute segment from a previous release, with a lot of interviews, including Diane Baker. She and the surviving people behind the film discuss the legacy of the movie, and the people involved, including Anne Helm. Finally there are Joan Crawford Costume and Make Up Tests, an Ax Swinging Screen Test, HD Trailers for the film, and a Still Gallery.