Friday, February 26, 2010

Female Villains in Horror: Baby Jane

"But you are, Blanche... you are in that chair!"

The chilling performance by Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was really a tour-de-force in the history of film. While not categorized as a horror movie, it doesn't need that label to reach epic villain proportions.
Over the top, yes. But still fun!

Baby Jane Hudson was a big vaudeville star, and as her sister Blanche struggled with her own acting career, she had to deal with all the accolades her sister received and deal with their father spoiling the living hell out of Jane.

Many years later the situation has completely reversed, with Blanche becoming a huge movie star. Jealousy has a grip on Jane, whose movie career doesn't have the same stellar reputation as her sister's. She becomes a tantrum-throwing alcoholic.

After a questionable accident cripples Blanche, time skips ahead to present day (the early 60's), where we see Blanche being cared for by Jane, who has - for lack of a better phrase - flipped her lid.

What makes her so crazy? Well, she's still a wacky drunk, wears ridiculous caked-on makeup that looks like a circus sideshow, cackles like a witch on a regular basis, tosses Blanche's mail before she can read it, forges checks, takes the phone out of Blanche's room, and is basically an unforgivable, abusive bitch towards her sister on a 24/7 basis.

Jane has an absolute shit fit when she discovers Blanche has every intention of selling their rickety old mansion and sticking Jane in a mental institution. Naturally, the abuse escalates.
In one of the key scenes, Jane serves up Blanche's pet parakeet on the proverbial silver platter.
If only the dead bird was the end of her lovely lunches. Cue more cackling.

I've heard many people call Jane's character grotesque, and I personally think that is a dead-on description, between her crazy visage and her psychotic behavior. It is so very painful when we have to listen to Jane singing as she attempts a career comeback. Nearly makes your ears bleed.

The anxiety mounts as things escalate out of control in the last portion of the movie. Not only does Jane end up binding and gagging Blanche and hiding her in her room, but she slaps her up and kicks the shit out of her, then kills the suspicious maid with a hammer.

Finally reaching the twist ending, we realize things were not completely as they seemed. But that is still no excuse for the deranged, sociopathic behavior exhibited by Baby Jane.

On a side note, rumor has it that Davis and Crawford pretty much hated each other, making you wonder if, during production, those slaps and kicks may have had a underlying significance.

Buy it here.

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Pax Romano said...

This film is one of the prime examples of what they called,Grande Dame Guignol (older movie actresses in Gothic horror).

Fun fact: the "hip" teenager next door (the one who makes all the snarky comments) is Bette Davis' adopted daughter, BD, who would go on to eventually write a scathing book about her mother.

The Shitty Astrologer said...

This film is a masterpiece. I love the way the entire emotion of the film does a switcheroo in the final quarter and you practically break down crying when Baby Jane revives "I've Written A Letter To Daddy". There's nothing else out there like this film, it's in a class all it's own...

Ella said...

I find this film fascinating & have always wondered how much of it's success was due to the immense dislike the two actress had for each other & it playing through their characters beautifully, so to speak. I have read in several books that some of the slaps were not fake, that the actress did indeed let it slip. Then there were the comments the two of them made about each other after the filming, that some say also got people interested in seeing the movie. I'm trying to see if that interview is around, it was in the last decade of her life. I've even read that Crawford. Every time I watch Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it makes me think of Sunset Boulevard, which I usually end up watching right after.

Here's a neat little post I found related to it from last year, it also shows some of the locations then & now, which is kind of neat.