Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

whoeverslewauntieroo1

*. A real struggle just to finish this one.
*. I thought from the title — which is generic for this run of films but just a little extra silly with the childlike rhyme — that it was going to be more of a horror comedy. It has aspirations in this direction, but in the end I think it misfires badly and I couldn’t sort the tone of it out.
*. The sticking point is how we’re supposed to view Auntie Roo at the end. Is she a wicked witch, intent on killing the two kids (or at least Christopher)? Or is she just a dotty old lady, made mad by her loss, who is only trying to keep her act together and wants to cook the children a holiday pig? In this latter reading, Christopher becomes the little monster, stealing the poor old lady’s jewels and then burning her alive in her house.
*. I tend toward that latter reading, though I honestly can’t say whether this was what was intended.
*. On the basis of the title alone it’s a movie that’s usually lumped in together with other Grande Dame Guignol films, and there are similarities, starting with the older woman haunted by a past crime (or tragedy) and even including the awful musical number, like the “Animal Crackers” song in What’s the Matter with Helen? or the “Sending a Letter to Daddy” in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
*. But it doesn’t have quite the same feel as those other films. It’s never scary, shocking, or even particularly suspenseful. In part this is due to the boring direction (witness the whole sequence in the magician’s storage shed), and also because we sympathize so much with Winters and because the pre-credit reveal gives so much away. We already know the worst about Auntie Roo before the movie properly gets started. And aside from that corpse in the cradle she’s a decent, even vulnerable person, hosting Christmas parties for the orphans and being preyed upon by unscrupulous house staff.
*. Instead of the typically convoluted hag horror plot courtesy of Henry Farrell there’s an attempt to do an update of the Hansel and Gretel tale, though if my reading of Christopher is right then he is just using this as a way of framing his own narrative for Katy’s consumption. There’s little objective parallel to Hansel and Gretel (though the house does look a bit gingerbread-y), but there is in Christopher’s mind and he’s the one who survives to tell the tale.
*. Aside from Winters the cast has a couple of other interesting faces. Ralph Richardson is superfluous as a phoney spiritualist and Mark Lester, Oliver Twist himself, is back as another plucky (perhaps too plucky) orphan boy. The direction is handled by Curtis Harrington, who also did What’s the Matter with Helen? Fans of cheap, exploitation camp seem to enjoy it, but I thought it was a struggle to sit through once.

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