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Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

    Mark Tolch
    Senior Member

  • Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: August 16, 2016
    Director: Curtis Harrington
    Cast: Shelley Winters, Mark Lester, Ralph Richardson, Lionel Jeffries, Hugh Griffith
    Year: 1972
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Shelley Winters, who I sadly only admit recognizing from her appearance in 1986's The Delta Force, manages to both awe and disturb as Mrs. Forrest, the matronly owner of Forrest Grange; a stately mansion in the English countryside. With the loss of her famous magician husband some years before, and the tragic death of her young daughter, Mrs. Forrest; affectionately known as "Auntie Roo" by the children at the nearby orphanage; leads a largely solitary life if you don't count her butler, Albie, or visits from an alcoholic medium who attempts to contact Auntie Roo's dead daughter through a number of seances.

    To liven the old joint up, Mrs. Forrest throws a Christmas party every year that extends overnight, bringing the local orphans in for food, punch, games, and of course, a visit from Father Christmas, who lavishes the party room with gifts for the unfortunate younglings. At this latest gathering, two unexpected guests arrive in the form of Christopher and Katie Coombs, an anti-social brother and sister who have stowed away for the ride to Forrest Grange after being confined to the orphanage for misbehaving. Overcoming the headmistress' outrage at the appearance of the two, Auntie Roo insists that no children should be left out, and invites the siblings in to the party, immediately struck by Katie's resemblance to her deceased daughter. So taken with the young girl, Roo actually invites young Katie to come and live at Forrest Grange, a proposition not welcomed warmly by the suspicious Christopher.

    What follows is a strange case of kidnapping, with the loving Auntie Roo bribing Katie to stay, and Christopher's attempt to rescue his sister; as Auntie Roo becomes desperate to hold on to the memory of her daughter, she takes on the demeanour of a demented Mrs. Garrett, providing all of the love and care a normal parent would, while locking the children in to the house and denying their existence to local authorities. A number of creepy incidents cause the two children to draw similarities to a fairy tell that doesn't conclude with a happy ending, forcing Christopher and Katie into fight or flight mode. Is Auntie Roo a crazed witch, fattening the two up for slaughter? Or just a sad old woman who can't bear the thought of saying goodbye a second time?

    Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is, at its heart, a very simple tale that would require a number of outside factors to make it work as well as it does, and in this case, it comes down to two primary factors; casting, and Curtis Harrington working in tandem with Cinematographer Desmond Dickinson. On the casting front, it's quite simply Winters who makes this entire film; whether the erratic performance owes itself to script changes, accident, intent on her part, or direction from Harrington, her role as Auntie Roo defies rational thought and interpretation. Careening wildly from affectionate mother figure to enraged psychopath, with many bizarre stops in between; her vaudeville number at the party, to use the most obvious example; Winters perfectly pulls off a woman who can function normally while something very wrong is happening upstairs. She's downright disturbing to watch on screen, and even during her most matronly scenes, physically unsettling. The downside to this extraordinary performance is that most other actors in the film can share the screen with her; the oddball performances of the children seem contrived in comparison. Only Michael Gothard as Albie the butler seems capable of standing in frame with her, owing to his own brand of weirdness.

    A stunning performance is a thing of beauty, to be sure, but it can't exist in thin air...and a huge part of what makes Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? so effective is down to the work of Curtis Harrington and Cinematographer Desmond Dickinson. Utilizing an aesthetic and style that mirrors Winters' schizophrenic performance, Harrington bounces the film off of a number of influences and takes it all the way from eerie gothic to Corman camp and back again, effortlessly. Dolls, dumbwaiters, prop guillotines and even big fuzzy teddy bears are showcased in a way that amps the creep factor significantly, providing an odd vibe throughout the running time. And while there are a couple of scenes that probably could have been cut from the final reels, the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a genuine horror film that leaves a bit of a nasty taste in your mouth and a few raised hairs as the credits roll.


    Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? comes to Kino Lorber Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that looks decent, with solid blacks and crispy creepy detail. Colours are also well-represented, showcasing Harrington's sinister eye for a nice-looking frame composition, and though dirt and debris do occasionally pop up, they aren't a hindrance at all.

    An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track carries the audio, and it's a little worse for wear than the video transfer. While it's not a botch job by any stretch, some segments of the dialogue come off on the harsh side, with other sounding a bit thin, with the range between the two quite extreme. It's still not enough to ruin the film, and probably more indicative of age than anything, but it is noticeable.

    No subs are available.

    First up in the extras are a run of trailers...Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, Madhouse, Deranged, Jennifer, and The Crimson Cult. The real gem of the extra features, though, is a full commentary with David DelValle and Nathaniel Bell, in which the two enthusiastically discuss the film with nary a break in the conversation; covering topics such as the horrible original title of the film, the numerous script changes it underwent, plot holes and the influence of other films, and the very misleading advertising campaign. The two commentators also provide a wealth of background on Director Curtis Harrington throughout the film, and it's never dry or boring.

    The Final Word:

    Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? delivers in creep factor and weirdness, with Winters bringing a truly disturbing and memorable performance. This Blu-ray is a bit lacking in the audio department, but makes up for it in picture quality and a great commentary track.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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