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Strait-Jacket (Blu-ray Review)

On August 21st, Scream Factory will once again re-enter the world of one of cinema’s greatest showmen; William Castle. Two releases are on the way, one of those being the Joan Crawford led Strait-Jacket. Oddly enough, on the same day, Mill Creek is also releasing this title as a double feature with the film Berserk. Yes, that one is much cheaper, but as a reminder, you’re getting what you pay for. Look no further than Criterion’s Night of the Living Dead and Mill Creeks for an easy example. Scream Factory’s will be coming with a pretty substantial amount of bonus materials new and old. Be sure to keep your William Castle collection going with this release and pre-order from the Amazon link below to ensure you have one come release day!

Film 

Though still mentally shaky, convicted axe-murderess Lucy Harbin is released from the asylum where she was sent 20 years ago for slaying her unfaithful husband. Lucy goes to stay at her brother’s farm and reconnect with her grown daughter, Carol, who saw her mother chop her father to pieces as a tot. Carol helps Lucy regain her old glamorous look — but suspects that history might be repeating itself when anyone who angers her mother turns up hacked to death.

Whereas William Castle’s films typically had some sort of physical, audience interactive hook to them, when it came to Strait-Jacket, the hook was watching Joan Crawford with an axe chop people’s heads off. Her first victim, in the opening flashback, winds up being the feature film debut of Lee Majors. This film might hold up a tad better as its based on character drama and mystery, moreso than complete shock or audience play fare.

Joan Crawford does bring it here. She’s playing a completely damaged person in the head who has been recently released from a mental facility. We get to see her go to differently lengths of struggling with her recovering and holding the sanity as murders begin to unfold around her at what we can see is her hand at the end attacking end of the axe.

This is a pretty fun movie, even if there are a couple of dragging moments. This moreso plays as a kind of double episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in a way. Robert Bloch wrote the book the film was based on, and that might be why the film is a little deeper and more rich in character than the normal William Castle event. But, Castle deserves credit as well, as there are some terrific shots in the film, good performances and a pretty creative vision to hold it all together.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Again, another William Castle film from Scream Factory looking terrific on Blu-ray. While, I for one, think they do a good job, these prints of William Castle films must be in pristine condition. Details on textures and such are very strong with a good, crisp and sharp image. It retains its grain for the more, natural cinematic look. Fans of the film should definitely grab this version as the quality is top tier.

Depth:  Characters, moving objects and such all appear free and spaced out from their surroundings with a good push back feel on the foreground background relation. Movements are cinematic and smooth.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and saturated, retaining plenty of textures and patterns appearing in the film with no crushing issues to speak of.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones keep at a nice gray and stay consistent no matter the scene. Facial features are quite distinct from any reasonable distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This mono track is clear and crisp to listen to with no static or hiss going on. The clarity sounds good and natural with great layering and depth for a healthy balance.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals have good clarity and fit in with surroundings naturally and definitely are accurately put to volume with their given distance to the camera.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Authors/Film Historians Steve Haberman and David J. Schow and Film Historian Constantine Nasr

“Joan Had Me Fired” (SD, 6:47) – An interview with actress Anne Helm. This has her talking about meeting “Bill” Castle and having a twinkle in his eye, being like a big kid. She goes into having a wonderful chummy night hanging with Joan Crawford at her home upon starting the film and how she turned into a completely different “mechanical” person on set and became cold and obviously didn’t like her. One day she overhead Joan shouting to William Castle that she wanted her off the movie to which she was then let go.

“On the Road with Joan Crawford” (SD, 6:35) – An interview with publicist Richard Kahn. He talks about working with Castle and how they brought him together with Joan Crawford. Joan apparently “co-directed” a lot of the film. He mentions that for this film, Joan was the exploitation device akin to the glasses for 13 Ghosts or buzzers on The Tingler and how she was when they toured to promote the film.

“Battle-Ax”: The Making of Strait-Jacket (SD, 14:40) – Ported over from a previous release of the film. A retrospective piece, with talking heads (Including star Diane Baker) recounting how this film came to be and the legacy of it and the people involved in the film. Its nice that the Anne Helm interview his included on this release, as it answers a bit of a hole in this piece that makes it a bit of a throwaway.

Joan Crawford Costume and Make Up Tests (SD, 3:29)

Ax Swinging Screen Test (SD, :38)

Trailers (HD, 2:38)

Still Gallery (HD, 2:17)

Summary 

Strait-Jacket holds up a bit better than The Tingler as its more drama and character-focused, but Joan Crawford gives her brilliance to this one as Vincent Price had in that film. Scream Factory delivers a nice assortment of extras for the film that help to color in the experience. Its a nice pickup for Castle fans and definitely provides more for your buck than the other release.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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