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Grande Dame Guignol (1 Viewer)

Caproni

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Grande Dame Guignol (sometimes called hag horror, hagsploitation, and psycho-biddy) is a film sub-genre that combines elements of horror, thriller, and women's pictures. Films in this genre generally star previously glamorous aging female who has become unbalanced and frequently terrorizes those around her. In some cases, the aging female is the victim of the story.

The sub-genre originated with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), starring Oscar-winning actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as two aging show business sisters sharing a decaying Hollywood mansion. The suspense was drawn from the two sisters' attempts at driving one another crazy. The movie was a runaway hit, and many movie studios, producers, directors, and even actresses themselves readily tried to replicate the success with similar films in the following years. Davis and Crawford, the two actresses both closely associated with the genre, frequently returned to to it to star in Dead Ringer (1964) and Strait-Jacket (1964), respectively.

Other aging female movie stars would appear in psycho-biddy films, many of them coming out of semi-retirement. Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Miriam Hopkins, Shelley Winters, and Debbie Reynolds all appeared in films typically grouped into the Grande Dame Guignol genre. These films have since drew relatively large cult followings, and many of them are well-regarded for their "camp" aspects.

Anyone a fan of this sub-genre?

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Caproni

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I really like the term "Grande Dame Guignol" for this genre, even though I called "hag horror" for years. Psycho-biddy seems to prissy for me, and I think hagsploitation is too derogatory, even if some movies in the genre could classify as such.

Of the ones I've seen so far:

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) is the genre-starter, and the crown jewel. The on-screen pairing and banter between Davis and Crawford is incomparably electric. This is a downright good movie, even though it's quite unfair that its dwarfed the legends of its two lead females down to this one movie.

HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) is often dismissed as a knock-off of the original, especially by staunch Crawford fans. This movie was intended as a repairing of Davis and Crawford, but the latter was -- through a series of events -- ultimately fired, leading Olivia DeHavilland to take over her role. DeHavilland offers a breezy contrast to the brash Davis, which comes off quite nicely.

STRAIT-JACKET (1964) is really frustrating. I mean, it's got Crawford as a reformed ex-murderess, so who could you loose? Well, its a miscalculated William Castle movie. It can work on the so-bad-it's-good level if you're in the right mood, but I'd guess that mood is rare.

DEAD RINGER (1964) is a very well-done B-movie and gets us a good performance from Davis as a set of identical twins. It also offers some strong performances from Peter Lawford and Karl Malden, and has a few surprises up its sleeve.

LADY IN A CAGE (1964) puts Olivia DeHavilland center stage, and it can be suspenseful in spots. It offers a good career opening performance from James Caan, but it can be a little long-winded towards the end.

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) is a tacky B-movie and brings Crawford and Castle back to the table. Crawford's role is smaller than I prefer, and the movie can get a little bland.

THE NANNY (1965) is a strong addition to the genre, and provides Davis with some deliciously malice material. This movie brings all the spookiness and stylish B&W camerawork together, and Davis turns in a fine performance as the nameless nanny accused of harming her charges.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969) is another strong addition to the genre, has some good twists, and gives us fine performances from Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon. Even though its in color, I thought it was well-done.

SAVAGE INTRUDER (1970) is shlocky trash. It offers Miriam Hopkins' only venture into the genre, but it's a total waste. It's a gory SUNSET BLVD/PSYCHO/BABY JANE smash-up misfire. It's all over the place and never hits the right notes.

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) has Debbie Reynolds playing against type, and Shelley Winters as the nutcase. It can be creepy, has some tricks up its sleeve, but it can be a little tacky.

I'm moving my way towards seeing more of these movies. I'll get there eventually.


 
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Reggie W

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Can't say I am a fan of the genre or the films you listed but I love the name, Grande Dame Guignol.
 

TravisR

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I like Lady In A Cage (which has moments that are savage for the early 60s) and the William Castle ones. I Saw What You Did is a fun movie because it's a teen horror movie that could be taking place in Mayfield, U.S.A. of Leave It To Beaver fame.
 

Caproni

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Can't say I am a fan of the genre or the films you listed
Granted, these movies aren't for everyone. They have their fans, which are usually devoted, but the following is definitely niche. If so many of them weren't so bad, perhaps the following would be larger.
I love the name, Grande Dame Guignol.
I called it hag horror for years, before fully transitioning to Grande Dame Guignol, which just sounds more elegant somehow.
 

Caproni

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I like Lady In A Cage (which has moments that are savage for the early 60s)
LADY IN A CAGE is a pretty good movie. I watched it when Hulu had it on their line-up. It can get a little long-winded -- or at least to me -- but I liked it better than I thought I would. I'm not a big Olivia DeHavilland fan, so I always going into her movies with an iffy feeling.
the William Castle ones
I've only seen the two Castle did with Crawford: Strait-Jacket and I Saw What You Did. They are both basically junk, but I thought the latter played better of the former's sloppy execution. Crawford gives solid performances in both. She had a distinctive quality of elevating the trashiest movies to acceptable.
 
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TravisR

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I've only seen the two Castle did with Crawford: Strait-Jacket and I Saw What You Did. They are both basically junk, but I thought the latter played better of the former's sloppy execution. Crawford gives solid performances in both. She had a distinctive quality of elevating the trashiest movies to acceptable.
Yeah, I can't defend the artistic merit of the William Castle movies :laugh: but they're usually fun to watch. Any teen movie of that time is interesting to me since it was in that window of time where they started making (silly, low budget) movies about teens but also before The Beatles hit.
 

Caproni

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Yeah, I can't defend the artistic merit of the William Castle movies
You know, I've seen some movies that are far worse than Castle's movies. Ed Wood made some dreadful movies that would make Castle's look like high art. And that's saying something.
but they're usually fun to watch
I can agree with you there. They are "fun" movies that you can sit back and enjoy. You don't have to think about them too much.
Any teen movie of that time is interesting to me since it was in that window of time where they started making (silly, low budget) movies about teens but also before The Beatles hit.
STRAIT-JACKET and I SAW WHAT YOU DID would make a good double feature on that note, even though Crawford's role in the latter is smaller than my preference.
 

Matt Hough

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Don't forget Tallulah Bankhead's contribution to the genre: Die! Die! My Darling! She's marvelous (and hardly recognizable compared to her other work), and it also has very young Stephanie Powers and Donald Sutherland on tap.
 

Caproni

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Don't forget Tallulah Bankhead's contribution to the genre: Die! Die! My Darling! She's marvelous (and hardly recognizable compared to her other work), and it also has very young Stephanie Powers and Donald Sutherland on tap.
Oh, I haven't forgotten DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!, I've just yet to see it. Tallulah personally preferred the British title FANATIC over the U.S. title she felt was just cheesy way of cashing-in on her own slang.

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I've heard positive feedback that Tallulah's quite good in the movie.
 

Reggie W

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Granted, these movies aren't for everyone. They have their fans, which are usually devoted, but the following is definitely niche. If so many of them weren't so bad, perhaps the following would be larger.

I called it hag horror for years, before fully transitioning to Grande Dame Guignol, which just sounds more elegant somehow.


I've only seen Lady in a Cage, primarily because James Caan was in it, and I thought it was a decent film. I am aware of the other pictures but have never seen them.

I have some questions for you, first do you think this is still a live genre, or did it die out sometime in the 1970s? I was trying to think of later films that would fit into the genre, I assume an older woman or women would need to be central to the story, but it also seems there may be a certain amount of camp involved and not a lot of more recent films get into that. Probably the campiest horror film I have seen of recent vintage was The Love Witch, it went all in on that but it was a tribute to 1960s cinema as well.

I also thought of the film Ma (2019) which has a middle-aged woman as the primary heavy in a horror film. I have not seen it but have you and do you think it fits this genre or again is this a genre from the past that no longer exists?

Finally, reading about this genre did bring a specific film to mind, it is not really a horror film but it is a weird film with a strange atmosphere that features two sort of crazed and dangerous women pitted against each other and a town, Johnny Guitar. Probably a stretch to put it in this genre but it is a weird picture. Have you seen that and what did you think? The women are played by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge and they are pretty out there.

Last I just have a couple comments, I think if this genre died out and is one from the past I think that may be because casting older women as central characters is long out of fashion. If someone did want to do a picture like this now, I kind of think it would be awesome to cast Hellen Mirren and Meryl Streep and let them totally chew the scenery.
 

TravisR

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I've only seen Lady in a Cage, primarily because James Caan was in it, and I thought it was a decent film. I am aware of the other pictures but have never seen them.

I have some questions for you, first do you think this is still a live genre, or did it die out sometime in the 1970s? I was trying to think of later films that would fit into the genre, I assume an older woman or women would need to be central to the story, but it also seems there may be a certain amount of camp involved and not a lot of more recent films get into that. Probably the campiest horror film I have seen of recent vintage was The Love Witch, it went all in on that but it was a tribute to 1960s cinema as well.
Not to butt in but I think like alot of subgenres from the 60's and 70's, it's gone now and can't really be recaptured. To me, you need a golden age of Hollywood actress in the movie or it's just an imitation of or homage to or parody of that kind of picture. Not that that means it would automatically be bad or that an older actress today couldn't do it, it's just that it would be self-aware rather than simply being hag horror (or whatever the hell people call them today :) ) like when those movies were being produced 60 years ago.

EDIT: That's how I feel about pretty much every subgenre from the "old days". Slasher, rape/revenge, car chase, karate, etc. movies- you can still make something good in the vein of the ones from the 70's and 80's but they're never going to be the same as the real ones from those days.
 
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Reggie W

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Not to butt in but I think like alot of subgenres from the 60's and 70's, it's gone now and can't really be recaptured. To me, you need a golden age of Hollywood actress in the movie or it's just an imitation of or homage to or parody of that kind of picture. Not that that means it would automatically be bad or that an older actress today couldn't do it, it's just that it would be self-aware rather than simply being hag horror (or whatever the hell people call them today :) ) like when those movies were being produced 60 years ago.

EDIT: That's how I feel about pretty much every subgenre from the "old days". Slasher, rape/revenge, car chase, karate, etc. movies- you can still make something good in the vein of the ones from the 70's and 80's but they're never going to be the same as the real ones from those days.

Yeah, I kind of felt like this is a genre that would no longer exist and would include a certain number of films made within a specific timeframe. Likely ending some time in the 1970s. It is fun to try to define a genre though and Caproni came up with a great name for it.

I mean some people have very strict genre definitions and some have looser definitions. Noir is a good example as some people go as far as to name the first Noir and the last one and they basically feel the genre was over by 1950. Some end the genre in the 1950s and some continue to call films made today Noir. I fit in that last category and sure I know that some people feel if the film is in color it is neo-noir.

If this genre is a dead genre then we can go through and figure out which films fit in it during the timeframe that it was alive. We can get a start and end year.
 

Santee7

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The recently released DOUBLE DOOR in my very humble opinion is truly the GRAND DAME of this genre. A brilliant psychological thriller, very much the prototype for the films Bette Davis made. I'm actually surprised she didn't remake it during her reign of terror.
 

maxfabien

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There have been a few post-1960's film that I think would qualify. The most famous probably would be "Friday the 13th" which featured Betsy "I've Got a Secret" Palmer. Talk about "against type"!!!! Remember when you're asked the movie trivia question, "What was the name of the murderer in 'Friday the 13th', it was NOT Jason!
 

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