Release Date(s)1963 (August 21, 2018)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
For most of her 50-year career, legendary actress Joan Crawford was in countless melodramas, including Mildred Pierce, The Damned Don’t Cry, and Sadie Mckee. Her acting ability, as well as her beauty, made her one the biggest and most celebrated actresses ever. As she began to age, she, along with other older actresses, started taking more unhinged roles in horror films and thrillers, with director William Castle’s Strait-Jacket being one of the more notable ones.
In this suspense thriller, Joan Crawford portrays the character of Lucy who, after 20 years of being locked up in an insane asylum for decapitating her cheating husband (Lee Majors in his first role) and his lover with a hatchet, is finally released. Now free to start her life over again, she settles in with her now grown up daughter Carol, (Diane Baker), her brother Bill (Leif Erickson), and her sister-in-law Emily (Rochelle Hudson). While Carol is due to marry her fiancé Michael (John Anthony Hayes), Lucy becomes witness to a series of bizarre murders. As the victims begin to multiply and the tension mounts, Lucy struggles to keep her sanity, which leads to a shocking and exciting climax.
William Castle did a fantastic job directing Strait-Jacket, which was written by the one and only Robert Bloch (Psycho). Considered to be an early slasher film, the film has a few shocking moments for its time. Joan Crawford hands in another excellent performance as the troubled, vulnerable Lucy. Castle actually allowed her to act as unrestrained as possible, most likely agreeing to one of her many demands for being in the film, which included script and cast approval. The rest of said cast is also outstanding. One of the supporting players, who would also later become a major star, George Kennedy, has a great, sleazy role as farmhand Leo Krause who takes part in, what could arguably be, the most shocking scene in the film.
Strait-Jacket debuts on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The black and white quality is marvelous. Grayscale is balanced with blacks looking rich and deep. There are also crisp details and textures throughout. Film grain is present and accounted for and no DNR has been applied. No print damage is detectable either. Overall, this is a superior visual presentation. The audio for this release, English 2.0 mono DTS-HD, sounds excellent with no noticeable issues. It’s crisp without sounding overly aggressive, save for the screams of terror. Optional subtitles in English SDH are also included.
Scream Factory was also able to include a good deal of supplemental material, which can be challenging for a movie over 50 years old. There’s a brand new audio commentary with film historians Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, and Constantine Nasr. Other new supplements include Joan Had Me Fired, a 6-minute interview with Anne Helm in which she talks about Castle and Crawford, including stories about a Diet Coke incident and why she was fired, and On the Road with Joan Crawford: An Interview with Publicist Richard Kahn who tells us about Joan and her Greyhound bus tours. Ported over extras from the original Sony Pictures DVD release include Battle-Ax: The Making of Strait-Jacket, a set of Joan Crawford costume and makeup tests, an ax-swinging screen test, a theatrical trailer, and a still gallery.
Ultimately tame by today’s standards, Strait-Jacket paved the way for many other more gruesome slashers to come. Movies like it, as well as Psycho and Homicidal, were a part of a new wave of horror, pushing the bar even higher for more explicit content. Now in high definition with a vast amount of extras, Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release is a handsome package indeed. Highly recommended!
- David Steigman