We must have been blessed by The Devil, because out of the black, an age old colleague of ours has volunteered to sit in tonight and add his special touch to this month's Halloween Countdown proceedings, so without any further adieu, put your claws together, and welcome a world class scholar and critic to The Dungeon, but first just let me get those shackles and that strait-jacket off..., and he'll be ready to go!
Hello everybody out there in Lucky 13 land – this is Greg Goodsell, with my very first blog entry for Monster Movie Music! For my first entry, I thought I would dig up a REALLY obscure horror film, THE MAD ROOM from 1969. How obscure is it? Well, it has a lot of major acting talent involved – Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters AND Beverly Garland – and it’s not in a single horror movie reference book anywhere! Believe you me, I’ve read most of them!
Now, before we get too far into this, it’s very important to remember that this film is based on a very famous 1941 mystery play, “Ladies In Retirement” by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham. It was considered a contemporary of the much better known “Arsenic and Old Lace” at one time. You can read the original play synopsis here: "Ladies In Retirement" - DPS
It was also made into a film before, starring the film noir great Ida Lupino and the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) herself, Elsa Lanchester in 1941. You can read the film’s synopsis here: "Ladies In Retirement" - TCM
Special care needs to be made of the source material, because as you see from the crime scene – THE MAD ROOM is a bit of a mess!
We start right away with the voluptuous Stella Stevens running … bounce, bounce, bounce. As we shall see, Stella is not running AWAY from some menace – she’s just running to post a letter! Scenes of girls running pads out a lot of action in this here flick, which runs only about 93 minutes!
Stevens plays Ellen Hardy, the paid companion of Mrs. Armstrong, played by that old battleaxe herself, Shelley Winters! Shelley could play this kind of role in her sleep by then, and she’s not in the film a whole lot, so maybe she just did! Take care of the muscular masseuse tending to Shelley’s wants and needs, he figures into the plot later. While other aspects of the production may be lacking, THE MAD ROOM does have a solid music score by jazz great Dave Grusin! Enjoy! According to some know-it-all Web site, “The original version of THE MAD ROOM included two songs by the pop group Nazz, which included songwriter, guitarist, and producer Todd Rundgren several years before he reached stardom as a solo artist; due to licensing restrictions, the songs do not appear on all video releases of the film.” Huh. If it’s the obnoxious music playing on the radio in the kitchen, Todd wouldn’t want that tidbit to become too well known!
Shelley is the widow of a decorated U.S. military official, and workers on her estate are busy building a museum in his honor. For whatever reason, the film is set in Canada, and many of the lapses in continuity and logic can helpfully be explained away with a vague, “Maybe they do things differently in Canada …”
Stella Stevens had by far the longest and most successful acting career of any Playboy centerfold (Miss January, 1960). She’s still working today, but let’s not forget her outstanding work in Jerry Lewis’ THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, WHERE ANGELS GO, TROUBLE FOLLOWS, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and scads and scads and scads of TV.
Here we go – the iconic Beverly Garland doing a bit of mild nudity starring in a meaty supporting role as an alcoholic society lady. If you don’t know who Beverly is, you really have no business on this site. It appears that Beverly is married to Shelley’s hunky masseur and she’s inquiring as to his current whereabouts. What is a rich society lady doing married to a masseur? Maybe they do things differently in Canada …
Ooooooooops! Stella got something in the mail saying they’re kicking her younger brother and sister out of the loony bin and she has to come pick them up! The reason for their stay at the Hospital of Mental Ills forms the crux of the twisted plot to follow ……
Putting on her best Pepto Abysmal-pink Jackie Kennedy knock-off, the dutiful Stella goes to the madhouse to pick up her siblings. She’s successfully kept her brother and sister – and the circumstances surrounding their confinement from both Mrs. Armstrong, and her fiancé, Mrs. Armstrong’s son! Stella has an AWFUL lot of ‘splaining to do when she gets back home.
Here is Stella’s 16-year-old sister Mandy, played by Barbara Sammeth. Not only does she and her brother George, played by the distinguished child star Michael Burns, want their own rooms, they insist on a “mad room” like they had at the asylum, in order to “chill out.” What a demanding pair of little shits! Barbara would reteam with Shelley Winters in the fun made-for-TV movie THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER in 1973.
On the ferry ride home, George indulges in some relatively non-psychotic behavior for a man of his age and temperament –
I see London, I see France …
Here we go again with some pointless shots of girls running to fill up screen time. This time, it’s Carol Cole, sister of Natalie Cole, who plays Mrs. Armstrong’s maid Chris. As it was with Stella, Carol isn’t running AWAY from something, but rather running to go feed some dogs left chained up on the estate!
Once sequestered at the Armstrong house, Shelley finds a telling bit of evidence regarding Mandy and George! Vague, unexplained gaps involving some ill-defined “uncle” and “family tragedy” have gone flying out the window at this point.
Tell it Stella! In an extended flashback, Stella tells how her parents were brutally slashed to ribbons, finger paintings of smiling daisies drawn on the wall Charlie Manson style. No one figured out who did what to whom, and so Stella’s younger brother and sister were thrown in the madhouse on the assumption that they were the killers! Maybe they DO things differently in Canada!
Chris and George engage in an interracial romance somewhere along the line, which was rather radical for 1969 – it eats up some running time, anyway –
As expected, Mrs. Armstrong is sliced and diced by an unknown assailant in the manner of the kids’ late parents to keep secrets secret, but --
-- a telling piece of evidence is left lying around. The gleesome threesome hoist Shelley’s corpse into the drink in an attempt to make it all look like an accident, but whoever finds the corpse will notice that one of her hands is neatly severed away!
And now to the REAL STAR of the show, this mangy mutt who just won’t let body parts lie! If this film is remembered at all, it’s for the images of Rover with Shelley Winter’s dismembered hand in its mouth! GAH!
The Shadow knows. You’ve got to hand it to Fido to keep certain plot points salient. The guy who did the screen grabs for this entry opted for this discrete image. When you see the real McCoy, with the hand in Bowser’s mouth, it’s SO HORRIFYING beer will go spraying out your nose!
Beverly Garland, sauced to the gills, accuses Mrs. Armstrong of being in flagrante delecto with her masseur husband, and has the film’s best line: “I’m married to a male whore!”
THESE “Ladies In Retirement” are definitely not amused!
“Hick …. My Easter bonnet can kick YOUR Easter bonnet’s ass!” Bev then runs to the upstairs bathroom to slash her wrists with a broken liquor bottle!
After Beverly’s suicide attempt, Stella finds some occupational therapy in the form of some impromptu finger painting! If you didn’t know who the REAL killer was all along, you haven’t watched enough of horror movies!
There is that gosh-darn bit of incriminating evidence again, now left laying around on the jobsite! Naughty doggie is playing a particularly damning bit of “fetch” involving certain guilty parties.
Ruh Roh! Here comes Scooby Doo with the Hand of Justice for Hella Stella who’s gotten away with far too much for far too long!
FULL to the brim with bad taste elements, THE MAD ROOM folds in a little cruelty to animals when Stella lets Poochie have it for carting that hand around! Take that!
THE MAD ROOM was sold with the tagline of “Forgive them … Forgive them.” Audiences, reacting to the Swiss cheese storyline and extraneous subplots that lead no place chose to forgive – and forget this little opus. Never released to DVD, THE MAD ROOM is now available on a burn-to-order basis. A special tip of the hat to longtime friend Kevin V. for loaning me his copy for this blogpost!