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Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice? DVD

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What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? sees a change of direction for Robert Aldrich's unofficial trilogy which all involve "ageing actresses" in macabre thrillers (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte). The busy Aldrich only produced What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, calling in TV director Lee H Katzin (a Mission: Impossible regular) to handle the megaphone. Aldrich also opted to shoot the film in pastel colours appropriate to the unusual Arizona desert setting rather than the gothic black and white of the earlier films. The film cast the less iconic Geraldine Page as the genteelly unpleasant Mrs Clare Marrable. Left apparently penniless by her departed husband, Mrs M opts to keep up appearances by hiring a succession of timid elderly housekeepers, bossing them around with well-spoken nastiness, duping them out of their life savings and, on the pretence of getting help with a midnight tree-planting program, lures them into their own graves, batters them to death and plants lovely pines over them. Page gets her own way with the meek likes of Mildred Dunnock, until the feistier, red-wigged R!uth Gordon applies for the job and gets down to amateur sleuthing. While Bette Davis and her partners went wildly over the top in previous films, Page and Gordon play more subtly, finding odd pathetic moments in between the monstrous, irony-laced horror stuff. The supporting cast of pretty or handsome young things, mostly putty in the hands of the manipulative Page, contribute striking little cameos (Rosemary Forsyth sports a pleasing 1969 hairdo as the kindly but intimidated neighbour), but the film belongs to its leading ladies, delivering a fine line in twist-packed cat-and-mouse theatrics. The video is handsomely letterboxed, as befits a film made before widescreen films were shot with all the action in the middle of the frame to facilitate television sales. --Kim Newman

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