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Hollywood Hag Horror (Part 3)

Welcome to Part 3 of my exploration into the realms of Hollywood Hag Horror, featuring the former leading ladies who late in their careers, struggling to find roles for older women, found work in the horror and thriller genre. For more on Hag Horror see Part 1 and Part 2.
Gloria Swanson Whilst discussing the horror films of Bette Davis and her prominent role in the psycho-biddy sub-genre, I mentioned that an early incarnation of the character could be found in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), in the character of Norma Desmond, played by the former silent movie star Gloria Swanson. In its setting, a decaying mansion, its character, a grotesque and delusional faded beauty, and in its violent outcome, Sunset Boulevard exhibits many of the hallmarks found in later hag horrors. The film would also serve to reinvigorate Swanson's career. However, unlike stars like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Shelley Winters, who became exemplars in this type of film, Swanson would only ap…
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Hollywood Hag Horror (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of my list of Hollywood hag-horror, where I am looking at the former Hollywood leading ladies who ended their careers in the horror and thriller genre. (See Part 1 here) Like in many examples of Grande Dame Guignol or "psycho-biddy" horror, we will encounter mental degradation, two ladies squaring of against each other and film titles that end in question marks. Henry Farrell the writer of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and otherGrande Dame Guignol classics will also appear again.


Shelley Winters I shall begin with Shelley Winters, the two time Academy Award winning actress who began her career playing the blonde bombshell working girl in films such as A Double Life (1947) and A Place in the Sun (1951). Later she would transition to more character-based roles with memorable parts in The Night of the Hunter (1955), Lolita (1962) and Alfie (1966). Alongside Bette Davis she would fully embrace the archetypal hag role later in her career, as well as some ot…

Hollywood Hag Horror (Part 1)

Following my look at the horror films of Bette Davis I've been interested in other examples of famous Hollywood actresses who later flourished in the horror and thriller genre. Many times ending their film careers there. These films often fall into the category known as "hag horror", "psycho-biddy" horror, or "Grande Dame Guignol",* a genre of film that featured older leading ladies placed in perilous situations. In it they could play the ruthless villain, the psychotic killer or the mentally unstable victim. In some of these examples, however, these former stars were simply the talented presence in otherwise mediocre films and TV specials. Joan Crawford Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is the film that began the "psycho-biddy" sub-genre, based on the novel by Henry Farrell, a name that will come up again, and directed by Robert Aldrich. Crawford plays wheelchair-bound Blanche who is mentally and phys…

The Horror of Bette Davis

Though famous for her dramatic roles and strong characters, towards the end Bette Davis' career she found herself an unexpected niche within the horror genre. "Hag horror" or "psycho-biddy" horror flourished during the 1960s and 1970s, featuring famous actresses from Hollywood's golden age like Tallulah Bankhead, Shelley Winters, Joan Crawford and of course Bette Davis. They were a combination of Gothic, thriller and melodrama, with the stories centering around the mental instability of older women. Early incarnations of this figure can be seen in Dickens' Miss Havisham  and in Tennessee Williams' Blanche Dubois. Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) can also be seen as an early influence. Bette Davis however proved to be an exemplar in the role.

Early Cinema's Poe Adaptations

No doubt the first films that come to mind when people think of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations are the AIP, Roger Corman Poe cycle, beginning with House of Usher in 1960. However the first screen adaptations of Poe began in the silent era and continued through the twentieth century.