I wrote about THE ATTIC a bunch of years ago HERE but I can never get enough of this movie so I thought it deserved a Five Favorite Things flavored tributeâ€¦
Hey! Two of my favorite actors in one movie! Although I doubt Carrie Snodgress and Ray Milland would identify THE ATTIC as the highpoint of their respective careers, I canâ€™t imagine anyone who could deliver as much to either role. At the time both actors were routinely pigeonholed into somewhat similar parts (Snodgress as a flighty loon, Milland as a cantankerous stick in the mud) and yet both here seem game as hell to present the apex of what they were often being typecast. Snodgress is wonderfully vulnerable yet marginally threatening as brokenhearted, semi-delusional spinster librarian Louise Elmore and Milland is effortlessly contemptible as her overbearing, sabotaging father Wendell. Itâ€™s almost like watching a virtuoso ping-pong tournament as these two legends spar against each other.
Monkeys, Chimps and Apes!
Our girl Louise is obsessed with monkeys. She collects them, they are her spirit animal and they give her much needed comfort against the realities she canâ€™t accept. One day her only pal impulsively buys a real â€œmonkeyâ€ (a chimp complete with accompanying circus music) for her to love from the pet store (as one does) and Louise brings it home to the great annoyance of her joyless father. Iâ€™m a simple man and nothing in the world is as amusing to me than an ornery old man being tormented by a mischievous chimp; itâ€™s just a delightful scenario. Sadly, Louiseâ€™s bold move to follow her own wishes rather than her fatherâ€™s begins a chain of events that are truly tragic (but not before Louise fantasizes that her chimp turns into a gorilla and gives her father a beat-down). I gotta say, Louiseâ€™s murderous revenge fantasies are often amusing but they also have a twisted off-kilter vibe that is keenly eerie.
THE ATTIC was released in 1980 but youâ€™d never know it by the oddly misplaced song inserts that seem plucked from a mellow-seventies 8-track tape. Come for the suicidal whimpering of â€œWho Caresâ€, stay for the rental bike excursion themeÂ â€œCome Love Me Againâ€ which was written by the same lyricist (Ayn Robbins) who penned ROCKYâ€™s â€œGonna Fly Nowâ€.
I admit that when I first stumbled across THE ATTIC on television as a teen, I was a little disappointed in its lack of bloodshed or supernatural happenings. Louise is rather like a classic Tennessee Williams character who is trapped in a world of her own due to a hopeful moment in her past transforming into a tar pit of broken dreams and abandonment. I guess what Iâ€™m saying is, itâ€™s kinda sappy at times but there remains a dark, slyly sharp gothic undercurrent that should satisfy those who enjoy subtler psychological horror. Snodgress was a mere 35 when the film was made but much of the familial betrayal themes present here echo those found in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (62) Poor Louise may seem pathetic at times but she exerts a heroic effort to change course and a generosity of spirit that is truly admirable. Sadly she is ultimately thwarted by meddlers in her midst so in that respect Iâ€™d also liken this tale to other tragic character-driven horror faves like PSYCHO II (83) and MAY (2002).
That Strange Connection
Iâ€™ll always be fascinated by the fact that the characters of Louise Elmer and her wheelchair utilizing pop Wendell previously appeared portrayed by different actors in an earlier film. 1973â€™s Curtis Harrington helmed flick THE KILLING KIND was written by the same two writers (Tony Crechales & Gary Gravet) as THE ATTIC and apparently they became so curious about what these secondary, briefly-appearing, characterâ€™s backstories might be that they wrote them their own film. Iâ€™m eternally grateful they did. Otherwise, Iâ€™d never have gotten to see Ray Milland throttled by an ape.
Note: Iâ€™ve seen THE ATTIC so many times that I was able to write this without a re-viewing but I had to watch it again just in case I remembered anything wrong and because I couldnâ€™t remember the monkeyâ€™s name (it was Dickie). And let me tell ya, it all hit me so much harder! The comedy seemed more explicit, the sorrow seemed infinitely deeper and I found myself newly enraged by the actions of Louiseâ€™s father. Iâ€™m just in awe of the way film can continuously gift new layers to a viewer each time they watch it and the older they get. The way Louise feels about monkeys is the way I feel about this movie.
This is an awesome article! The Attic’s poster disturbed me so badly when I was young so I was always afraid to rent it. It’s a good thing I didn’t watch this one as a kid, I probably would’ve thought it was too slow to capture my 13-year-old attention (as you mention in the article). It seems like it would be a haunted house or supernatural film, but the real terror is people (nothing is scarier). I am in complete agreement that everything from the acting to the songs are compelling and unique. It definitely has the feel of the kind of movie that would never get made today, like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death or Heathers. Carrie Snodgrass was certainly an underrated and underutilized actress and I have such great sympathy for her character in this movie. I wish it were available on Blu-Ray but I’ve never been able to find it. And I never knew the trivia that Louise was a side character who got a spin-off!
Yes! That image of the toy monkey with the cymbals on the old VHS box was super creepy! I actually have one of those toy monkeys front and center on our fireplace mantel! I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the word â€œuniqueâ€. Thereâ€™s really nothing quite like this movie and it feels so personal. I really thought it was clever how they used old scratchy family movie type footage to represent Louiseâ€™s flashbacks to another time and the distorted angles and gauzy lens for her murderous fantasies are very effective too. Itâ€™s a very textural him! I agree Snodgress is fantastic and itâ€™s great the movie allows to show so many sides of her; heartbroken, humorous, heroic etc. When she gives that gift to her friend at the end and they show flashbacks of the good times they had together itâ€™s really moving to me! And the final reveal in the attic (which wasnâ€™t quite enough for me as a child) kinda kills me today as far as the depths her father went to in order to keep her from happiness. I agree, people really are the scariest monsters sometimes.
Yet ANOTHER obscurity that I’ve never seen…but that sounds right up my alley! I’ll be watching this over the long weekend fo’ sho’! Would it be a good idea to reacquaint myself with The Killing Kind first for maximum joy or does it really not matter?
Oh Unk, this was a magnificent article! I feel like there are about 20 of us in the whole world who know and love this film. It’s desperately in need of a Bluray release so for now I’m hanging on to my Midnight Movie double feature DVD.
I’m old enough to have actually seen this one in the theater when I was a kid! I loved everything horror for as long as I can remember and I was obsessed with the teaser trailer for The Attic they showed on TV (an ominous voiceover as the camera tracks up the stairs into the attic and zooms in on the clapping monkey with it’s back to the camera. The clapping abruptly stops and the monkey spins around with blood dripping out of his grinning teeth! Chlling!) Amazingly The Attic played at our neighborhood duplex and my parents took me and my siblings to see it. My family HATED it and couldn’t stop denigrating it after it was over but even at ten years old I found something so haunting and tragic about it that it stuck with me ever since. I watched it again a few years later when it popped up on the late night movies and when I was in college in the early 90s I found a used VHS copy for cheap and watched it frequently. I even started writing a sequel/spinoff based on the Ruth Cox character, that’s how obsessed I became with it! (Never finished the story; probably just as well.)
It’s a shame this one is so obscure but I also don’t think it will ever amass a huge following even it it does get a Bluray release. It’s slow and meditative and the true horror isn’t explicit. Even in 1980 my family complained it was boring so I can’t imagine what someone watching it for the first time in 2020 would think. But for those of us who “get” it it’s a real treasure. Thanks for bringing it to more people’s attention!
Hope this link to the trailer works properly. Watch the last 40 seconds or so for the teaser portion I mentioned:
No need to watch THE KILLING KIND first at all! The characters only appear a brief moment.
Thank You! That trailer is amazing! Iâ€™ve never seen that before. I love that non film-scene ending and can easily see why it stayed with you! I posted about this article on Instagram and was happy to find a few more die hard ATTIC fans out there! I too, watched this movie frequently! It was my late night go-to for years and I loved to show it to guests! I love your idea for a sequel following Ruth Cox- very interesting!
A bunch of years ago I was watching a movie and a character walked past a movie theater and you could see the poster for THE ATTIC in the window! For some reason I thought I could remember title and did not make a note and now I have no idea what the movie (or TV show) it was. It drives me nuts! I hope I come across it again some day.
Yep, THE ATTIC is not for everyone. I think I might have shown it to so many people almost as a test to see if they had similar taste as mine! Thereâ€™s so little gore but the psychological implications are horrific. The movie is almost an empathy test, really.
Another weird thing about the film: Louise goes to see a slasher film and they show a long scene from the same producersâ€™ DEADLY GAMES (1982) even though that film would not be released for another two years!
I hope THE ATTIC does get a Blu ray release soon- I officially volunteer to do the commentary!
Well, I ended up watching The Killing Kind and The Attic back-to-back anyway. It was interesting seeing the actors’ different portrayals and where they went with the characters. I enjoyed The Attic quite a bit…especially that incredibly messed-up ending! But why was it marketed as a horror film? It clearly was more of a Gothic tragedy or a non-horror film for horror-lovers in the same vein as Scalpel or maybe Taxi Driver.
Thatâ€™s awesome you watched both back to back! Glad you like THE ATTIC! Yeah that ending is something else. I wanted to use an image from it but did not want to give anything away! I guess in 1980 their best bet was to just make it seem as horror as possible but that probably accounts for audiences not appreciating it for what it is. I do think it fits in w psycho-biddy horror flicks like “Whatâ€™s the Matter w Helen?â€ & “What happened to Aunt Alice?â€ even though Snodgress is so young.
Speaking of miss-marketing, Iâ€™ll never forget being young and seeing SPRING FEVER (82) which was marketed as one of those rowdy teen comedies like PORKYâ€™S and it was really all about a mom and her daughter playing tennis. We were very disappointed.
I’ve always liked this movie since I saw it in the 1980s on the Video Classics label. The performances are really good and the location of Wichita Kansas was interesting. There are 2 other notables in the cast. Rosemary Murphy plays the snooty mother of Ruth Cox’s character – she was also in You’ll Like My Mother and Ben the sequel to Willard as well as Oliver Stone’s second horror film The Hand. Frances Bay plays a librarian and she was also in Nomads, Arachnophobia, The Pit and the Pendulum and In The Mouth of Madness. I also remember her from Seinfeld where she played a woman who has her bread stolen by Jerry.