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 tribute…
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 can’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. It’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 can’t accept. One day her only pal impulsively buys a real “monkey” (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. I’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; it’s just a delightful scenario. Sadly, Louise’s bold move to follow her own wishes rather than her father’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, Louise’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 you’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 “Who Cares”, stay for the rental bike excursion theme “Come Love Me Again” which was written by the same lyricist (Ayn Robbins) who penned ROCKY’s “Gonna Fly Now”.
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 I’m saying is, it’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 I’d also liken this tale to other tragic character-driven horror faves like PSYCHO II (83) and MAY (2002).
That Strange Connection
I’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. 1973’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, character’s backstories might be that they wrote them their own film. I’m eternally grateful they did. Otherwise, I’d never have gotten to see Ray Milland throttled by an ape.
Note: I’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 couldn’t remember the monkey’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 Louise’s father. I’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.