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Five Favorite Things:: The Attic (1980) By Unk

September 2nd, 2020 by unkle lancifer · 8 Comments

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…

The Acting

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 Songs

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”.

The Melodrama

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.

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21 days ago

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!

19 days ago

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?

18 days ago

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:

18 days ago

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.

14 days ago

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.