Every couple months or so I check YouTube to see if anybody has uploaded PICTURE MOMMY DEAD (1966) which has eluded me for years. I once neglected to buy the VHS at a used store and clearly the film held a grudge and was playing hard to get. Happily my saint-like patience finally paid off and PICTURE MOMMY DEAD appeared before me and looking mighty good I might add! I’m glad I didn’t pick up that ratty old tape that surely was wearing washed out colors and a shroud of static. This movie needs to be crunchy not fuzzy! I put my DONNA WILKES marathon on temporary hold and dived in at once. I wasn’t even through the opening credits before I decided that PICTURE MOMMY DEAD is my new favorite thing that ever existed and I was bound to be obsessed for days before some other cinematic chippy came strutting around. Holy crap, it looks like a box of candy! I had that thing were I started fantasizing about eating the movie. This movie would taste delicious! It’s all pastels and gold and ornate and fizzy and now I want to listen to that ABC album “The lexicon of Love.” This movie was filmed in a real mansion and has ZSA ZSA GABOR in it for Pete’s sake! Maybe this will be all too frilly for some horror fans but I think the relentless onslaught of prissiness creates a counter intuitive hellish atmosphere all its own. Diabetics beware.
PICTURE MOMMY DEAD is irresistible because it brings home the crazy and fries it up in a baroque, gold-plated pan. SUSAN GORDON (who’s father is incidentally the director of this fine flick, BERT I. GORDON, who also blessed our world with the tonally opposite FOOD OF THE GODS) plays Jan Brady-level crazy Susan Shelly. Our Susan has just spent some time in a convent that doubles as an insane asylum because she witnessed her mother’s tragic death by fire and was so traumatized that she blocked the whole thing out of her head! Am I salivating as I type this? She comes back home to her luxurious estate with her father (DON AMECHE!) and his new wife who is Susan’s ex-governess; a sneaky moneygrubber named Francene (MARTHA HYER). Turns out, if Susan looses her marbles or should happen to die her inheritance will go to her father, who could really use it because Francene has expensive tastes and has already spent his share of the dough! All right. I’m not really into inheritance drama but I am really into accusing dolls that sing, “The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out”, menacing stuffed animals, attacking falcons, paintings that bleed and or yell at you and giant-sized lurking groundskeepers with scars on their faces (Not necessarily in that order). Oh, and ZSA ZSA freakin’ GABORas a flaming ghost!
I hate to use the word “camp” because it sounds dismissive and yet it’s kind of unavoidable here. This is 1966 though and we should remember that folks acted like hysterical lunatics in most movies back then not just in low-budget horror flicks. Obviously everything was done here sincerely and not as a joke but it is funny– especially if you imagine the characters have no idea how insane they sound and are actually trapped in a surreally overstated melodramatic dimension they can’t escape. And I love the heavy-handed mommy and daddy issues; it’s rather like a powder puff version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME without all the awesome kills. In any case, the scene were the dolls begin to harass crazy Susan is now one of my favorite scenes in all of moviedom. I’m not kidding! It’s like three minutes of pure grade-A Kindertrauma. I almost overdosed! And as a matter of fact, this movie gave me crazy dreams. Any movie that can grant me trippy dreams can picture itself a pal of mine for life.