If you want to meet two of my favorite characters in the world of horror then you must watch producer/writer GEORGE (GAMES, RUBY) EDWARDS‘ lone directorial effort THE ATTIC. I can’t get enough of meek, noodle-legged ticking-time bomb Louise Elmore (Oscar-nominated CARRIE SNODGRESS in one of her best roles) and her snidely, cantankerous wheelchair-bound pop Wendell (Oscar winning dynamo RAY MILLAND throwing superfluous logs on my fan-fire.) I love observing their mutually draining and detrimental shackle bond twice as much as they appear to hate experiencing it. Interestingly this dysfunctional duo made an earlier appearance portrayed by different actors in 1973’s THE KILLING KIND. I’m forever grateful that TONY CRECHEALES and GEORGE EDWARDS who wrote both films found the two worthy of closer examination as in my world, these characters are welcome to sit at the same rotting picnic table as Baby Jane and Norman Bates.
Like Baby J. and Norman my ATTIC pals are trapped in the molasses of their own minds. The passing of time alone is horror enough for these under inflated floats that failed to keep up with the parade. Librarian lush Louise, once set to propel away from her father’s critical eye instead finds herself eking out scraps of purpose as his unappreciated caretaker, a punishment she bestowed upon herself for the crime of being abandoned at the altar. Although she dreams of escape, she is as tethered to her past as her father is to his chair. Her only release is found in hidden hooch, vivid murderous fantasies, one night flings with sailors, the occasional failed arson attempt and her ever-expanding monkey collection. Mercifully, she does meet a new friend (RUTH COX) who inspires her to break her routine but the introduction of light into Louise’s dark corner of the world illuminates a few truths she might have been better not to know. THE ATTIC is as tragic as anything can be that involves monkeys.
Some folks accuse THE ATTIC of not being a horror film at all but I say it only illustrates that the genre is less rigid than it is given credit for. Maybe there is little to no blood spill and maybe the few dry kills take place off screen, but that doesn’t dilute the general awfulness that befalls our tipsy protagonist. Released in 1980, during the height of the slasher boom, THE ATTIC is particularly and perhaps purposefully out of touch with the times; a fact made all the more clear when Louise attends a slasher film within the course of the film.
Late to the party though it may be, THE ATTIC and Louise are more in step with the spooky spinster flicks that came in the wake of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Which makes sense considering our characters first appeared in a movie by CURTIS HARINGTON the director of both WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? and WHOEVER SLEW AUNTY ROO? It’s not the best pedigree if you’re looking to court a teen audience, but I like being reminded that once upon a time folks thought it was just as frightening to loose your mind as your head.
If I’m making THE ATTIC sound overly dowdy and maudlin then I’m not explaining it right. It’s actually one of the funniest movies in the world to me partially due to its intentional black humor and partially due to its high-pitched melodrama. I can’t help thinking that cult classics HAROLD AND MAUDE and WHERE’S POPPA? were of equal influence as the previously mentioned horror films as THE ATTIC shares those films affection for morbid levity, suspicion of parental authority and utilizing mellow seventies music as a Greek chorus to back up the action on screen.
Even though the film is humorous (and how could any movie that pairs an ape in a sailor suit against a grouchy MILLAND not be?) when it decides to nosedive into the well of horror, it does so with knowing assurance. Our final moments spent with Louise before the curtain falls are both uber-gothic and catastrophic. Perhaps, it’s all more creepy than actually scary, but that will depend on how frightening you find the idea of a life misspent crushing oneself to suit the whims of another. To me, horror doesn’t get much scarier than that.