Directed by Curtis Harrington [Other horror films: Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), How Awful About Allan (1970), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), The Killing Kind (1973), The Cat Creature (1973), Killer Bees (1974), The Dead Don’t Die (1975), Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Usher (2000)]
I didn’t know a lot about this before I went into it, so it mostly came as a nice little surprise. Though it’s more subtle in it’s approach of horror, I thought the film had a decent amount to offer, so even though it’s not a classic, per se, it likely won’t be an easy movie to forget.
The plot here was so original, which helped a lot. Following a pair of orphans (brother and sister) as they encounter a mentally-unstable woman who thinks the girl is a reincarnation of her deceased daughter, plus it’s British? This movie was original and a decent amount of fun despite the somewhat dry feel.
For younger individuals, Mark Lester and Chloe Franks (The House That Dripped Blood and Tales from the Crypt) did a great job. Franks was probably more forgettable, but Lester got more screen-time anyways (plus he was marginally older), so that just makes sense. Shelley Winters (Tentacles, The Initiation of Sarah, The Devil’s Daughter, A Patch of Blue – guess which one doesn’t fit in?) was also superb in her role, and you felt sympathetic for her despite the fact she was bat-shit insane. Michael Gothard (Lifeforce) played a dick, and I loved it, and Ralph Richardson popped up again (I saw him earlier the very day I watched this one in The Ghoul from 1933), which was fun.
It’s a pretty tense story, and though you sort of know where it’s going to go, there’s still a level of uncertainty. Heck, I expected the kids to get out of it using a far different method from what actually happened, which goes to show that, to some extent, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? can keep you guessing.
There’s also the occasional passages from Hansel and Gretel that Lester’s character reads during some voice-overs which really helps set the tone and give us some insight as to how, as a young kid, he sees this situation (not that Winters’ is simply insane, but also a witch). It’s a dark film in some ways, as you would expect a movie where kids are held against their will to be, but it’s not near as bleak as it could have been, which is probably a positive (I was even smiling at the end, happy with the conclusion).
I doubt this movie is going to make a big impact on many people, but it was a pleasant viewing, and even occasionally held a nice Christmas charm to it.