Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 19: Killing them With Kindness

As you well know, I am a big fan of Christmas horror.  I feel like with all the joy and happiness that many of us feel at this season that there are even more who are miserable and unhappy at Christmas...either due to their own mood or the circumstances around them.  Christmas horror and thrillers help to remind people that the holidays aren't a picnic for everyone.  Also, and this is probably just me, but I've always thought that there were few things creepier than a still, quiet snowfall in the middle of the night.  You're surrounded by darkness and hear the barely perceptible sound of snowflakes hitting the ground...and it all seems wrong.  Storms are supposed to be loud and bombastic, but snow storms are quiet.  I dunno, but it's always seemed a bit macabre to me.  But back to those unhappy at Christmas...many people don't like the holiday because of the memories it brings up.  This was the subject of a Shelly Winters chiller from 1971, when Grand Guignol was in and better known films such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush...Sweet Charlotte were popular.  It combines elements of dark-old-house horror with the distinct flavor of a fairy tale to weave a tale that remains delightfully ambiguous as to who is the real victim.  Let's snuggle up to a warm fire and get chilled to the bone by Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Mrs. Rosie Forrest is a kind and sweet-natured widow and heiress who throws a Christmas party for the local orphans every Christmas at her mansion, Forrest Grange.  The orphans, who have call Mrs. Forrest Aunt Roo, have gotten into the habit of calling the mansion the Gingerbread House, due to its fairy tale-like adornments and the too-good-to-be-true hospitality of Aunt Roo.  Christopher, one of the orphans, has a very active imagination and scares all the children at the orphanage with his stories of dragons and witches.  His stories actually get himself and his sister Katy taken off the list to go to Aunt Roo's house...but they sneak along anyway.  Aunt Roo is taken aback by Katy, who bears a strong resemblance to her deceased daughter Katherine, and becomes focused on her as the party progresses.  When it is time to leave, Katy is missing and Aunt Roo promises to find her and send her back.  Christopher, however, is convinced that Roo has kidnapped Katy and goes back to get her.  They discover that Roo is actually a very lonely and depressed woman who keeps her mummified daughter's remains in the attic.  Christopher begins comparing Aunt Roo to the witch from Hansel and Gretel and he takes it upon himself to free himself and Katy from her clutches and escape from her before she can make them her children forever.

Auntie Roo has a lot of things going for it as a thriller.  There is a crazy old lady, some clever children, and a huge imposing mansion that all the action takes place in.  On the surface it seems like it is pretty straightforward...a crazy lady kidnaps some orphans and they have to outsmart her in order to survive...but that's not the whole story.  Auntie Roo is insane, yes, but she is mostly crazed due to her loneliness and loss.  She doesn't want to hurt anyone, she just wants to have her chance at motherhood back.  Katy is actually quite content to let Roo make her her daughter.  Afterall, Roo is kind and showers her with things.  But Christopher is much less trusting and is what upsets the balance of the story.  He distrusts Roo from the start (rightfully so of course) but he antagonizes her until she begins to react violently to both of them.  I think Christopher is the real antagonist of the story, because he is the one who is preventing the goals of Roo and Katy.  In fact, I felt nothing but pity for Roo as she met her end in the finale of the story while the children walked off when her jewels.  That's why I said the film was a bit ambiguous, because you can look at her as a evil adult who abuses the children...or you can view her as a pitiful creature who was taken advantage of a cynical and ill-mannered boy.  Either way, its worth seeing once for Shelley Winters' performance.

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