What's the Matter with Helen? (1971) Curtis Harrington

What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)
Genre: Black Comedy | Musical | Mystery | Horror | Thriller
Country: USA | Director: Curtis Harrington
Language: English | Subtitles: English (Optional, embedded in Mkv file)
Aspect ratio: Widescreen 1.85:1 | Length: 100mn
Bdrip H264 Mkv - 1280x720 - 23.976fps - 1.94gb

Set in the 30s, Helen and Adelle are two women whose sons commit a gruesome murder. After their conviction, they move to Hollywood change their names and open a dance school for girls. Adelle is looking for a good life and when one of the parents of her students who is wealthy takes a liking to her she thinks she's got it made. Helen thinks that someone who blames them for what their sons did is stalking them. But Adelle thinks it's all in her mind.

The most bizarre of the cinematic sub-genres is the so called "The Great Ladies of the Grand Guignol": camp horror films which combined over-the-top melodrama with gothic thrills and always starred by seasoned and almost forgotten actress from hollywood golden age in unflattering roles of either long suffering victims or screeching evil harpies. This genre provided them with an unusual acting showcase that allowed strut their stuff on the screen once again and win new generations of fans at expense of their glamorous images from yesterday.

"What's the matter with Helen" is the last drop of this sub-genre with stunning performances of both Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters as the troubled mothers of two convicted criminals who run away from their past to the sunny California in the 1930s to open a talent school to milk out the eagerly mothers who want their daughters to be the next Shirley Temple. In California, Debbie gets happiness, clients, tango, tap dancing and a new love interest (Dennis Weaver meanwhile Shelley gets wacko with horrible flashbacks, menacing anonymous calls, menacing strangers, menacing Agnes Moorehead as a radio evangelist, cute little rabbits (!) and an unfortunate encounter with an electric fan (ouch!).

The sloppy script (penned by Henry Farrell, the man who started all this genre with "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" along with master director Robert Aldrich, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis) is full of plot holes, red herrings and wasted opportunities that could had made this movie great: the underlying themes of twisted motherhood (with Debbie and Shelley's characters as "failed mothers" and the overbearing mommies of the child stars) and obsessive female bonding (Debbie and Shelley relationship and the fact that the few male characters of this movie are either sinister or sleazy even Dennis Weaver dream boat Texan) are wasted. Instead we get Debbie Reynolds musicals interludes and dancing tots, although fun to watch take too much screen time of what is supposedly to be a psychological chiller. But still this movie is highly entertaining. The two stars and Curtis Harrington stylish direction easily overcomes its flaws. The movie recreation of the 1930's is colorful and elegant (look at Debbie's clothes!) made with a very tight budget. The increasing atmosphere of madness and hysteria is genuinely creepy with a shocking finale that will haunt you for days. And you wouldn't easily forget that silly "Goody, goody" song that runs through the movie either. And seeing an increasingly mad Shelley Winters screw every one of Debbie Reynolds' chances at happiness is a hoot to watch!
 What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)

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