On a minor level, I was tricked by this movie in the sense that I reckoned it was something other than what it actually was. See, I really thought it was another Henry Farrell story. You remember Henry Farrell. He wrote What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, How Awful About Allan, What’s The Matter With Helen, and What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte (which became the screenplay for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte).
So with a title like Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? you can understand my assumption that he writ this one as well, but no. Don’t get me wrong. I woulda watched it regardless. It is an American International flick after all and definitely falls into the Grande Dame Guignol subgenre I love so very much (ironically, though, much as I seriously dug Bloody Mama and What’s The Matter With Helen, I’m not a real big Shelley Winters fan).
The story involves a rich widow named Rosie Forrest, known affectionately as Auntie Roo. Every Christmas Eve, she hosts a big overnight party for 10 children from the nearby orphanage. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all. Specifically she selects the 10 nicest children, whatever the hell “nicest” means.
Not included among those children are fairly unpleasant Christopher and Katy Coombs, mainly because Christopher is an annoying and incorrigible storyteller who likes scaring the other kids with his wild imaginings. Katy is, well, a whiny little thing. However, the two stow away in the car with the other children and head to Forrest Grange–Auntie Roo’s mansion. This is where things start getting twisted.
Auntie Roo’s daughter, Katherine, is dead y’see, her mummified corpse kept in a special room. Katy, it turns out, is the spitting image of Katherine, leading Auntie Roo to obsess over and ultimately
detain kidnap her. The intent is for Katy to become the replacement daughter. In his attempts to free his sister, Christopher ends up getting them both trapped. I won’t give anything else away as this is one bizarro little psychological horror that’s well worth your time.
I will, however, point out what is, to me, the movie’s most entertaining aspect: its fairy tale nature. It even ends on a “Hansel And Gretel” quote, and that theme is worn on the movie’s sleeve with all the subtlety of a drag brunch. For one thing, Auntie Roo is “Rosie Forrest,” and her mansion is “Forrest Grange–“rosie” as in pleasant and “forrest” as in “forest,” as in the woods which is where these kids are going: an inviting house in the woods for a big party and lotsa treats.
Auntie Roo later captures the two orphans (orphans and poor kids being another classic fairy tale element) and puts one of them to work fetching wood. Christopher is convinced that, as in Hansel and Gretel, Auntie Roo is a witch who plans to eat them. She also at one point locks them in, of all places, the pantry.
Okay I lied before. There is a spoiler here after all which is the fact that, as befits Hansel and Gretel’s storyline, Auntie Roo gets burned up by our two, uh, endearing scamps. So if you like the grim in Grimm’s Fairy Tales (the way they’re supposed to be), this gruesome tale is for you. Oh, and keep an eye/ear out for one of the movie’s weirder “highlights,” the menthol-cool stylings of Shelley Winters singing “Titwillow.”
BODIES- 2 onscreen
Stream- Epix, Sling TV, YouTube