Crazy Old Ladies: The Story of Hag Horror

BearManor. Aug. 2022. 390p. ISBN 9781629339979. pap. $30. FILM
When Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were cast in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, they saw it as a comeback—evidence that actresses “of a certain age” still had a place in Hollywood. Unfortunately, that place was in hag horror (or more evocatively called Grande Dame Guignol), a loosely defined genre that often featured actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age in garish makeup and cast as unhinged spinsters. The genre would soon entice Olivia de Havilland, Debbie Reynolds, Veronica Lake, Tallulah Bankhead and others to film projects. Young (Hitchcock’s Heroines) covers the phenomenon from the 1950 Sunset Boulevard until it waned with the rise of teen-focused slashers in the 1980s. She thoroughly covers not only the key hag horror films but also the careers of their stars and directors, supplemented with quotes mined from contemporary sources. Often this reads like a survey of that era of Hollywood instead of a study of a specific genre, and it’s occasionally unclear if a role is truly “hagsploitation” or simply underwritten for an actress who deserved better.
VERDICT Solidly and exhaustively researched and entertaining coverage of a horror subgenre. The lack of an index may limit its use for film studies.
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