Two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, past their primes (at least as convention would have it), appearing in an over-the-top psychological horror with Grand Guignol sensibilities…it would be worth a watch in any event. But this movie wasn’t done as a cheap throw-off: A-list director Robert Aldrich brought not only a looming tension but also a pitch-dark sense of humor to the story of a deeply embittered child star tormenting her disabled sister in her old Hollywood mansion. When it’s funny, it’s very funny, and when it’s disturbing, it’s equally effective (and just try getting “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” out of your head).
It was a genuine sensation at the time, earning Academy Award nominations and serving as a full-blown comeback for Bette Davis that lasted pretty much the rest of her life (Joan Crawford had somewhat less luck in sustaining her success). Though it veers into the problematic, viewed decades on, it taps into our primal fears of physical helplessness, whether as a result of age or disability. And, given the high expectations and low pay for caregivers in modern-day America, there’ll probably come a time when you’d count yourself lucky to have an overly done-up Bette Davis serving up your pets on a tray as dinner.
Where to stream: Digital rental