Theatrical Release: March 15, 1972
Blu Ray Release: August 16, 2016
Director: Curtis Harrington
Review by James Klein
Nothing warms my heart more than a holiday horror film. While most would prefer to watch Christmas Vacation, I usually turn to Christmas Evil. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo may not be as extreme as say Silent Night, Deadly Night or Black Christmas, it’s still a spooky little take of the Hansel & Gretel fable that may appeal to those who like a little darkness around the holidays.
Starring the always over the top and hammy Shelley Winters, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo is basically the Hansel & Gretel tale only told from the witch’s point of view. Auntie Roo (Winters) is a rich but lonely older woman who spends most of her nights conducting seances with a fraud charlatan (Ralph Richardson) trying to connect to her now deceased young daughter. With Christmas around the corner, Auntie gets her home all decked out as she allows all the local orphan children to spend the night at her home on Christmas Eve, playing games and opening presents.
Two orphan children who are considered the “bad” children sneak into the home of Roo only to be taken in by Auntie and given plenty of food and gifts, even saying she wants to fatten up the little girl Katy (Chloe Franks, Tales from the Crypt) who she takes a particular liking to. Her protective older brother Christopher (Mark Lester, Oliver!) knows there is something a little “off” about Auntie. Christopher and Katy soon figure out that Auntie’s basically batshit. But by the time they figure it out it’s too late and the children are stuck in the mansion with this murderous crazed woman.
One of the biggest flaws of Whoever Slew Auntie Roo is that the opening “hook” gives away the fact that Auntie Roo is nuts. While it sets the tempo for what’s to come, this almost ruins the movie and kills any mystery or suspense of who Auntie is. Another flaw is that the movie is almost all build up and has a quick and what feels like a rushed climax. Most modern audiences may get bored with seeing Auntie Roo entertaining the children by putting on a song and dance or seeing Auntie interact with her maids and butlers. While I enjoyed the gorgeous sets and of course Winters, this could have been shortened up. I think this would have made an excellent segment in maybe Amicus’s Tales From the Crypt or Vault of Horror but as a feature length film, the movie is bogged down and too dry for most viewers. It’s almost all foreplay and not much fucking.
However I like a little foreplay and I personally really liked the gothic, traditional horror setting of this cold mansion where the house itself almost becomes another character in the film since most of the movie is set inside this house. One little sequence takes place inside a room full of dolls and dummies that may still give goosebumps to some viewers. I wish director Harrington would have played up the themes of a parents’s loss of a child as I think this would have been more unsettling especially with the Christmas setting. I am not sure if Winter’s would have been able to pull back her over the top performance and been able to make Auntie Roo more sympathetic. But you won’t find me complaining as I do like my over the top Winter’s and her several outbursts of screaming.
Kino’s blu ray is fantastic looking and the colors are very sharp. The 1:85:1 ratio looks pristine with very little print damage or grain. The 2.0 DTS-HD sound is fine and dialog can be heard without any hissing or annoying background noise. The blu ray does offer an audio commentary track which I particularly enjoyed by film historian David Del Valle and film scholar Nathaniel Bell who both seem to not only love this film but also it’s director, the late Harrington. Their stories of Winters walking off the set or Harrington’s short temper are very interesting. I also was taken back to hear that the title was originally called Christmas at Grandma’s and then changed to The Gingerbread House until the more exploitative title of Whoever Slew Auntie Roo was decided. The title of The Gingerbread House may have helped the movie in possibly being a more well-known holiday film. Even the blu ray cover makes the movie look like a bloody gore film when in fact the movie plays more along the lines of say a Hammer or Amicus production. Rounding out the special features are the trailers for Whoever Slew Auntie Roo and other genre films that Kino has recently released.
Spend the holiday’s with Auntie Roo if you feel a need for a change of pace as A Christmas Story is shown on TV for the 10,000 time.
Blu Ray Rating: