There are some titles that just grab you. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is one of them. When I saw this during some time spent once again browsing the internet for my next viewing choice, I knew I had to check it out. Seeing the cast also helped, with roles here for Shelley Winters, Ralph Richardson, and Lionel Jeffries, as well as quite a few other familiar faces.
Winters plays the titular character, although her name is actually Mrs. Forrest. Having survived both her husband and her young daughter, Mrs. Forrest isn’t in possession of every single one of her marbles, but that doesn’t stop her from doing some good deeds, with an annual tradition being her meal and party for a group of randomly-selected orphans from a nearby home. But the latest visitors feature a young girl (Katy, played by Chloe Franks) who seems to resemble Mrs. Forrest’s daughter, which ensures that Mrs. Forrest keeps trying to give her extra attention. Something doesn’t seem right, and Katy’s bother, Christopher (Mark Lester), suspects that Mrs. Forrest is a witch who means to harm the children.
Directed by Curtis Harrington, who seemed to spend the ‘60s and ‘70s helming many films in this vein (his previous feature is titled What’s The Matter With Helen?), and written by David Osborn, Robert Blees, and Jimmy Sangster, this is a mix of character study, melodrama, and psychological thriller that manages to do a good job with every individual aspect being blended into the narrative. It’s also quite different from what you might expect, with viewers being wrong-footed by the first half of the movie before realising exactly who might end up being painted as heroes and villains.
Winters is very good in her role, playing a typically warm-hearted and loving matriarchal figure. She gets to overact occasionally, but that really helps with what is sometimes a twisted panto atmosphere. Lester and Franks are both very good, making great use of their angelic little faces as they scheme to escape someone they view as a major threat, and both Richardson and Jeffries excel in small roles that still give them enough time to make their usual strong impressions. The other person to mention is Michael Gothard, a member of the household staff who plans to get himself a much bigger payday than usual from his vulnerable employer.
There are many other ways this could have gone. The whole thing could have been much darker, it could have been played comedically, it could have been a more straightforward game of cat and mouse (and it’s worth noting the extra satisfaction of seeing Winters cast in a central role in something that seems to subvert The Night Of The Hunter), but I am pleased with the strange delight that we got. I may not recommend it to many people, but I hope others give it a try, and some may enjoy it as much as I did.
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