Half early 80s, half 50s melodrama, STRAIGHT JACKET is the everyday tale of axe murders, insanity, psychic visions and bad acting.
Karen (the awe inspiringly inept Kory Clark) is the pretty young wife of hot-shot asshole lawyer Al (Chuck Jamison). Escaping the 'hell' of San Diego, the couple move to the (ahem) relative oasis that is Los Angeles. Unfortunately, she is hiding a dark past of alcohol inspired visions (don't know what she'd been drinking but all I get is double vision). You know things aren't going to go well as they pull up to their new house for the first time and Karen almost freaks at flapping curtains. Turns out to be a cute little kitty cat, but high-maintenance Karen puffs her cheeks and screams, “I want him outta here!”. Anyway, as bad luck would have it, the couple's new life doesn't get off to the best of starts when Karen hallucinates (or is it a flash back or even a flash forward, as the film keeps asking) the decapitation murder of a middle-aged woman by someone with an axe. Thankfully her living room isn't really covered in blood (it can be a bitch to get it out of shagpile).
Karen's visions only get worse, and she sees a figure in black (wearing that giallo regular the fedora) coming at her with an axe. Unfortunately, this happens as Al is trying to impress his boss and his air siren of a wife. The claims that his hysterical wife's screams are down to indigestion don't wash, unsurprisingly.
Karen is befriended by her brassy neighbour Madge, who introduces him to Benny the slow handyman. Perhaps there's a special agency (Red Herrings R Us?) where you can get boss-eyed gardeners, who furtively fondle garden shears whilst ogling polyester stretching in all the right places. Madge tries to keep her away from her cheerfully sexist husband Henry, who salivates after Karen, “Hey! she's got a cute lil' caboose!”. Madge explains to her that there was, in fact, an axe murder in her new house only a year ago, when a woman was beheaded and her son chucked into the nuthouse.
Al accuses Karen of hitting the bottle; something she denies. But she's almost driven to it in exasperation, where she's confronted by a mystery man who has been following her. It turns out that he's ex-cop Larry Craig (Aldo Ray), who worked the murder case the year before. He confesses to her that he had visions himself in the house, and this led him to be convinced that wrong person was fingered for the killing ...
STRAIGHT JACKET veers from highly entertaining camp to tedium with ease. Despite the marginally effective gore effects, it doesn't feel like a film of its time. The music is seemingly lifted out of a 1950s police drama, and much of it plays like a rather insipid TV movie of the week. Aldo Ray was a star in the 40s and 50s, but by the 1980s he was pretty much washed up, and he seems to be sleep walking through a part that could have seriously done with a little more scenery chewing. Kory Clark, however, is a bad movie dream. Giving Dana Kimmel a run for her money, STRAIGHT JACKET is boosted no end by her inspired bad acting. When asked by Sargent Craig if she saw the killer's face in her visions, she delivers the line - “It's too terrifying to even imagine it!” - in such a way that takes us to bad movie nirvana. Earnestly pleading, “I haven't had a drink or nothing. I swear to Jesus!”, is another howler. Add to that she's got hair that looks a rock formation and mugs uncontrollably (complete with purple rimmed eyes) and a straight jacket in the prologue (or is it a flash forward?) and you have easily the most entertaining thing on display here.
Other things to cherish in STRAIGHT JACKET are the trip to the looney bin, where you know you're in the looney bin because an extra in the background is washing her hair in a bird bath! Endlessly quotable dialogue such as, "Schizoid. Paranoid. ... Ones of those 'oids!". Also, priceless is the scene where Al looses his job (“You'll never work in the insurance business again!”), and falls off the wagon; shouting at Madge, “You lousy pig-faced bitch!”. Understandably she retorts, “Hey, I don't like that kind of talk!”. Then there's the mini-me killer is the black rain slicker who doesn't look much of a threat to anyone.
Ultimately, STRAIGHT JACKET is a mixed bag: a wannabe slasher flick in desperate search of a body count. Still, the cheesy bon-bons should keep you nourished during the intermitent bouts of tedium.
BODYCOUNT 2 female:1 / male:11) Female dismembered with an axe