Strait-Jacket / Berserk! Double Feature Blu-ray Review: A Pair from the End of Joan Crawford's Career

Fans of Crawford and horror should have some fun with these two.
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Mill Creek Entertainment presents two Joan Crawford films, Strait-Jacket and Berserk!, on a single Blu-ray disc. Dubbed a “Psycho Biddy Double Feature,” the pair come from the latter stage of the actress' career after her resurgence in Robert Aldrich's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

After the reteaming of Crawford and Bette Davis in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte fell apart during production due to the actresses' acrimonious off-screen behavior, resulting in Crawford being replaced by Olivia de Havilland, Crawford replaced Joan Blondell in William Castle's Strait-Jacket, an entertaining low-budget horror film.

Somehow, Lucy (Joan Crawford) only has to do 20 years at a psychiatric hospital after murdering her husband (Lee Majors in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it uncredited cameo) and his mistress with an axe. Upon her release, she stays with her brother and sister-in-law, who raised Lucy's daughter, Carol (Diane Baker), who witnessed the murders when she was three. Lucy has trouble fitting back into society, such as behaving inappropriately with her daughter's boyfriend. She is also tormented but is she experiencing hallucinations or something more? Axe murders begin to occur, but Lucy committed crimes of passion so what is happening. The screenplay by Robert Bloch offers a plausible conclusion to the mysteries. Unfortunately, the next film fails in that regard.

Berserk! stars Crawford in her penultimate film role as traveling circus owner Monica Rivers. Set in England, the story begins with Gaspar the tightrope walker unintentionally hanging himself in front on an audience after someone tampered with his equipment. Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin) immediately comes along and takes the job, becoming the star of the show. Monica's business partner Dorando (Michael Gough) wants to be bought out, but ends up taking a large spike to the head.  It's suggested Monica did it and when she lies about their partnership after questioned by police, the audience is led to suspect her.

After a dog act sequence that goes on way longer than it should, Monica's troublesome daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) is returned to her mother after being expelled from her boarding school. Not knowing what to do with her, Monica has Angela take part in the knife-throwing act, which doesn't seem the safest of acts to have a loved one take part in. Monica also has a run in with Matilda (Diana Dors) over Frank, and soon after, Matilda's act takes a deadly turn, although it's hard to believe neither of the participants knew anything was wrong. When the killer is revealed, the motivation is plausible, but the ability to have committed all the acts isn't, which undermines the movie.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Shot in black and white, Strait-Jacket has inky blacks and bright whites, contributing to a pleasing gray spectrum. The image offers fine details, good depth, with just the occasional white specks. Berserk! was shot in color. The picture offers bright hues and rich blacks. Texture details and depth are also satisfying. The audio for both movies is mono. Dialogue is clear. Music is a tad flat.

Strait-Jacket is the better of the two movies although Berserk! certainly has potential before Herman Cohen's script lets viewers down. Each have some fun scares. The HD presentation is serviceable. Not only does the Blu-ray offer no extras, but there's not even a chapter menu for the movies.  Fans of Crawford and horror should have some fun with these two.

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