Psycho-biddy (Also known as Grande Dame Guignol, hagsploitation and hag horror)[1] is a colloquial term for a film subgenre which combines elements of the of the horror thriller and the Woman's Film which conventionally features a formerly-glamorous older woman who has become mentally unbalanced and terrorizes those around her. The genre was inagurated in 1962 with the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and lasted through the mid-1970s. Renata Adler, in her New York Times review for the 1968 film The Anniversary, referred to the genre as "the Terrifying Older Actress Filicidal Mummy genre."[2]

Definition, themes and influences

The subgenre features a mentally unstable, dangerous, or insane woman of advanced years with a somewhat glamorous past, living a life of relative wealth. In some cases, the woman may be in jeopardy of some sort, with another party attempting to drive her to mental instability. Often (but not always), there are two older women pitted against one another in a life-or-death struggle, usually the result of bitter hatreds, jealousies, or rivalries that have percolated over the course of, not years, but decades. These combatants are often blood-relatives. The character is often brought to life in an over-the-top, grotesque fashion, emphasizing the unglamorous process of aging and eventual death. Characters are often seen pining for lost youth and glory, trapped by their idealized memories of their childhood, or younger days, and the trauma of a past episode that haunts them.

This subgenre includes elements of many other genres, including gothic, Grand Guignol, black comedy, psychodrama, melodrama, and even the musical.


The genre began in 1962 with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? directed by Robert Aldrich. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? bolstered the flagging careers of its stars, Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson and Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson. The 1950 Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard shares thematic similarities (their respective central characters both psychotically deranged formerly-glamorous older women) with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and can be seen as a precursor to the genre.[1]

Baby Jane set many trends and more-or-less defined the genre: the theatrical performance, the trappings of wealth and Hollywood, and psychologically complex melodrama. Jane goes quite insane over the course of the movie, torturing her crippled sister and venting long-pent up hostilities and guilt. At the end of the film, Blanche makes a confession which details and admits of her own complicity in the whole affair. The film was quite successful, garnering Academy Award nominations, including one for Davis.

Crawford then starred in director and producer William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964) as Lucy Harbin, the accused axe-murderer of her husband and his mistress, who is released from the asylum for the criminally insane after 20 years to be reunited with her beloved daughter and other friends. When a new string of axe-murders begins, it is naturally assumed that it is Lucy committing them.

The two actresses were reunited again with director Robert Aldrich for a Baby Jane "follow-up", Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), despite a hyped, somewhat exaggerated feud. But genuine mutual dislike between the two actresses led to Crawford bowing out. She was replaced by Olivia de Havilland, who knew how to get along with Davis. Veteran actresses Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor also appeared in the film.

In Charlotte, Davis was not only the one going insane, but was the "officially" sympathetic character, who is gaslit by her cousin (De Havilland) and her doctor, the cousin's lover (Joseph Cotten). In this movie, Davis' character is again haunted by guilt, though this time the ante is upped: instead of believing herself responsible for a crippling, she believes she is responsible for the murder of her lover. Charlotte is one of the most successful examples of the genre, and is noted for using Southern Gothic atmosphere.

Mad Magazine poked fun at the genre in 1966 with a movie musical satire entitled "Hack, Hack Sweet Has-Been-or Whatever Happened to Good Taste?"[3]


While the subgenre has existed over a broad time period, it is closely tied to the 1960s, and the end of the Classical Hollywood Era.[1] Thus, while there are many entries into the subgenre which exist outside of this decade (it is preceded by such films as Sunset Boulevard and The Star, and followed by Misery and Mommie Dearest), it should be primarily considered within the context of of the dying studio system.


  1. ^ a b c d Shelley, Peter (September 15, 2009). Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from "Baby Jane" to "Mother". Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0786445691.
  2. ^ New York Times review
  3. ^ "Hack, Hack Sweet Has-Been -or Whatever Happened to Good Taste?" Written by Mort Drucker, Illustrated by Larry Siegel. MAD Magazine, Issue No. 100, January 1966.
Acid Western

Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, such as Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the counterculture of the 1960s. Acid Westerns subvert many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to "conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins".

Die, Mommie, Die!

Die, Mommie, Die! is a 2003 American satirical comedy film written by female impersonator Charles Busch, who also plays the lead role. Partly spoof and partly homage, it draws heavily on the tropes and themes of American "Psycho-biddy" films and plays from the 1950s and 1960s that featured strong, sometimes dominating female leads, such as those by Bette Davis (Dead Ringer) and Ethel Merman (Gypsy). It is adapted from a play of the same name by Busch, first performed in 1999.

Fanatic (film)

Fanatic (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!) is a 1965 British thriller directed by Silvio Narizzano for Hammer Films. It stars Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Maurice Kaufmann and Donald Sutherland.

First released in theaters on 21 March 1965 in United Kingdom, it was filmed at Elstree Studios and on location in Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire, during the summer of 1964. It was Bankhead's final feature film.

Gothic fiction

Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) "A Gothic Story". The effect of Gothic fiction feeds on a pleasing sort of terror, an extension of Romantic literary pleasures that were relatively new at the time of Walpole's novel. It originated in England in the second half of the 18th century where, following Walpole, it was further developed by Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed in prose by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Charles Dickens with his novella, A Christmas Carol, and in poetry in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker's Dracula. The name Gothic, which originally referred to the Goths, and then came to mean "German", refers to the medieval Gothic architecture, in which many of these stories take place. This extreme form of Romanticism was very popular throughout Europe, especially among English- and German-language writers and artists. The English Gothic novel also led to new novel types such as the German Schauerroman and the French Roman Noir.

Grandmother's House (film)

Grandmother's House is a 1988 American horror film produced by Nico Mastorakis in 1988.

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, and starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor in her final film role.The movie was adapted for the screen by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" It received seven Academy Award nominations.

List of apocalyptic films

This is a list of apocalyptic feature-length films. All films within this list feature either the end of the world, a prelude to such an end (such as a world taken over by a viral infection), and/or a post-apocalyptic setting.

Meat pie Western

Meat pie western, also known as a kangaroo western, is a category of Western-style films or TV series set in the Australian outback. The first term is a play on the term Spaghetti Western, used for Italian-made Westerns, relating in both cases to what are regarded as national dishes. Some critics have said that the category is important to differentiate more Americanised Australian films from those with a more historical basis, such as films about bushrangers (also called bushranger films).

Mommie Dearest (film)

Mommie Dearest is a 1981 American drama film. It depicts the childhood of Christina Crawford and how she was abused as a little girl by her adoptive mother, actress Joan Crawford. Starring Faye Dunaway, Mara Hobel, and Diana Scarwid, the film was directed by Frank Perry and adapted for the screen by Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, and Frank Yablans from the 1978 autobiography of the same name by Christina. The executive producers were Christina's husband, David Koontz, and Terry O'Neill, Dunaway's then-boyfriend and soon-to-be husband. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, the only one of the Big Eight film studios for which Crawford had never appeared in a feature film.

The film was a commercial success, grossing $39 million worldwide from a $5 million budget. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film's bizarre script and highly charged acting, particularly on the part of Dunaway, have brought a cult following to the film as an unintentional comedy. It won the second Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture and was also voted the worst picture of the decade.

Opera film

An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.

Robert Aldrich

Robert Burgess Aldrich (August 9, 1918 – December 5, 1983) was an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. His notable credits include Vera Cruz (1954), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Big Knife (1955), Autumn Leaves (1956), Attack (1956), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Longest Yard (1974).

Aldrich was portrayed by Alfred Molina in the anthology television series Feud (2017).

Romanian New Wave

The Romanian New Wave (Romanian: Noul val românesc) is a genre of realist and often minimalist films made in Romania since the mid-aughts, starting with two award-winning shorts by two Romanian directors, namely Cristi Puiu's Cigarettes and Coffee, which won the Short Film Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, and Cătălin Mitulescu's Trafic, which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival later that same year.


Strait-Jacket is a 1964 American horror-thriller film starring Joan Crawford and Diane Baker in a macabre mother and daughter tale about a series of axe-murders. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film was directed and produced by William Castle, and co-produced by Dona Holloway. The screenplay was the first of two written for Castle by Robert Bloch, the second being The Night Walker (1964). Strait-Jacket marks the first big-screen appearance of Lee Majors in the uncredited role of Crawford's husband. The film's plot makes use of the psychological abuse method known as gaslighting.

The Nanny (1965 film)

The Nanny is a 1965 British suspense film directed by Seth Holt, and starring Bette Davis, Wendy Craig, and Jill Bennett. Davis appears as a supposedly devoted nanny caring for a 10-year-old boy recently discharged from a home for disturbed children. It is based on the novel of the same title by Evelyn Piper (a pseudonym for Merriam Modell), and the film was scored by Richard Rodney Bennett. The film was made by Hammer Film Productions at Elstree Studios.

What's the Matter with Helen?

What's the Matter With Helen? is a 1971 American horror-thriller film directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters.

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is a 1969 American thriller film directed by Lee H. Katzin with Bernard Girard (uncredited), and starring Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Rosemary Forsyth, Robert Fuller and Mildred Dunnock. The screenplay by Theodore Apstein, based on the novel The Forbidden Garden by Ursula Curtiss, focuses on an aging Arizona widow who hires elderly female housekeepers and cons them out of their money before murdering them.

The music score was by Gerald Fried and the cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc. The film was funded by American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Palomar Pictures Corporation, and The Associates & Aldrich Company, and distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962 film)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The plot concerns an aging former actress who holds her paraplegic ex-movie star sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell. Upon the film's release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.

The intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars, Davis and Crawford, was heavily important to the film's initial success. This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of the two stars. In the years after release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the psycho-biddy subgenre. The film's then-unheard of and controversial plot meant that it originally received an X rating in the UK. Because of the appeal of the film's stars, Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times has identified it as being a "cult classic". In 2003 the character of Baby Jane Hudson was ranked No. 44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Villains of American Cinema.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (novel)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an American suspense novel by Henry Farrell published in 1960 by Rinehart & Company. The novel has earned a cult following, and has been adapted for the screen twice - in 1962 and 1991.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is a 1971 British horror-thriller film directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Sir Ralph Richardson, Shelley Winters and Mark Lester. Like What's the Matter with Helen? (both films were included in an MGM Midnite Movies Double Feature, and Winters requested that Harrington direct the picture) and better-known films such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, it is one of the many films in the Grande Dame Guignol genre.

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