For me, this the most disturbing, grotesque, and all-around creepy scene in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). It’s a terrifying movie about Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), once a famous child star, who is now old, alcoholic, and “caring” for her disabled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). She’s also delusional and sadistic, hiding dead rats and canaries in Blanche’s serving tray, cutting off Blanche’s contact with the outside world, and planning an unlikely comeback with her only friend, a pianist (Victor Buono) who lives with his mother. Imagine Sunset Blvd.‘s Norma Desmond with an even more tenuous grip on reality, and you’ve got Baby Jane.
Late in the film, Jane decides that Blanche has been a little too uncooperative, so she takes desperate measures. This results in the gruesome image you see above. The sight of Blanche, who’s already unable to walk, having her hands tied above her and a piece of tape over her mouth, is almost too much to bear. It looks like something out of a medieval dungeon, but here it’s on the second floor of a nice house in 1960s Los Angeles. The image and context could hardly be more incongruous, especially since that’s the bruised and contorted face of Crawford, one of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood’s most iconic starlets. When you add in the fact that she’s just about to see her kindly maid – and only possibly means of escape – murdered by her psychotic sister… wow. This scene gets me every time.
(Davis, by the way, is out of control and over the top, scarier than just about any fanged or clawed movie monster. She’s got that off-putting twinkle in her eye and that twang of childlike innocence in her voice. She’s also the villain who launched a thousand drag queens. I’ve written a letter to Da-ddy…)