DVD Review: What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice?

by Rachel Bellwoar

Forced into a corner, after killing her husband fails to bring her the financial security she expected, Claire Marrable (Geraldine Page) rallies with a new plan: sell her housekeepers on investing their savings in stocks and then kill them, so she can keep their money. The title of the movie, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, appears after she takes out her first victim onscreen, but is this the infamous Aunt Alice?

Using pine trees as gravestones (Mrs. Marrable’s an avid gardener), the film uses the trees to demarcate a passage of time after her murders. Suddenly the first tree has grown and been joined by other trees. The trailer makes the audacious claim that “What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is more terrifying than What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and the question title is clearly meant to draw comparison (otherwise they could’ve stuck with the title of the Ursula Curtis novel that it was adapted from, The Forbidden Garden). Whichever film you feel is more terrifying, one thing that can be said for Aunt Alice is it delivers on its promised kills (whether you want to see them carried out or not).
Easily mistaken for a Robert Aldrich movie (it was filmed at Aldrich Studios and has the distinction of being the only film Aldrich produced but didn’t direct, according to Richard Harland Smith on the audio commentary), directorial credit actually goes to Lee H. Katzin (and that isn’t even the full story, as Smith explains that Bernard Girard was originally set to direct but his contributions go unacknowledged in the credits).
Some of the film’s most interesting aspects are only touched upon briefly (this isn’t a movie where characters take time to talk things out). Namely, Mrs. Marrable hires a new housekeeper, Mrs. Dimmock (Harold & Maude’s Ruth Gordon) but, unlike her previous employees, Mrs. Dimmock’s no pushover. During her job interview, Mrs. Marrable puts her through her paces, and it’s a great scene as a viewer because you know Mrs. Dimmock should be running the other way, but Gordon plays it so she’s determined to win Mrs. Marrable over. Later we find out what different people they are (Mrs. Marrable would never go to the lengths Mrs. Dimmock does) and it makes the film’s pitting of them against each other more interesting. Mrs. Dimmock tries to set Mrs. Marrable up to think her relatives are poisoning her, but the scheme is left hanging after being introduced.
Rosemary Forsyth rounds out the cast as a new neighbor who moves into the cottage next door (I love that the film makes her underestimated, like when she laughs at Mrs. Marrable’s nephew’s wife’s lack of subtlety (played by Joan Huntington)). There’s also a dog (Smith compares him to a hellhound) who threatens to expose Mrs. Marrable and a twist out of 1963’s Charade.
While a movie to watch more for its actresses than its plot, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is on sale now from Kino Lorber and like all “hagsploitation” films, will make you rue Hollywood’s ageism, that these ladies weren’t written more leading roles.

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