Shelly Winters is great at playing unhinged characters. In WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, she teams up with Debbie Reynolds in a tale about two mothers of convicted killers who move to california in order to escape the publicity and threats against them. Helen (Winters) begins to slowly unravel, revealing the true psychotic within. Haunted by the death of her husband, she becomes increasingly dangerous to herself and others, especially Adelle (Reynolds), who may or may not survive. There are some snappy dance routines (highlighting Debbie Reynolds' talent and cuteness) scattered throughout. Watch for Dennis Weaver (Duel) as Adelle's love interest.-WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?- has Shelly Winters as Roo, the rich widow of a famous magician. She lost her daughter Katherine in an accident and has trusted in a phony medium (Ralph Richardson) for years, paying him a small fortune so he can "contact" Katherine. Well, it's all a big scam of course, helping to push Roo over the edge. Some children from a local orphanage visit "Auntie Roo" every christmas. This year, one of the little girls resembles Roo's daughter, causing the bats in her belfry to really start a flappin'! She kidnaps the girl and her brother Christopher (Mark "Oliver" Lester), keeping them locked in her secret attic (did I mention that she keeps her mummified daughter up there too?). The rest is cat and mouse as the children try to escape Roo's insanity. In the kids' minds, they are living out "Hansel and Gretel", with Roo as the perfectly wicked witch. If you enjoy movies where Shelly Winters goes crazy, then this double feature can't be beat! Highly recommended...
on June 23, 2002
Curtis Harrington has been one of my favorite Directors since I first saw the 1967 movie GAMES with Katherine Ross at the theater. (I was 9 years old and it scared me to death.) I also greatly admired NIGHT TIDE with Dennis Hopper while watching it on late night television in the late 60's. Then along came WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? and WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? in 1971. That same year I had seen a Made-for-T.V. movie titled REVENGE with Shelley Winters. Her over-the-top, intense performance in that film had such an impact on me that I couldn't wait to see WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? When I realized that Curtis Harrington had directed the film I knew I was in for a treat. Little did I know that HELEN would become one of my favorite horror movies. Once again, Shelley did not disappoint this 13 year old who was sitting there not embarrased to be clutching his mother's arm. Harrington's deft direction and ability to create a moody atmosphere in the tradition of Grand Guignol combined with Shelley Winters' brilliant performance makes this film a 5 star effort. Then, to add icing on the cake, Harrington paired with Winters once again that year with WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? A very clever update of the Hanzel and Gretel fairy tale. Not as scary as HELEN but just as atmospheric. This time around, Shelley secured her clawhold as Hollywood's "grande-dame" ghoul. (With orange hair to boot!) I love both of these movies and recommend them to those of you who like your "horror" mixed with a little gothic and nostalgia. Also check out THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER made-for-T.V. 1972 with Shelley Winters and THE KILLING KIND 1973 directed by Curtis Harrington. (His most disturbing work.)
Aaah, you just gotta love these MGM double feature discs. Regarding their DVD releases, MGM always leaves out a whole lot in terms of special features. All you usually get is a trailer and maybe a widescreen transfer, but these amazing double dipper discs resurrect films you never thought would see the light of day. "What's the Matter with Helen?" and "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" are excellent examples of two films that taken on their own would probably never show up on DVD. Or if they did, some seedy outfit looking to make a quick buck on a grainy, cropped release would peddle them. Yet here they are with gloriously clean transfers in all their wacky, over the top splendor. I can't say I've ever been a Shelley Winters fan, excepting her outrageously campy performance in "The Poseidon Adventure," but I must say I have a newfound respect for the aging thespian after watching these two knee slappers. What can I say? I love schlocky cinema, and "What's the Matter with Helen?" and "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" are prime examples of films so slathered in cheese that your cholesterol level will skyrocket within minutes of popping the disc into your player.
Of the two films, "What's the Matter with Helen" is by far the best. Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds play Helen Hill and Adelle Bruckner, two women who flee to California during the Depression to escape the media frenzy after their sons go to prison for murder. Fortunately, Helen knows how to play the piano and Adelle knows how to dance, so the two women open up a dance studio for the precocious offspring of Hollywood parents. Things start to go downhill when Helen begins breaking down psychologically because of her son's crimes. She worries that the threatening phone call the two women received back home, which served as one impetus to head west, is coming back to haunt the two. As Hill plumbs the depths of insanity, Adelle's fortunes are looking up. Her dance studio puts on a recital that is the talk of the town, and she's finally met a nice guy by the name of Lincoln Palmer (Dennis Weaver) who seems interested in a long-term relationship. Bruckner's success severely strains the already fragile bond between the two gals, leading to a truly memorable series of events culminating in a quite shocking-and endlessly humorous-conclusion. "What's the Matter with Helen?" gives you Shelley sticking her hand in a fan, lots of rabbits, Agnes Moorehead slumming as an Aimee Simple McPherson type preacher, and Reynolds hoofing it up in a series of tacky platinum blonde wigs.
"Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" finds Shelley Winters hamming it up in a schlocky take on "Hansel and Gretel." The story unfolds in England during the 1920s, where an eccentric, wealthy old woman named Rosie Forrest (Winters) plays host to a select bunch of tots from the local orphanage during the Christmas holidays. A brother and sister, Christopher and Katy, who aren't invited to the shindig, trick their way into the house anyway at which point Forrest takes a real shine to Katy. Why? Turns out that Rosie's own daughter passed away in a tragic banister sliding accident years before. The old woman never recovered from the disaster, and spends most of her time attempting to contact her deceased child with the help of flaky spiritualist Mr. Benson (Ralph Richardson taking one on the chin for a paycheck) and her sinister butler. With the arrival of Katy, however, Rosie thinks she can return to the halcyon days of yesteryear by adopting the adorable tike. Christopher, sensing something horribly wrong with Forrest's disposition, throws a bunch of wrenches in the old woman's well-laid plans. Lot's of surprises in this story, as Winters eventually goes completely off her rocker when Katy and Christopher refuse to play ball.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in "What's the Matter with Helen?" is the wonderful Debbie Reynolds. Not only does she tear up the dance floor in several memorable scenes (ahem), her platinum blonde look suits her well in a sort of sleazy yet incredibly attractive way. I'm not sure what the film was trying to say exactly, but Reynolds and Winters have good chemistry together onscreen. Another surprise is the somewhat authentic looking 1930's attire and scenery, surprising because low budget sludge like this usually doesn't pay much attention to props. As for "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo," Winters takes center stage and holds onto it with both meaty hands. Even as a laughed at the ridiculous scenarios unfolding on the television, I couldn't help but notice that I actually felt sorry for Shelley's character even as she engaged in odious activities. I've seen so many low budget films that can't achieve any sort of dimension to their characters that to actually see one that does is shocking. Further reflection after the viewing experience led me to conclude that all the credit should go to the acting chops of Shelley Winters. Sure, she hams it up, but that she can ham it up and still convey other emotions is quite an accomplishment.
If you're worried about watching two films starring Shelley Winters, don't. To watch Shelley Winters here is to love Shelley Winters. Of course, if you don't like schlock you won't like anything about these two films no matter what I say. Again, kudos goes to MGM for releasing these two classics on one DVD with a great picture transfer. While neither film is particularly scary or graphically gory, they are entertaining in terms of hilarity and general kookiness. I am eternally grateful I stumbled over these two classics, and you might be too if you give them a chance. Enjoy!
on October 17, 2010
I won't get into the movies themselves - both are delightful campy fun and both showcase Shelley Winters' talents for playing kooky over-the-top crazy women. I'll simply get right to the point of this DVD package.
I really won't bemoan the lack of bonus features here, as we're lucky to get these films on DVD at all, let alone with a trailer. Maybe some period featurettes or something would have been nice, but the important thing here is the value of getting two movies on one disc for a fantastic price.
First off, instead of creating a flipper disc, MGM could have placed both films and trailers very nicely onto a single-sided DVD9 disc. I don't necessarily mind flippers, but I prefer single-sided discs.
Both transfers are decent enough, but each one has its own problems. Helen's transfer suffers from major fluctuations in color palette, which is often most visible on the skin tones - the actors often go from having orange skin as if they just stepped out of Jersey Shore or overly pale skin as if they've been drained of all blood. Digital noise reduction seems to have been applied very heavily, and I almost believe that this transfer was taken from an interlaced source and then deinterlaced, because I occasionally saw some noticeable ghosting. However, at least MGM encoded Helen and its trailer with anamorphic enhancement - something one can't say about Auntie Roo, which is letterboxed inside a 4:3 frame. Quite inexcusable if you ask me. However, other than the lack of 16:9 enhancement, the transfer is pleasing - flaws pop up here and there, but it definitely looks like a new progressive transfer rather than Helen's interlaced-converted-to-progressive transfer, digital noise reduction doesn't seem to have been applied so much, and the color palette definitely looks more natural and even.
My final complaint is the cover - one of the main problems with Helen's release is that pretty much every piece of promotional artwork gave away the "shock" ending. Why make that same mistake on the DVD cover? While I don't imagine many people who buy this will be those who haven't already seen it, it's still not a very good idea to give away the ending on a DVD cover, film poster, etc.
I feel kind of rotten for complaining since we're lucky MGM was willing to put these films onto DVD at all - they weren't major critical or commercial successes upon release and haven't exactly developed the massive cult followings of films like Mommie Dearest, but you'd still think MGM would have attempted a better presentation, as well as a less spoiler-heavy DVD cover. However, even with knowing the ending, Helen is still a fun and campy ride, and Auntie Roo is also a delight. And you can't beat getting two movies for such a low price - many places are selling this for five or seven dollars. Both perfect for Halloween or any night you're in the mood for some good camp.
on August 29, 2002
I just got this DVD, having never seen "Helen". Well, aside from having Shelley Winters in common, both were directed by Curtis Harrington. It's a good lesson in what studio and budget can do for a film. "What's the Matter with Helen" is pure studio (United Artists) with high production values (Oscar nominated Costumes), true 30's period sets and a wonderful narrative written by Henry Farrell ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"). Shelley has never been better and Debbie Reynolds is absolutely marvelous, as the two play mothers of teen-age sons sent to jail and escape together to Hollywood. Debbie dances and Shelley plays piano; Debbie wants to be a Jean Harlow type, while Shelley slowly descends into her Bible study. I won't blab away any plot points, but there is a great cameo by Agnes Moorehead, and Dennis Weaver is quite fine as a rich "McCloud"-type. There is real suspense that kept me guessing, a few twists, which all add up to a great period piece that's loads of fun and craziness. There's also a wonderful performance by Michael MacLiammoir whose sinister presence adds to the suspense. "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" (released in America as "Who Slew Auntie Roo?"), on the other hand, was a quickie by Harrington, with lower production values and filmed in England. They were also capitalizing on young Mark Lester (from "Oliver!"). Shelley, in this one, overacts shamelessly, though with this type of film, it's appropriate. It's basically a re-telling of "Hansel and Gretel" with obvious modern twists. It's no less entertaining than "Helen", but as released by American-International, no other distributor would touch it. There are wonderful performances by the likes of Sir Ralph Richardson, Lionel Jeffries and Hugh Griffith, but it's super-campy (very "70's") and did well at the box-office. Shelley went on to receive the last of her many Oscar nominations the following year (1972) for her over-the-top hammy performance in "The Poseidon Adventure". Perhaps it was the Academy's way of rewarding her for the great performance in "Helen". In 1961, movies centering on evil old women seemed to thrive ("Baby Jane", "Strait Jacket", "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte", etc.), and, though "Helen" could stand on its own as classy entertainment, "Auntie Roo" kinda killed that genre. With its modest price and loads of the wonderful Shelley, this would be a welcome addition to your DVD library.
on April 10, 2005
I LOVE Shelley Winters and this DVD provides a nice double dose of her at her most "over the top" crazy. "Who Slew Auntie Roo?" has Ms. Winters playing Auntie Roo, a kindly old soul who provides extravagent Christmas cheer to some poor orphans. Complications arise when one of the orphans reminds Auntie Roo of her deceased daughter-whose rotted corpse Auntie Roo keeps upstairs in the nursery. "What's the Matter with Helen" has Ms Winters playing an insane religious fanatic in a lurid tale of murder and madness. Ms Winters stars with Debbie Reynolds and Agnes Moorehead which makes this DVD a collection must for fans of "middle aged actresses in lurid question asking horror movies". Both movies have beautiful widescreen presentations with original trailers. NOTE to the exceutive who decides which movies to market: Shelley Winters made more exploitlation movies during this era including "Bloody Mama" and "The Mad Room"; what an excellent double feature that would make.
on September 9, 2002
I saw "Helen" on it's release in 1971 and it's been one of my favorite films ever since. On the surface, it's a delicious send up of 30's Hollywood---colorful and expertly crafted. Underneath, it's a bizarre case study of obsessive pyschosis---one woman over another. The two women are polar opposites who are bound together by tragedy and circumstances. One is dowdy and Bible-spouting(Winters) while the other is smart and sexy(i.e "sinful") played by Reynolds. Reynolds' character is the strong one-although she gives that credit(wrongly) to Winters' character. But they, together, forge ahead with their lives as two equally strong survivors despite their obvious differences. While all the while fate begins rearing it's ugly head. Winter's character-Helen-is obsessive and jealous in her relationship with Adele(Reynolds) and begins to crack up -threatening Adele's security and success. Note the scene where Helen sniffs Adele's lingerie! Fate finally arrives one dark and stormy night and the two are bound anew by yet another grisly circumstance-giving Helen another uncomfortable edge over Adele. Adele is finally reduced begrudgingly to Helen's caretaker as Helen has gone nuts (as only Winters can) and things get even uglier as twists and turns lead this tale to it's inevitable conclusion. Played with gusto by everyone involved, "Helen",to me, is a one-of-kind film with a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Reynolds gets to show off quite a bit---she's thin and beautiful---and Winters matches her with her frumpy,frustrated neurosis turning deadly. The costumes are gorgeous and the whole thing has a wonderful nostalgic feel to it. Curtis Harrington does wonders with this piece and it shows in every frame. I recommend this for buffs everywhere. However, I have one quibble--I wish this had been released solo instead of on a double bill with "Auntie Roo" (more Winters) which I had no desire to see then AND STILL DON'T. But that's show business! Nonetheless, for the price, "Helen" alone is well worth it and I would have paid more. It's a keeper!
on August 20, 2005
Going along the lines of question titles like "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", "What's the Matter with Helen?" and "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?" is campy, macabre delight at its very, very best. "Helen" was written by Henry Farrell who less than 10 years earlier penned the script for "Baby Jane" and "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" (Bette Davis movies) and "Helen" is along that vein......set in the 1930's with two female stars at odds with one another. Debbie Reynolds is great in the film, but Winters is simply amazing. I remember seeing the trailer for this film on TV in 1971 when the film was released and seeing Shelley WInters playing that piano with that "crazy look" on her face gave me the willies. It is a picture that is first-class in every sense of the word. "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo" was made in England and it shows. But it is still great fun nonetheless, as a take-off on Hansel and Gretl with Winters playing the evil witch who holds two children captive. It is indeed suspenseful and fun to watch at the same time. Winters again gives a tour-de-force performance. The DVDs are perfectly remastered, especially "Helen" whose colors leap out from the screen at you. A great midnight double feature that is not to be missed! This one is well worth the money. Somebody finally did something right!!
on January 7, 2005
"What's the Matter ...?" Movie: ***** DVD Quality: ***** DVD Extras: ***
"Whoever Slew ...?" Movie: **** DVD Quality: ***** DVD Extras: ***
Here's a supremely entertaining double feature sure to please mystery, horror, and suspense fans. Both movies include top-notch casts; lavish art direction and set decorations; great costumes; are effectively edited; and are expertly directed by Curtis Harrington. In "What's the Matter ...?", Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters star as the mothers of two convicted murderers who move to Hollywood circa 1934 to start their lives over. However, it soon becomes apparent that someone connected with their pasts has pursued them and is out for revenge ... or could it be that one of them is cracking up? Guessing at the solution is great fun, and in addition to masterful performances by Reynolds and Winters, the film also includes solid work by Dennis Weaver as Reynolds' wealthy beau, the wonderfully acidic Agnes Moorehead as a religious charlatan, and a character actor named Micheal MacLiammour in a wickedly funny turn that calls to mind a deranged version of Sydney Greenstreet in "The Maltese Falcon". In "Whoever Slew ...?", Shelley Winters returns in the role of a grieving American mother who opens her English home to a group of orphaned and destitute children for the Christmas holiday. Already a bit unbalanced, she becomes obsessed with one little girl who reminds her of her dead daughter; the girl's older brother (Mark Lester) becomes convinced that Winters is the real life incarnation of the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" and intends them harm. Soon enough the crazed Winters and the crafty Lester are engaged in a deadly game of cat and mouse ... but which is the cat and which is the mouse? The cast also features Sir Ralph Richardson, Oscar-winner Hugh Griffith ("Ben-Hur"), and the delightfully droll Rosalie Crutchley (housekeeper Mrs. Dudley from the 1963 version of "The Haunting") as the sour head of the local orphanage.
The MGM "Midnite Movies" DVD features excellent video and audio transfers of each film, both of which are presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios. The only extras included are the Original Theatrical Trailers for each film, not such a disappointment when you stop to consider that you're getting two great little "B" films for the price of one. Highly recommended to fans of the genre and to all those who admirer the various highly talented cast members.
on March 6, 2005
To label the two films offered on this Midnite Movies DVD release; "What's the Matter with Helen?", and "Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?", as horror efforts on reflection I guess is using the term a bit loosely. Quite possibly they should be classified more as period psychological dramas with a decidely bizzare twist to them. Both films I have long wanted to see and to have both combined now on this one DVD in beautifully pristine restored prints is a real treat for any lover of macabre efforts starring larger than life performers like Shelley Winters. Taking centre stage in both films Shelly Winters more than holds her own alongside acting legends Debbie Reynolds, Agnes Moorehead and Sir Ralph Richardson who all help make these two films total joys to watch. Many label them as camp classics but rarely do you see such a stunning period recreation of the eras they are set in (1920's England for "Auntie Roo" and 1930's Hollywood for "Helen"), than here. Both directed by Curtis Harrington roughly a year apart they provided Shelley Winters with some of her most meaty acting parts in her mature acting period and she makes the most of them turning both films into entertaining and at times quite disturbing excursions into the powers of the disturbed mind and the many forms that mind can then take.
"What's The Matter With Helen?", set in the 1930's invloves two women Adelle Bruckner (Debbie Reynolds), and Helen Hill (Shelley Winters), who try to begin a new life in Hollywood to escape the notoreity of their son's murder of a woman. Adelle opens a dance school for aspiring Shirley Temple clones while Helen accompanies on the piano. Things go well for a short while until the women begin being harrassed by a strange phonecaller threatening their lives and by Helen beginning to suffer the effects of a breakdown over her guilt at the death of her husband. Despite the success of her dance school and a promising relationship with a handsome texan (Dennis Weaver) for Adelle, tragedy strikes both women in the most unexpected manner that ends the "new Life", the two women were seeking so desperately. "Helen", has an amazingly authentic recreation of 1930's Hollywood and was quite deservedly nominated for Best Art Design Academy Award and reveals an amazingly agile Debbie Reynolds reliving her old MGM dancing roles in a couple of numbers at the school and during a wonderful tango sequence at a night club.
"Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?", set in the 1920's and based loosely on the children's fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", finds Shelley going it alone as Rosie Forrest a wealthy American Widow living in England. Lonely, unhinged and missing her long dead daughter Katharine, Rosie uses the services of a bogus spiritualist Mr. Benton (Ralph Richardson), to try and contact her dead daughter who's preserved body Rosie keeps in a coffin in a concealed room. Each Christmas she invites children from the local orphanage to spend Christmas with her and at the current celebration she becomes obssessed with one young girl Katy (Chloe Franks), who resembles her dead daughter. Rosie kidnaps her however Katy's older brother Christopher (Mark Lester), is a wake up to Rosie's schemes and then sets out with Katy's help on a course of action to destroy Rosie and her plans before she destroys them. The battle of wits between Rosie and Christopher ends in tragic consequences for the unbalanced lady who literally ends up consumed by fire like the old lady in the fairy tale. Once again terrific atmosphere really gives this film a superb period look and Rosie's wonderful old mansion really looks like some over sized ginger bread house with its wonderful gables and carved wood shutters etc. Performances here are most interesting from the over the top presence of Winters to Ralph Richardson's phoney medium to the most interesting work by the two children. Mark Lester of course is still best known from the lavish musical film version of "Oliver!", while petite Chloe Franks is remembered from her roles in many early 1970's horror efforts such as the classic "The House That Dripped Blood".
Grand guignol of the highest order is served up in these two admittedly over the top efforts which are terrific fun to watch thanks to the great period atmosphere and veteran performers who make the most of their often bizzare characters in both films. "What's The Matter With Helen?", probably is the finer of the two efforts however both have many interesting twists and turns in their at times bizzare storylines. The often strange workings of the disturbed mind is a theme well served in both films and I highly recommend this great MGM "Midnite Movies", double feature from the early 1970's. Enjoy!