Monday, May 16, 2011

Lock This Back in the Attic: "The Attic" (1980)

The late Carrie Snodgress portrays a mousy librarian under the domineering control of her father in this mislabelled horror film.

Louise (Carrie Snodgress) is being forced out of the librarian job she held for nineteen years. She drinks too much, makes halfhearted attempts at killing herself, and once accidentally set the building on fire. A fire she also "accidentally" set crippled her father (Ray Milland), and Louise stays at home taking care of him. Louise's fiance, Robert, disappeared almost twenty years ago, and Louise still waits to hear from him. She bothers the missing persons bureau, fantasizes about taking exotic vacations, but the loss of her job really begins to change her. She befriends her replacement, Emily (Ruth Cox), who is having control issues with her own mother. Louise begins going out at night, much to her father's chagrin, even having a one night stand with a man she meets at the movies. Emily buys Louise a pet chimpanzee, Louise's fantasies of killing her father begin to increase, and Louise's final day at work approaches.

This film was shot on location in Wichita, Kansas, which is actually refreshing considering NOTHING is ever filmed in the Midwest! "The Attic" is anything but horror. Despite the misleading foreboding title (and inaccurate plot summary on Netflix) the film is a psychological character study, becoming somewhat horrific only in the final fifteen minutes.

Carrie Snodgress made a huge splash in the 1970's and quickly fizzled, reduced to taking roles in B flicks after scoring an Oscar nomination for "Diary of a Mad Housewife." She is very good here, and once you let go of any horror film expectations, watching her Louise go mad under her father's tyranny is unsettling. Milland can be accused of playing the same mean old man roles he got stuck with in his latter years, I do not recall the last time he smiled onscreen. Ruth Cox is surprisingly good as Emily, being very pretty but with enough acting chops to back up the role.

Once again, the main problem I had was with the script. There are some comical death fantasies here that do not work, plus the damn monkey gets its own jaunty accordion musical theme! If Louise is such a sourpuss, incapable of a happy thought, why are the fantasies so light and silly? Milland's character is so one note, Snodgress must take over the picture. This is unfortunate since the grand finale is telegraphed to the point where you will have it figured out soon after the film begins. This means Louise must go through her life and trials, and I quickly became bored knowing the outcome.

"The Attic" is a failed attempt at suspense, getting lost in the early 1980's cycle of slasher flicks. The good cast did deserve more. (* *) out of five stars.