Attic, The (1980)

355

Cast: Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland
Director: George Edwards
Synopsis: unusual psychodrama about mousy woman enslaved by cruel father

 

a notch or two above routineMaltin

falls flat on its faceVideo Movies Guide

points for ambition if not executionBlockbuster Guide

intriguingCreature Features

 

This fairly obscure 1980 film has recently been issued on DVD as part of MGM’s impressive Midnite Movies series though its inclusion as part of this series is rather questionable. The reason being that unlike most of the titles found (so far) on the Midnite Movies series, this film isn’t really a “traditional” horror film.

At a time when Hollywood horror had become obsessed with the slasher film a la Halloween and Friday the 13th, along came this highly unusual slice of macabre featuring a mousy librarian (Carrie Snodgress) and her horrendously nasty and crotchety father Ray Milland who has managed to manipulate circumstances so that his daughter lives with him like a slave cum nurse; cooking and cleaning for him, taking him out for periodic trips out of the house (Milland is wheelchair bound) and administering him full body rubs which he appears to enjoy to abnormal extents. The miserly and thoroughly mean Milland has virtually “emasculated” his daughter’s life and rendered her a wreck of a person full of self-doubt and no hope. He constantly scowls and swears at her, deriding and humiliating her through a continuous barrage of abuse, yet she seems to take it all in her rickety stride having become used to the scars that he has been inflicting on her ever since her mother died.

Life is a living hell for Louise and she is about to relinquish her one bridge to normalcy – her job as a librarian at the local state library. Despite the added depression due to her impending retirement she strikes up a friendship with the young woman who is due to replace her. She finds her own life has been stifled and that it is too late for her to escape especially as her father is in a wheelchair and there is nobody to care for him. Louise is startled to discover that her young friend also suffers from a stifling home situation with a mother who barely allows her children breathing space at all. She then decides to help her friend escape and scratches up some money to allow the young girl to flee the suffocating confines of small town Wichita and her home go and join her boyfriend in California and forge a life for herself. Doing this deed also helps Louise feel that her own life isn’t completely wasted and that though she might have wasted her own life waiting in vain for her fiancé who supposedly vanished on the day they were supposed to get married. She finds some redemption through helping her friend escape the depressing surrounds of Wichita and even finds some courage to show some defiance to her ghastly father whom she is shocked to discover isn’t quite as helpless as he appears.

In a macabre climax the “contents” of the attic are revealed and just as Louise appears to have liberated herself from the clutches of her father a fate even more ghastly looms in front of her from which there appears to be no escape. Carrie Snodgress turns in an admirable performance as the suffocated, emaciated, withered Louise who somehow miraculously manages to stay outwardly sane despite her dreadful circumstances. You sense her vulnerability as well as feel her anger and pain – it’s a finely tuned performance from a seasoned actor while Milland is also fine as the nasty old grouch. It’s a very sad film on the whole – a downer most of the way. Yet it is an interesting subject and an unusual one and indeed a compelling one.