THE MAD ROOM (released in 1969, filmed in 1968), starring the recently deceased Stella Stevens and the long late Shelley Winters, is chock full of big hair and overacting. An older sister (Stevens) must take in her two teenaged siblings after their release from a mental institution. They all try to live with an eccentric, self indulgent wealthy widow (Winters). What could possibly go wrong?
There is a dash of the creepy in places, but mainly contrived– even sometimes ridiculous– efforts to be so. The movie’s director (Bernard Girard) and writers (also Girard, plus A. Martin Zweiback) appear to have inserted some Grand Guignol for shock value. The overacting mutes that for me, even with the entertaining, suspenseful music, which simply adds to the film’s whole over the top aesthetic. There is no deep character development, just moments of amusing melodrama.
Along with the pretty cinematography of western Canadian countryside in some scenes, Ms. Stevens looks lovely as a young, well-dressed woman who steadily grows unhinged. Her wide-eyed expressions and brightly bleached, heavily sprayed hair especially make this a worthwhile watch. (Okay, those elements and a certain scene where an angry, drunken middle-aged woman crashes a house party of high society wives.)
The movie is a loose remake of the 1941 film noir LADIES IN RETIREMENT, which stars Ida Lupino. That earlier production is atmospheric, psychological suspense drama, whereas THE MAD ROOM is a mediocre specimen of 1960s cinema camp, colorful and fun enough.