Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

whoever slew auntie roo poster 1972
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 8/10

Gothic fairy tale aspects to the story

Overacting, underused cast, story is all over the place

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Studio:  American International Pictures (AIP)/Hemdale

Genre(s):  Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  February 11, 1972 (UK)/March 17, 1972 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

whoever slew auntie roo shelley winters chloe franks costume

You don’t scare me because you’re crazy, Auntie Roo…It is because you dress like Cher in the 1980s.

Auntie Roo (Shelley Winters) is the nicest woman ever.  Each year, she invites a select group of children from a local orphanage over to celebrate Christmas.  This year, Christopher Coombs (Mark Lester) and his sister Katy (Chloe Franks) have stowed away with the “good” orphans in the hopes of having a happy Christmas at Auntie Roo’s.  Auntie Roo is hiding a secret…and Chris and Chloe are going to find out that they shouldn’t cross Auntie Roo.

Directed by Curtis Harrington, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is a horror thriller with elements of fantasy mixed in.  Sometimes simply called Who Slew Auntie Roo?, the film is sometimes listed as a 1971 release, but all evidence and dates seem to point to 1972 for its release.  The film received average reviews form critics.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? was part of the whole genre of films known as the “psycho-biddy” or Grande Dame Guignol which evolved from films like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (and the films often seemed to star Bette Davis).  The movies have a strange darkness to them but also a fairy tale aspect that Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? really banks on.

whoever slew auntie roo corspe daughter mummy

Auntie Roo, get your daughter some moisturizer!

The story uses the idea of Hansel and Gretel for its basis.  The original working title was Gingerbread House but fears of a lawsuit due to Neil Simon’s The Gingerbread Lady allegedly issued the change.  It is this fairy tale aspect that helps the movie and propels the idea…I just wish the film had committed to and didn’t load up on plots that never pan out.

The film takes a lot of time dealing with a fake psychic (Ralph Richardson) and Roo’s servants Judy Cornwell and Michael Gothard.  These storylines end up going nowhere and take away from the plot involving Roo and the children.  Cornwell claimed that her role was bigger but Winters demanded it cut back due to fears of being overshadowed.  It does feel like something is missing from this film and that the movie never reached the level it intended with the subplot.

The cast is fun.  Shelley Winters eats up her scenes as the overacting Auntie Roo.  Mark Lester of Oliver! plays the bother Christopher with his sister Katy played by Chloe Franks.  A lot of the supporting cast (including Cornwell and Gothard) are underused especially considering their talent like Ralph Richardson, Lionel Jeffries, Hugh Griffith, Rosalie Crutchley, and Marianne Stone.  The movie also features Richard Beaumont of Scrooge (which is ironic since I used to confuse Beaumont and Lester when I was little).

whoever slew auntie roo knife mark lester chloe franks

You’ve been an orphan a few too many times, Mark…maybe the problem is you?

The movie has a nice gothic feel but like the plot this too is underdeveloped.  There is a scary barn full of toys and masks and a rotting corpse.  There simply is too much in the movie and with a huge paring down, this could have been a fun film.  It has aspects of Night of the Hunter that could have been blow-up both thematically and visually.

I love this period of horror films, and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is a fun movie despite its multiple fallacies.  The movie is full of unfulfilled plotlines and strange (unsatisfying) twists like a moment near the end of the film involving the children’s “goodness” that puts their story in question.  It would have been a great plot twist that could have changed the whole movie.  Still,  there is something enjoyable about the movie.   It is goofy, light, and funny and has the innocence of a kids’ film but still manages to get dark…I just wish it got darker.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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