Monthly Archives: February 2017

Find Out What’s the Matter with Helen? in Curtis Harrington’s Macabre Masterwork of Moppets & Murder

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Wednesday, March 1 @ 7:30 PM
Directed by Curtis Harrington • 1971
After their sons are convicted of a grisly murder, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters flee the death threats and small-town scorn of Depression-era Braddock, Iowa, and make their way to Hollywood. Galvanized by the success of Shirley Temple, Reynolds decides to open a dance academy for “moppets with ambitious moms,” while repressed evangelical Winters, who hasn’t seen a movie since King of Kings, endlessly thumps out “Goody Goody” on the piano. Reynolds quickly woos a Texas gazillionaire, but Winters can’t surrender to the California sun, finding ever-present reminders of past traumas. A superlative entry in the hag horror cycle penned by the subgenre’s originator, Henry Farrell (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte), What’s the Matter with Helen? was a perfect project for Hollywood historian, avant-garde wunderkind, and exploitation maven Curtis Harrington. The supporting cast boasts assorted crazies (Timothy Carey as a hobo) and macabre Orson Welles collaborators (Dennis Weaver as Reynolds’s paramour, Agnes Moorehead riffing on radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and Micheál MacLiammóir as the elocution coach who believes “your moppets must learn to speak distinctly, as well as shake their fat little legs”). Despite the release being sabotaged by a half-assed, spoiler-packed marketing campaign, Harrington cited Helen as his personal favorite among his films. (KW)
101 min • Filmways Pictures/Raymax Productions • 35mm from Park Circus
Preceded by: Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly in “Beauty and the Bus” (Gus Meins, 1933) – 16mm – 18 min

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