What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the type of horror movie you have to see to believe. Mainly because, even today, horror has such a reputation that it’s hard to find any room for interpretation. See, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? doesn’t have a masked killer or a menacing presence lurking in the shadows. The most horrific part about it is it’s total lack of most of the characteristics of what we’ve come to expect from the genre.
One of the main reasons for this is the lack of a clear villain. Although the movie focuses predominantly on Jane’s torture of her invalid sister, Blanche, it becomes clear as the movie progresses that neither of these women are entirely innocent. Still, it is Jane’s abusive and wildly erratic behavior that, as sick as it may sound, makes the film such a delight to watch. A great deal of that could be attributed to the actresses and their mutual hatred of one another, but there’s something about the way that the film plays out that seems like more than chemistry, or lack there of, on the two leading ladies’ parts. No, it’s clearly more than that. Jane’s hysterics are so perfectly played in the most melodramatic manner that it’s hard not to smile when she gets that scowl on her face. As for Blanche, she’s admittedly the one that audiences are supposed to identify with and relate to, but she’s so meek that it’s hard to get any strong emotional reaction from the character. It works for the role, but she ends up being far more pitiable than she is relatable.
Then again, the irony of the movie is made far more enjoyable with a little bit of Hollywood history. Joan Crawford plays mild-mannered Blanche, the victim of abuse, and Bette Davis plays Jane, her maniacal sister. Hollywood is littered with stories about the two actresses’ bitter rivalry that it’s almost impossible to tell fact from fiction. Still, their mutual hatred for one another is clear enough in various accounts that it’s hard to imagine that someone could possibly make up that much about the two women. Furthermore, for those who haven’t seen Mommie Dearest, let me fill you in on a little something. Joan Crawford was notoriously abusive, so the fact that she plays the victim of an abusive family member, after what she did to her own children, is particularly laughable.
That being said, that’s most of what What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? boils down to, laugh-ability. I wish I could claim that the movie didn’t take itself seriously, but it takes itself so deadly seriously that it comes across as pure, unadulterated camp. Still, this doesn’t mean that the movie is without its horrific moments. There are a number of them, but in the end, time has not been kind to this movie. With the strong tones of melodrama with an undercurrent of horror and a well-documented feud between the stars, What Ever Happened to baby Jane?, much like its titular character, has seen better days.