Writers on Film


Caroline Young on Crazy Old Ladies

Season 1, Ep. 87

From the moment Bette Davis served up a dead rat to Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? a subset of camp horror films was born. The ‘Hag Horror’ genre exploited the former Oscar-winners and glamour queens who had effectively built Hollywood, transforming them into grotesque caricatures that revealed a cultural disdain for older women. 

In Crazy Old Ladies: The Story of Hag Horror, Caroline Young traces the development of this genre, from its origins in Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, through to the horror movie phenomenon following the huge success of Psycho. It explores how the stars of the Golden Age adapted to the advent of television, the collapse of the studio system and changing censorship codes, and revived their fortunes by reaching new audiences as crazed spinsters and menopausal maniacs. 

Films like Strait-Jacket, Lady in a Cage, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Rosemary’s Baby reveal the fears around the growing feminist movement, a clash between tradition and youth, and a shift in notions of celebrity. Above all, Crazy Old Ladies is a timely overview of the subgenre, to reveal the sometimes painful stories of what happened to iconic, ageing actresses once their career as leading ladies was considered over. 

Crazy Old Ladies is published by Bear Manor Media, where you can purchase a copy.

More Episodes


Crooked but Never Common

Season 1, Ep. 98
In a burst of creativity unmatched in Hollywood history, Preston Sturges directed a string of all-time classic comedies from 1939 through 1948―The Great McGinty, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek among them―all from screenplays he alone had written. Cynical and sophisticated, romantic and sexually frank, crazily breakneck and endlessly witty, his movies continue to influence filmmakers and remain popular to this day. Yet despite this acclaim, Sturges’s achievements remain underappreciated: he is too often categorized as a dialogue writer and plot engineer more than a director, or belittled as an irresponsible spinner of laughs.In Crooked, but Never Common, Stuart Klawans combines a critic’s insight and a fan’s enthusiasm to offer deeper ways to think about and enjoy Sturges’s work. He provides an in-depth appreciation of all ten of the writer-director’s major movies, presenting Sturges as a filmmaker whose work balanced slapstick and social critique, American and European traditions, and cynicism and affection for his characters. Tugging at loose threads―discontinuities, puzzles, and allusions that have dangled in plain sight―and putting the films into a broader cultural context, Klawans reveals structures, motives, and meanings underlying the uproarious pleasures of Sturges’s movies. In this new light, Sturges emerges at last as one of the truly great filmmakers―and funnier than ever.