director Philip S. Gilbert
It’s the hard knock life for the kids of the Deere Children’s Home, though these kids aren’t little ones, but oddly “kids” beneath the age of 21, for some reason still “underage” wards of the state. These orphans aren’t bent on musical numbers and flouting Miss Hannigan’s drunken shenanigans. No, they’ve got bigger fish by whom to fear being fried.
This is a proto-slasher of unusual derivation, falling aesthetically right between the 1960’s and 1970’s, and rated GP (a short-lived predecessor to PG). It stars Gloria Grahame (still quite attractive in middle-age despite the styles of the time) as the evil Mrs. Deere, proprietress of the orphanage and Vic Tayback as detective Calvin Carruthers, who seems to care perhaps about the kids of the county who wind up there. Seems that is. These kids can really pick their adult poisons, whether it’s Tayback or Grahame or even sleazy handyman Len Lesser, getting a hammer to the head or preserved in the deep freeze, many pitfalls abound.
The film opens with a long first-person sequence that is kind of interesting, eventually first-person with hammer (“hammer-vision”?), an innovation that would be appropriated to greater effect in other films.
While the title seems to echo Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace (1964)), there is more an air of Hitchcock than Bava about it, or at least a striving for Hitchcock, most notably Psycho (1960) perhaps. The ending provides for an “out of left field” surprise, a twisty twist that just adds further layers of weird slime to this odd portrait of America’s at risk orphans of 1971.