Psychotronic Ketchup: The Anniversary (1968)

"There is one thing that I will not tolerate in my house, Karen. And that is the shouting of abuse." - Mrs. Taggart (Bette Davis)

No, but what Mrs. Taggart does tolerate in her house is every other form of abuse, whether mental, physical, auditory or visual. Oh, and Mrs. Taggart prefers that she is the one doing the abusing. Sure, you can get your digs in at her, but she willingly takes it without flinching in the least, because she has already prepared the next step in your decline towards mental instability. If she does flinch, it is merely affected, so that she can set you up for your eventual fall.

That Mrs. Taggart, played with scene-chewing coolness by the Divine Miss Davis, all the while sporting a designer tear-drop patch (in colors to match her wardrobe!) over a seemingly shot-out left eye, hands out this abuse is one thing. That she does this willingly and without the slightest bit of remorse to her three sons, their significant others and her grandchildren is another ballgame altogether. She is the ultimate bitch-mother; really, she is almost more of a mad scientist in her approach to her children's suite of madness, and you can almost imagine that somewhere in her mansion she has a hidden laboratory laden with test tubes and beakers bubbling away, helping her to plot her ongoing campaign against the functional family unit. The kids are over for the anniversary of her marriage to her not-so-dearly departed husband, and as always, she takes the opportunity to use each one's emotions against the others, even though they all work for her in the family housing business.

They have big surprises in store for Mum, they do: one arrives with his gorgeous fiancée to announce their wedding and his separation from her power, and the middle one arrives with his wife and a quartet of bratty grandkids in tow, and with one in the oven, to boot. Their shocker for her is that they are emigrating to Canada to wrest control of their senses away from Mum once and for all. And the other son? Well, he doesn't really have any new surprises in store for her -- but he does go on a cross-dressing and panty-snatching rampage that leads to numerous complications for the other characters. Of course, Mrs. Taggart has surprises for them, too; mainly, that she has a response figured out for just about any eventuality, and is always two steps ahead of them at any given moment.

She is also cruel beyond regard: she allows her middle son and his already unstable wife to believe that their entire brood were killed in a car accident, just to get them to leave the house for a while. This is the blackest of family comedies -- yes, it is a comedy, and at times, it is hilarious -- you are shocked by some of what Mrs. Taggart says, but then you will have a guilty little chuckle over it as well. Late in the film, there is the revelation that one of the characters may have lost a baby through miscarriage due to Mrs. Taggart's onerous fiddling. When they accuse her of this occurrence, her response is a tossed-off jab about the odd shape of the mother's ears and how the baby is better off without them being passed on to it. Any sensible person would call her out for this added bit of cruelty, as well as everything that preceded it, but there isn't a sensible person left in the Taggart household. Mum made damn sure of that a long time ago.

The World According to Jim should be this much fun.

The Anniversary (1968)
Director: Roy Ward Baker (Seven Arts-Hammer Studios)

Cinema 4 Rating: 7

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