The Attic (1980) poster

The Attic (1980)


USA. 1980.


Director – George Edwards, Screenplay – Tony Crechales & George Edwards, Producers – Raymond M. Dryden & Phillip Randall, Photography – Gary Graver, Music – Hod David Schudson, Art Direction – Tom Rasmussen. Production Company – Forum Productions Ltd/Raymond M. Dryden/The Attic Associates.


Carrie Snodgress (Louise Elmore), Ray Milland (Wendell Elmore), Ruth Cox (Emily Perkins), Rosemary Murphy (Mrs Perkins), Michael Rhodes (Richard), Frances Bay (The Librarian)


In Wichita, Kansas, Louise Elmore is about to be made redundant from her position at the local library. She lives at home with her wheelchair-ridden father Wendell who is cruel and harshly critical of everything she does. The only love in Louise’s life was Robert Orin Farnsworth who mysteriously disappeared nineteen years ago. Louise befriends co-worker Emily Perkins who gives her the gift of a pet monkey. Emily inspires Louise to make changes in her life but secrets from the past lurk.

The Attic – not to be confused with Mary Lambert’s subsequent The Attic (2008) – was the one and only film directed by George Edwards. Edwards had worked with Curtis Harrington as a producer and frequently writer on his films from Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), The Killing Kind (1973) through to Ruby (1977). Edwards had also produced other works such as The Navy vs the Night Monsters (1966), Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) and Frogs (1972).

The IMDB also makes the claim that cinematographer Gary Graver was the unattributed co-director on the film. Graver had worked as a director of photography on films that range all the way from Z-budget director Al Adamson and prolific B movie director Fred Olen Ray to at the opposite extreme Orson Welles. He also made a great many porn films, as well as directed the Halloween horror Trick or Treats (1982). Graver claims that Edwards was absent from the set so much that he had to step in and direct key scenes. There is no particular reason to disbelieve Graver on this. On the other hand, George Edwards is the sole credited director on the finished film and there is no reason to see that Graver’s contributions were any more than as a stand-in during Edwards’ absences.

The Attic resembles one of the entries in the fad for Grand Dame Guignol that began with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Carrie Snodgress is not exactly a grand old dame – she was only 35 at the time of the film’s release. That said, the film has many allegiances to Baby Jane – the relationship between the long-suffering Carrie tending her cruel and cranky father Ray Milland in a big old house resembles the relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Baby Jane (although the dynamic is reversed and here it is the wheelchair-ridden one who is cruel and half-mad rather than the caregiver), while there is a similar twist about the nature of our assumptions at the end.

Carrie Snodgress and father Ray Milland in The Attic (1980)
Carrie Snodgress with father Ray Milland and the monkey in the middle

Carrie Snodgress came to fame in Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), which had her nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. Shortly after, she dropped out of acting and became the girlfriend of musician Neil Young but reappeared through the years in various roles, ranging from Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978), episodes of The X Files (1993-2002) to the mother of Ed Gein (2000) and in The Forsaken (2001). You could easily imagine this as a role inhabited by a standard blonde starlet but the very casting of Snodgress gives it something else. She is plain in features with a long face and possessed of a naiveté and nervous frailty suggesting that she doesn’t quite have the full quota of one’s marbles but also engenders sympathy as we see her struggling against her situation, wanting to be free but lacking the will to do so.

On the other hand, while The Attic seems set up to act like a horror film (and was certainly sold as one), it never quite settles into being one. You watch the various scenes with Carrie Snodgress tending cranky Ray Milland and every so often these are interspersed with her fantasies of killing him. By the time the film introduces a chimpanzee into the mix, you wonder WTF it is going on.

Much of it could play out as a general drama about a mousy woman’s self-realisation and eventual standing up for herself without any horror element. The film produces a quite reasonable jaw-dropping twist about Ray Milland in mid-film. It is only at the end where the full Grand Guignol effect comes into play in the scenes with Carrie Snodgress trapped in the attic that the film could be said to opt for full-on horror effect.

Trailer here

Trailer here

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