Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Produced by James H. Nicholson
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written by David D. Osborn
Robert Blees
James Sangster
Gavin Lambert (additional dialogue)
Starring Shelley Winters
Mark Lester
Chloe Franks
Ralph Richardson
Lionel Jeffries
Music by Kenneth V. Jones
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Edited by Tristram Cones
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release dates
Running time
91 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is a 1971 British horror-thriller film directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Ralph Richardson, Shelley Winters and Mark Lester. Like What's the Matter with Helen? (both films were included in MGM Midnite Movies Double Feature, and Winters requested that Harrington direct the picture) and better-known films such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, it is one of the many films in the Grande Dame Guignol genre.


Mrs. Forrest, in the eyes of the staff and children at an orphanage, is a sweet, kind-mannered and children-loving widow, who throws a lavish annual Christmas party at her mansion, Forrest Grange (known to the orphans as the "Gingerbread House") for ten of the best-mannered children at the orphanage. But secretly, she is a demented, sad and miserable woman who keeps the mummified remains of her daughter Katharine in a nursery room in the attic, singing lullabies to her and trying to contact her spirit with the assistance of (phony) psychic Mr. Benton. He fools Forrest into believing that the voice of Clarine, one of the servants, during the fake séances is that of Katharine.

Christopher and Katy Coombs are orphaned brother and sister. Christopher has a wild imagination, telling stories about dragons and witches that frighten the other orphans. When he and his sister are not included in the list of ten orphans for the Christmas party at Auntie Roo's mansion, he and Katy sneak into the car of Inspector Willoughby, who transfers the orphans to Forrest Grange, and are warmly welcomed by Auntie Roo. Auntie Roo is surprised to see the resemblance of her daughter Katharine to Katy, and becomes more and more focused on her. Katy is missing as the party ends and the other orphans leave. Auntie Roo promises to find her and send her back. Christopher realizes that Katy is not just missing, but was kidnapped by Auntie Roo. Meanwhile, Albie, the young, sadistic butler, discovers that Auntie Roo has Katy locked in the nursery room. He blackmails her into giving him £2,000 by threatening to reveal her secret to the police unless she pays to keep him quiet. After this, he and Clarine depart from the mansion and leave her alone with Katy.

When no one believes Christopher about seeing Auntie Roo singing lullabies to mummified Katharine, or that Katy has really been abducted, he runs away to the mansion but ends up trapped inside too. Auntie Roo wants to replace Katy for Katharine, but in Christopher's mind, he thinks Auntie Roo is really a witch wanting to devour him and his sister. Auntie Roo prepares a dinner for the New Year's coming, while Christopher assists her. He steals the key to the nursery room.

After Christopher frees Katy, Auntie Roo chases them to the kitchen where Christopher tries to protect them with a knife. Knocking it from his hand with a piece of wood, Auntie Roo corners them in the pantry and locks the door. Auntie Roo hears in her mind her daughter shouting for her and runs to her coffin in the attic. When she tries to touch the corpse's face, it disintegrates to dust. Auntie Roo returns to the kitchen in a highly agitated state yelling "I have nothing, I have nothing." She turns the hour glass over to time her cooking and starts chopping potatoes with a large cleaver. She then hears the children from the pantry calling to her to let them out, but she resists listening to them. Katy then says "Please, mommy", touching the heart of Auntie Roo. Completely lost in her delusions she opens the door to embrace Katy ("Katharine"). Christopher knocks things from the high shelf causing Auntie Roo to fall. The children lock the door but Auntie Roo begins hacking at it with a cleaver.

Christopher and Katy place the fire-wood he had been fetching at the door and set it on fire with paraffin (kerosene). Smashing through parts of the door with the cleaver Auntie Roo sees the fire and it comes into the pantry surrounding her. Auntie Roo, deep in her psychosis, falls in a corner. The children emerge from the smoked-filled building, carrying the almost forgotten teddy bear that belonged to Katharine (in which Katy and Christopher have placed all of Auntie Roo's jewelry), while Mrs. Forrest, surrounded by fire, shouts at Katy to come back to her.

Outside, the orphans meet Auntie Roo's butcher, Mr. Harrison, who is delivering a whole piglet by horse-cart. He sees the smoke inside and drives off to call the fire brigade. Katy realizes she was to cook the pig, but Christopher says they were to be eaten after it. When he leaves, Christopher quips, "Bloody good fire", while inside, the whole cellar goes up in flames. The fire brigade arrives and puts out the fire but are unable to rescue Mrs. Forrest. Inspector Willoughby will take the children back to the orphanage. Still outside, the orphanage doctor, Dr. Mason, comments "Poor little devils. They'll probably have nightmares till the day they die". Christopher and Katy smile at each other, departing from the burned mansion, with Christopher ending the tale by saying "Hansel and Gretel knew that the wicked witch could not harm anyone else and they were happy. They also knew that with the wicked witch's treasure they would not be hungry again. So they lived happily ever after."


Shelley Winters as Rosie Forrest (aka: "Auntie Roo")


Jimmy Sangster (billed as James Sangster), Robert Blees and David D. Osborn co-wrote the screenplay. Other titles that have been used for the film are Gingerbread House (screenplay working title) and simply Who Slew Auntie Roo? (U.S. poster title), while the film tagline was "The hand that rocks the cradle has no flesh on it!". The working title was changed because of the appearance of the Neil Simon play The Gingerbread Lady and fears of a lawsuit over titular similarity, and the alteration of "Who" to "Whoever" after the poster was drawn up was insisted upon by Harrington. Posters exist with the full-length title, and one of those appears on the DVD cover.

Other actors in the film include Lionel Jeffries, Rosalie Crutchley, Hugh Griffith, Judy Cornwell and Michael Gothard.

The film was distributed by American International Pictures.

The film was released on DVD by MGM in 2002 as part of their Midnite Movies series. The disc was a double feature release, pairing the film alongside What's the Matter with Helen? (1971), also directed by Curtis Harrington.

Critical reception

The film maintains a 57% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 7 reviews.[1]

See also

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)
What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)


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