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Film / Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

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Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (released in the U.S. as Who Slew Auntie Roo?) is a 1972 British horror film directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Shelley Winters in the title role, along with Ralph Richardson, Mark Lester, Chloe Franks, Judy Cornwell, Michael Gothard, Hugh Griffith, and Lionel Jeffries.

Rosie "Aunt Roo" Forrest (Winters) is an American-born widow who lives at Forrest Grange, the English manor she inherited from her late husband, a famous magician. Each Christmas, she throws a party for the ten best-behaved children from the nearby Home for Orphaned and Destitute Children. One year, siblings Christopher (Lester) and Katy Coombs (Franks) arrive at her party. Aunt Roo becomes obsessed with Katy, who closely resembles her dead daughter Katharine, and wants to adopt her. But Christopher is suspicious.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? contains examples of:

  • Banister Slide: Katharine died falling off a banister. When Katy slides down the same banister, Aunt Roo screams in horror, but Katy reaches the bottom safely.
  • Big "NO!": Aunt Roo screams "NO!" when she thinks Katy's going to fall of the banister, and later when Katy and Christopher lock her in the burning kitchen.
  • Blackmail: Albie blackmails Aunt Roo for 2,000 quid over the fact that she's keeping Katy locked up in Katharine's nursery.
  • Career Versus Man: Aunt Roo was once a celebrated singer and dancer performing in Paris, but she gave it up to marry Col. Forrest.
  • Dies Wide Open: After her death, Katharine stares at the ceiling with blood coming out of her nose.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Auntie Roo's grief-stricken mania never actually develops into something murderous that might justify Christopher's paranoia. She never harms or even so much as threatens the children. Her most violent act is pushing them into a closet whilst he was brandishing a knife at her, and her last act is to subsequently cook a meal for them. Christopher proceeds to trick her into opening the door by knowingly exploiting her grief, murder her WITH ACTUAL GLEE, destroy her home, steal her heirlooms, and ride off into the sunset scot-free without repercussion or remorse. Which the narrator dryly proclaims a "Happily Ever After".
  • Decoy Protagonist: Christopher. The title of the movie says it all; this is Roo's sympathetic story, about Roo's tragic life, and Roo's ignominious death. He's ultimately the villain.
  • Ding-Dong-Ditch Distraction: Christopher does this to get Aunt Roo out of the kitchen long enough for him to steal the key to the nursery.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A thunderclap plays between the first scene and the opening credits.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Aunt Roo wakes up Katy and Christopher on Christmas morning by flinging open the curtains and shouting, "Children! Children! Wake up! Wake up! It's snowing!"
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: Christopher pulls himself up to Katharine's nursery this way. Through the doors, he sees Aunt Roo singing to Katharine's skeleton. Later, he does this to try to rescue Katy. When Aunt Roo catches him, she cuts the dumbwaiter ropes so he can't escape.
  • Elective Mute: Katy and Christopher don't talk at the orphanage, but they start talking once they're at Aunt Roo's mansion.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In one of the final scenes of the movie, when Christopher brings firewood into the kitchen to place besides the open-flame stove, the establishing shot of him entering the room lingers long enough for everyone to see the mason jar on a counter in the foreground framed right next to him and read the clear, legible, painted-on label of "paraffin".
  • Friend to All Children: Aunt Roo seems like one.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The film takes place at Christmas time.
  • House Fire: Christopher locks Aunt Roo in a storeroom and sets a fire by the door. The fire guts the house, killing Aunt Roo.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Christopher's actions at the film's climax are abhorrent, but justifiable through the lens of his delusion. He is, after all, protecting his sister's very life. Straight after trapping Auntie Roo and setting the door on fire, he is presented evidence that he was wrong and that she genuinely meant only to treat them. Even his younger sister can see this, and points it out. He casually dismisses her and comments on how pretty the fire is. Then proceeds to garner sympathy from the adults by feigning trauma & claiming he was only even there to help. Actual supervillain origin story.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: Auntie Roo. Never even subverted.
  • Monochrome Past: A flashback to Katharine's death is shown in sepia.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Aunt Roo keeps Katharine's skeleton in a coffin in her old nursery. Every night, she takes her out of the coffin, tucks her into bed, and sings her to sleep.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: When Christopher tries to tell people what's going on, people blame his imagination.
    Christopher: Listen, she's done something bad to Katy.
    Miss Henley: What a terrible thing to say!
    Christopher: She's got a mummy in a secret room!
    Aunt Roo: What? What?
    Miss Henley: I apologize for him. He's a congenital liar with a rather overactive imagination. Christopher, you'll be very severely punished when you return.
  • Perspective Flip: Despite multiple allusions to Hansel and Gretel, the "witch" is genuinely the kindly charitable old dear that she's outwardly presented as, and never so much as threatens anyone. Meanwhile, we're told that the "Hansel" stand-in is a troublemaker at the start by the orphanage's owner, which turns out to not be the false-flag one might expect. The ending solidifies this in gruesome fashion; turns out the movie was a murder mystery all along, and the victim was the sympathetic main character.
  • Phony Psychic: Mr. Benton (Ralph Richardson) is a "medium" who conspires with butler Albie (Michael Gothard) and his wife Clarine (Judy Cornwell) to fake visitations from Katharine. Clarine stands in Katharine's nursery, calling down the dumbwaiter shaft in a little girl voice, which completely fools Aunt Roo.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Aunt Roo screams and begs Katy and Christopher not to leave her alone as they flee the burning house.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Katy and Christopher aren't invited to Aunt Roo's Christmas party, so they hide in the trunk of the carriage taking the guests.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Aunt Roo's cat. We last see it fleeing upstairs, shortly before Katy and Christopher set the house on fire. We never learn if it escaped or not.
  • What You Are in the Dark: the supposed-protagonist's actions at the film's climax, which retroactively flips the entire script on its head.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To "Hansel and Gretel." Christopher notices the similarities, which causes him to incorrectly assume Aunt Roo is a cannibal.
  • Widow's Weeds: Aunt Roo wears these when she sings to Katharine.

Alternative Title(s): Who Slew Auntie Roo