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Psycho-biddy (also known as Grande Dame Guignol, hagsploitation and hag horror)[1] is a film subgenre which combines elements of the horror, thriller and woman's film genres, which conventionally feature a formerly-glamorous older woman who has become mentally unbalanced and terrorizes those around her. The genre was inaugurated in 1962 with the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and lasted through the mid-1970s. Renata Adler, in her New York Times review for the 1968 film The Anniversary, referred to the genre as "the Terrifying Older Actress Filicidal Mummy genre."[2]

Definition, themes and influences[edit]

This subgenre includes elements of many other genres, including gothic, Grand Guignol, black comedy, psychodrama, melodrama, and even the musical.


The genre began in 1962 with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, directed by Robert Aldrich. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? bolstered the flagging careers of its stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as Baby Jane Hudson and Blanche Hudson respectively. The 1950 Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard shares thematic similarities with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (their respective central characters are both psychotically deranged, formerly-glamorous older women) and can be seen as a precursor to the genre.[1]

Mad Magazine poked fun at the genre in 1966 with a film musical satire entitled "Hack, Hack Sweet Has-Been-or Whatever Happened to Good Taste?"[3]


While the subgenre has existed over a broad time period, it is closely tied to the 1960s, and the end of the Classical Hollywood Era.[1] Thus, while there are many entries into the subgenre which exist outside of this decade (it is preceded by such films as Sunset Boulevard and The Star, and followed by Misery and Mommie Dearest), it should be primarily considered within the context of the dying studio system.


  1. ^ a b c d Shelley, Peter (September 15, 2009). Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from "Baby Jane" to "Mother". Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0786445691.
  2. ^ New York Times review
  3. ^ "Hack, Hack Sweet Has-Been -or Whatever Happened to Good Taste?" Written by Mort Drucker, Illustrated by Larry Siegel. MAD Magazine, Issue No. 100, January 1966.