“Our mission needs ice-cold nerves.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
In his Alternate Oscars, Peary names Weld Best Actress of the Year for her portrayal as “a typical American teenage innocent, a pretty, high-spirited blonde, who is on the honor roll, takes hygiene classes, and carries the American flag while marching with her school band”, but who actually represents psychopathy hiding in plain sight. He posits that “as Sue Ann grew up she refined, even perfected, her evil, keeping it veiled under a cheery veneer” — and now it “corresponds with her sexual amorality”. Weld “gives Sue Ann the comic edge to match Perkins’ oddball Dennis”: “no matter what ludicrous idea Dennis cooks up, Sue Ann is willing; in fact, she’s one scheme ahead of him”, and “no one is better than Weld at showing excitement at acquiring things”. Peary reminds us that after her debut role in Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956), Weld was best known for her “memorable, money-hungry” character “Thalia Menninger on television’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis — her prototypical role — and her manipulative teenager in Lord Love a Duck.”
In Cult Movies, Peary elaborates upon Perkins’ character Dennis, noting he “reminds [him] of the scene in Psycho (1960) in which Perkins, as Norman Bates, loses his cockiness when the car containing Janet Leigh’s body momentarily fails to sink in the lake. At this moment, Norman realizes that he can be caught”, just as he is time and again in Pretty Poison. Speaking of Psycho, Stuart Galbraith IV points out in his review for DVD Talk that, “For 1968 audiences, part of the film’s surprise is that it completely flip-flops audience expectations. They were still avoiding those late-night, home alone showers in the wake of Psycho, so Anthony Perkins in another fresh-out-of-the-nuthouse role strongly suggested another Norman Bates-like character” — whereas his character here actually elicits “relative sympathy” compared to Sue Ann, thus throwing “audiences off-balance”. Also of note is the small but crucial supporting role played by Beverly Garland, giving a “deliciously cold performance” as Weld’s shrewish mother; we understand Weld’s animosity towards her, but also feel sympathy about her untimely demise given that she’s “being nice to Sue Ann for the only time in the picture”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: