If you’re part of the marketing team in charge of promoting a suspense thriller where the climactic shock—indeed the last minute of the movie—reveals the murdered corpse of a major character, then why, oh why, would you show an image of said corpse on the movie poster? That was the question some critics and fans had about What’s the Matter With Helen?, a 1971 schlock horror film in the same vein as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), where two big female movie stars play cat and mouse while bodies pile up around them.
The film was an example of “the macabre genre of the menopausal metaphysical mystery movie,” as film critic Roger Ebert categorized it, with plots that “seem to involve a couple of middle-aged ladies with shameful pasts, who make lots of trips up and down dark stairs and into unlighted cellars, get the hell scared out of them when dust mops fall out of the shadows, and end up hideously, with blood and feathers all over the place.”
What’s the Matter with Helen? concerns Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters), Midwestern dames who move to Hollywood and open a dance studio after their sons are convicted of a gruesome murder. Adelle schools young Shirley Temple-like hopefuls while Helen bangs out “Goody, Goody” on the piano. Eventually Adelle is wooed by a Texas millionaire (Dennis Weaver) while Helen is drawn to an Aimee Semple-like evangelist (Agnes Moorehead) and goes increasingly nuts, finally knifing Adelle to death and stringing her body up on a ladder.
Perhaps the Helen marketers thought the poster would not overtly suggest the grisly end of the Reynolds character. An image showing a bloodstained bosom and a red trickle down her chin, however, might not have been the way to go.