What follows is my list of films which reveal the horrors of caregiving. The role of caretaker requires you to give something of yourself, sometimes giving more than you have to offer. This is a precarious assignment that takes a toll on the physical as well as the psychological self. One must make moral decisions and selflessly sacrifice time, patience, and dreams. Ineffective caregivers sow the seeds of lasting consequences for themselves and others. Needless to say sometimes there is a backlash for giving so much of one’s self. (For the purposes of this list, I tried to stay away from using examples of parents as “caregivers”.)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
It doesn’t get any better than this: Joan Crawford and Bette Davis hash out their on screen and off screen distaste for one another. Ironically, both actresses’ children later wrote tell- all memoirs which reveal that neither of these women were…shall we say ‘nurturing’ caretakers. This film takes sibling rivalry and resentment to a whole new level. I am pretty sure, however, that Jane (Davis) would have gone batshit even if she wasn’t a caretaker; caring for her prettier, more successful, paraplegic sister Blanche (Crawford) just pushed her over the edge. Shout out to my mother for reminding me how pertinent this film is to this list.
Creepshow (Father’s Day) (1982)
Father’s Day is one of the smaller shorts inside the film Creepshow. No one can forget when Bedelia Grantham bashed her father’s head in with a marble ashtray. Some caretakers might have even sympathized with her. Her father, Nathan, was a rich, curmudgeonly old shit. Despite having tons of hired help, Bedelia bore the brunt of her father’s boundless demands. Furthermore, Nathan had Bedelia’s fiancé killed so that she would be stuck tending to his needs. Anyone who has been a caretaker has seen the way the patient can revert to an infant-like state which would test even the patience of Job.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Any of you who know me, know that Pet Sematary is one of my all-time favorite films. This film shows the lasting ramifications of being placed in a caretaking role at a young age. Rachel Goldman-Creed (Crosby) was thrust into the role of caretaker for her sister Zelda (Hubatsek) who suffered from spinal meningitis. The young Rachel was exposed to the twisted, dying, spewing sack of sister that lay in the back bedroom. Riddled with anxiety, fear, and frustration, Rachel’s dealings with her sister left her with lasting scars that colored her feelings on family, closeness, and death.
Who can forget Kathy Bates in the role of Annie Wilkes in the film based upon Stephen King’s book of the same name? Annie thrusts herself into the role of caretaker and takes all the responsibilities that come with it. In many cases it is the infirm who seeks companionship but Annie flips this on its head when she “saves” her favorite author Paul Sheldon (Caan) from a horrible car crash. Some people need to be needed and Annie is not letting Paul get well without a fight. As it turns out, Annie has a long history of ineffective caregiving skills leaving a trail of disaster. I will take a trip to Shady Pines any day after meeting Annie Wilkes.
The Grudge (2004)
Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had no idea what she was getting herself into when she signed on as the caregiver for the elderly Emma who suffers from dementia. Anyone who has dealt with the demons of dementia knows that this is a hardship in itself. Who would have thought it would be the easiest part of her job. The previous caretaker Yoko was attacked by a rageful ghost and now Karen has to navigate the inner workings of her employer’s twisted household.
Skeleton Key (2005)
Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) takes on a job as a hospice worker for the ailing Benjamin Devereaux (Hurt). You always take a risk entering into strangers’ homes. Little does Caroline know that her hosts Violet (Rowlands) and Benjamin dabble in the occult (or Hoodoo in this case). I have had friends who had hospice nurses in their homes and it is common for the family to become close with their nurse. However, the Devereauxs had a different idea in mind when it came to “bonding” with their hospice nurse.
Would You Rather (2012)
Hey, remember that time that you needed money for your brother’s healthcare so you went to a dinner party and participated in a sick, twisted, sadistic game of ‘would you rather’ in hopes of winning some cash or good bone marrow? Well, that is the case for Iris (Brittany Snow) who, after their parents died, had to raise her brother who also has Leukemia. In order to afford his care, she puts her life in jeopardy to help him. While at this dinner party, Iris has to decide just how long she can be selfless before she, herself will die. In a stunning tale that makes the audience ponder just how much of themselves they could give before calling it quits, Would You Rather reminds us that sometimes we have to care about ourselves as much as others.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
One of my new favorite films, The Taking of Deborah Logan shows us the dramatic effects caretaking has on a person, as well as the undying commitment it requires. In one of the greatest performances in recent horror, Anne Ramsay plays Sarah Logan, the daughter of her ailing mother, Deborah Logan (Jill Larson). Deborah appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and for those of you who have dealt with this it can mean frequent appointments, sleepless nights, mood swings, and making the home escape proof. Sarah has high blood pressure, her interpersonal relationships suffer, and she often self-medicates. Despite the toll on her body, Sarah Logan is a devoted caretaker who pushes herself to the limit to keep her mother safe, despite their tense relationship.
Insidious 3 (2015)
Insidious 3 shows us the ramifications of a caretaker who doesn’t take care of themselves. Sean Brenner (Mulroney) was the caretaker for his wife Lillith (Keats) who eventually lost her battle to cancer. Sean never recuperated from this loss which negatively impacted his ability to care for his children, especially his daughter Quinn (Scott). I know I said I wouldn’t use parenting as an example of caretaking, but this is different because it was the stress of tending to the ailing wife which led to Sean’s inability to give more to his daughter who was silently slipping away. It is because of Sean’s emotional detachment that Quinn seeks out connections with her deceased mother and falls prey to a far more malevolent force. Interestingly enough, this malevolent force was also one that required medical attention. Could this be signs of the dangers associated with caretaking? Insidious 3 shows how sickness can suck the life out of those around them—and that if the living do not pay heed they might suffer a perilous fate.
The Caretaker (2016)
I really enjoyed this movie. Mallory (Warner) returns home to care for her ailing grandmother, Birdie (Sondra Blake). Birdie is an ornery woman, set in her ways who wants nothing more than for her family to be together: “Death shouldn’t’ be a private affair.” Birdie has fired all her previous caretakers in what appears to be an attempt to guilt her granddaughter into staying. Mallory’s fiancé August (Martini) intercedes on behalf of his love, “She doesn’t want a caretaker-she wants YOU. Is that how you want to live your life?” Every girl should be so lucky to have a partner who reminds them how easy it is to be consumed by family ties. We risk becoming that which we care for and sometimes the only answer is a pillow over the face (don’t judge me, watch the film).
For those of you who have not seen it, there is a pleasant surprise at about 64 minutes. Initially disorienting, yet somehow it did not detract from the horror/suspense. I found myself watching the segment over several times with great pleasure.
Honorable mention: Lights Out (2016)
So this little ditty just missed the mark because the lead characters only stand in temporarily as caretaker. Showing healthier boundaries than the others on this list, Rebecca (Palmer) was smart and left home instead of caring for her mother who has periodic battles with mental illness. Rebecca chose to take care of herself and live her life, only returning home when her little brother Martin (Bateman) mentions that mom’s imaginary friend is back. Rebecca temporarily steps up when needed to help her younger brother but does not show the same unconditional patience toward her mother (which might be indicative of growing up with a mother with mental health problems). On the flip side, her mother Sophie (Maria Bello) was at times an ineffective caregiver but will Sophie ever redeem her protective capacities? . . . Watch and see. (Shout out to PA native Maria Bello!)
In closing, take care of each other, and yourselves!