Thursday, September 12, 2019

Homicidal (1961)

Another slice of schlock from master showman William Castle, Homicidal is perhaps less well remembered than his other films of the period, like 13 Ghosts, The Tingler or House on Haunted Hill.  The success of the latter apparently inspired Hitchcock to make his own low budget horror movie: Psycho (1960).  In turn, the success of Psycho inspired Castle to make Homicidal as a cash in on the Hitchcock film's success.  While Homicidal is nowhere near as suspenseful or innovative as the Hitchcock film it seeks to imitate, it is still a solid and entertaining B movie.  Like Psycho, it focuses on a psychotic, cross-dressing, killer (there's a spoiler there), but, unlike Norman Bates, there's no doubt as to the killer's identity from the outset.  Or one of their identities, at least.  Homicidal is more interested in unravelling the killer's motivation and complex back story, gradually revealing that the apparently random and bizarre murder that opens the film is actually part of a complex plot involving inheritances and hidden identities.  The film has its share of shock sequences, most notably a severed head, but doesn't attempt anything as audacious as Hitchcock's killing off of the apparent heroine barely a third into the film.  It does, however, culminate in the revelation that two of the characters are, in fact, the same person.

Of course, being a William Castle production, Homicidal has a gimmick.  All Castle films of the era had a promotional gimmick of some kind, ranging from the 'special' glasses which enabled audiences to see the ghosts in 13 Ghosts, or the allegedly wired up cinema seats to allow viewers to share the shocks of The Tingler, to the 'Emergo' process which allowed a tatty cardboard skeleton to supposedly emerge from the screen and fly over the audience's heads in House on Haunted HillHomicidal's  gimmick was somewhat simpler: the 'Fear Break' toward the end of the film, which gave audience members the chance to leave before the 'terrifying' climax.  Except that if they did so, they'd be forced to stand in the 'Coward's Corner' in the theatre foyer until the film ended.  All of which emphasises the fact that Homicidal, like all of Castle's films, was ultimately intended to be fun for paying audiences.  Castle was a showman and his instinct was always to provide cinemagoers with some kind of 'spectacle' with which to sell his films.  Sure, these 'spectacles' were as hokey and low budget as the movies themselves, but they entertained audiences and left them feeling that they had got their money's worth.  Homicidal might not be as ambitious as Psycho, but is, arguably, more entertaining on its own schlocky level.  Like most Castle films of this period, which were usually scripted by Robb White, Homicidal's plot doesn't entirely make sense when subjected to any scrutiny, but it has its own, warped, internal logic - and there lies a large part of their attraction: they draw the viewer into their own distorted universe where different, off kilter, rules and logic  apply.  Not much seen on TV these days, Homicidal is well worth tracking down as a prime example of the wild world of William Castle.



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