D: Alfred Werker C: Vincent Price, Lynn Bart, Frank Latimore
Insanity was big in the mysteries of the fifties, not only as a substitute for motive, but because of a genuine interest in the Freudian. After all, “subconscious” is just a more polite way of saying “supernatural”. Now we could have all the strange occurrences, our hearts desired, as “dream sequences”, people being driven by inner voices, the psychoanalyst a sort of modern-day Van Helsing. Heirs and nagging wives weren’t murdered anymore, they were “driven insane” (which is rather like being driven diabetic) by ghostly hauntings turning out in the end to be clever machinations, the explanations usually being more improbable than the phenomena. Often the tables were turned, sometimes by the real McCoy. Psychiatrists are pretty sinister people in themselves, of course, being able to hypnotize people into doing strange things. Bela used to do it with a stare, Mandrake with a gesture, but later on the trance was achieved more realistically, the hypnotist telling the subject that he’s getting sleepy – somehow that always does the trick! As such films go, this one is not particularly silly. Waiting for her presumably lost-in-action husband, a young woman witnesses a murder in another hotel-room through the window, promptly going into shock. It’s obvious from the very start, what kind of movie this is supposed to be, with a protracted dream sequence showing her anxiety. It does, however, establish her original mental state, aggravated by problems with the reservations. The doctor being called in, who is fortunately staying at the hotel, is unfortunately the killer, having bumped off his wife without much premeditation. The trick of course is to convince the witness that she imagined the whole thing, or even better, convincing everyone else that she is in fact incurably insane. Enter, one would expect, a lot of rubber masks and hands coming out of closets, but apart from a very nice stormy night with a homicidal killer (no sanatorium should be without one) the proceedings are rather dignified with inquisitive cops and an older colleague finally alerted to the fact that there is something wrong. The plot not being overly convincing in the first place, I think I would have gone for the glowing skeleton. Still, it all works very well, Price in one of his earlier roles, not snickering too much.
(TRANSFER SUSPENSE HYPNOS, ALL 33 DI VIA OROLOGIA FA SEMPRE FREDDO, BEYOND THE DOOR II)
D: Mario Bava C: Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, David Collin
Easily the best Italian horror movie ever made, LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (1960) demonstrated to the world that the Gothic genre wasn’t the sole province of the British. Mario Bava was of course a cinematographer and new to directing, but his sheer visual sense and mastery of special effects, exploiting the strange beauty of Barbara Steele, didn’t leave us in any doubt that we were in another world. It would prove a hard act to follow. After ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA, an unsuccessful venture unto peplum, he gave us a masterpiece of an entirely different kind, LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO (1963) a psychological drama in a setting reminiscent of Corman’s Poe cycle. Of the three stories in I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA (1963) only the final instalment with Karloff is really successful. Departing from the tradition of Italian science fiction looking like an episode of THUNDERBIRDS, the director even made the rather unpromising concept of vampires in space work to his advantage in TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO (1965). By now the spy movie was the thing, forcing him to rename his next movie OPERAZIONE PAURA (1966). The interesting LISA E IL DIAVOLO (1972) was cut to pieces by the producers, GLI ORRORI DEL CASTELLO DI NORIMBERGA (1972) clearly showing that he no longer cared, being reduced to photographing dead models in “movies” like SEI DONNE PER L’ASSASSINO (1964). SHOCK, codirected by his idiot son Lamberto and starring Argento’s wife, whom he must have deluded into thinking that she could act, isn’t just bad, it’s criminally so. Jesus Franco, his Spanish counterpart, didn’t fare any better. After having remade his own masterpiece, the delirious GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1962) as EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF (1964) and MISS MUERTE (1965) he settled down into a series of low-budget pseudo-horror porn. What happened? There was no longer any demand for horror movies. The public wanted slashers and splatter, simply because that was the only thing that they were able to understand and follow on the screen. So the zombies got their zombies. SIC TRANSIT GLORIA PELLICULAE!
D: Denis Sanders C: Lauren Bacall, Roddy McDowall, Stuart Whitman
The shock treatment (of the audience) begins inside the first two minutes of the movie, the gardener Roddy McDowall quietly and neatly decapitating his employer with a pair of hedge sheers like one of her, or as he would prefer: his roses. He then proceeds to burn all the loose cash in the house – about a million dollars. Or does he? The executor of the will can’t believe it, consequently paying Stuart Whitman to feign insanity – the kind of “antiauthoritarian” silliness popular at the time – and befriend Roddy at the somewhat surprisingly open mental institution. Unfortunately, the chief Ratched is after the money too, subjecting Stuart to the shock treatment of the title, strapped down and fighting to keep the gag in his mouth, plus a cocktail of her own, rendering him momentarily catatonic. A nifty little thriller, only let down by its facile ending, its main forte lies in its fairly credible, if not exactly original repertoire of patients (including a nympho and token negro). Of course, when you’ve been diagnosed with a persecution complex, you can’t very well call the cops on your persecutor – especially when she’s the one having diagnosed you – supplying most of the frisson.