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  Psychopath, The Twice Around The BlochBuy this film here.
Year: 1966
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Patrick Wymark, Margaret Johnson, John Standing, Alexander Knox, Judy Huxtable, Don Borisenko, Thorley Walters, Robert Crewdson, Colin Gordon, Tim Barrett, Frank Forsyth, Olive Gregg, Harold Lang, Gina Gianelli, Peter Diamond, John Harvey, Greta Farrer
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The members of this string quartet meet every week or so to play, but tonight they are one man down as one of their number has not shown up, without so much as an explanation. They receive this when Inspector Holloway (Patrick Wymark) appears at the door and breaks the bad news to them: the fourth member has been murdered: he was forced to walk to the house, and along the way someone cornered him in a stolen car and ran him over a few times, killing him. The only clue as to what the motive could be is a small, wooden doll found next to the body which is dressed in a likeness of his clothes, and has a head carved in the same way. Obviously, a psychopath is loose...

Robert Bloch once said he would rather be known as the man who wrote the Bible than the man who wrote Psycho but considering how often he returned to that well of inspiration, this albatross may not have been as bad as all that. This film, one of those he penned for Amicus in Britain, was closer to his Psycho plot than some, which left the identity of the murderer easier to guess than he may have preferred, and for decades it was considered under the shadow of that Alfred Hitchcock classic, a poor second. These days, on the other hand, The Psychopath is judged by an alternative criterion, that of how it matched up to the horror-thrillers produced on the Continent.

The Hitchcock movie inspired a plethora of other movies, not least in Italy where its mixture of mystery, shocks, thrills and sleazy plot was extremely influential, with many directors clamouring to be known as the Italian Hitchcock as a result. The giallo thrillers, as they became known, in turn became influential themselves, with a huge amount created not only in Italy but in other European countries also, though as this particular example was arriving fairly early in the cycle it's debatable how much Bloch was affected by them and how far he was delving into his own imagination to concoct the nasty suspense and sick twists that would mark out the work of his imitators.

That said, there was a sense of The Psychopath aping the Edgar Wallace thrillers that were enormously popular in Europe at the time, and were a precursor to the giallos, even if Bloch's signature moves were all over the screenplay. He was an expert at psychological maladjustment in his villains, who were often rather pathetic creatures, the culprit here who is bumping off the string quartet plainly not right in the head, and simple enough to spot, though they did manage a last act twist that tipped what had been a crime drama over into outright shocker, and a bizarre one at that. This was the movie that, if you've seen it, you'll recall for its grim joke of the character who gets engulfed in ship chains, an image which then cuts to a plate of spaghetti, not that the film traded in much humour.

The dolls were a macabre touch, something perhaps worthy of Agatha Christie, though she was often too genteel to truly get to grips with the harrowing business of killing people as Bloch would depict it. Freddie Francis was the director, the great cinematographer finding lucrative opportunities at the helm of horror movies, despite his claim he was not a major fan of the genre, he simply liked to work, and he operated well with the widescreen compositions, especially in the sets of the boatyard and the doll-filled home of Margaret Johnston. Johnston was a respected stage actress here playing a potential suspect, except she's in a wheelchair, but her hammy performance and terrible German accent were entertaining for the wrong reasons. Wymark was good value as usual, and among the cast were John Standing as Johnston's son and Judy Huxtable as the daughter of one of the victims, so if this was never going to be groundbreaking, it was at least professional and fairly absorbing, underrated even. Music, appropriately music box-flavoured, by Elisabeth Lutyens.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Freddie Francis  (1917 - 2007)

A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).

He then turned to direction, mostly in the horror genre, with familiar titles like Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (the first recognisable Amicus chiller anthology), The Skull, The Psychopath, Torture Garden, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, camp favourite Trog, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, Tales that Witness Madness, Legend of the Werewolf and The Ghoul.

Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.

 
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