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  Homicidal Knife And Wife
Year: 1961
Director: William Castle
Stars: Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich, Alan Bunce, Richard Rust, James Westerfield, Gilbert Green, Joan Marshall, 'Snub' Pollard, William Castle
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Ventura, California a young woman (Joan Marshall) walks into a hotel and asks for a room for the night, giving her name as Miriam Webster and insisting that Jim (Richard Rust), the younger of the two bellhops, be the one who takes her suitcase up to the room. Once they are there, she asks him if he wants to earn hundreds of dollars, and he is interested as who wouldn't be? But when she tells him he has to marry her tonight, and then have the marriage annulled the next day, he wants an explanation she is unwilling to give. Off they go that evening, with Jim unaware murder is on the cards...

If the name Jean Arless means anything to you, then doubtless you've seen and even been entertained by filmmaker William Castle's efforts to emulate Alfred Hitchcock in Homicidal. Beginning with the sort of introduction the Master of Suspense was conducting in his hit anthology television series, except with Castle himself kidding the audience about what they were about to see, the plot played out as an obvious imitation of Psycho, which had been a sensation the previous year. Castle, ever the savvy businessman, decided to turn his flair for gimmicky horror movies to the psychological thriller end of the market, and was rewarded with one of his biggest money earners.

Where Psycho had traded on an identity issue for its big twist, Homicidal followed that formula with an adherence which would be embarassing if it was not so cheeky. It started out with a puzzle - just why is "Miriam" getting this marriage arrangement? - and abruptly headed off in another direction which when you actually find out what is going on is ludicrously convoluted, but we were here for the shocks and we got a gory one when mere seconds after saying "I do" she is furiously stabbing the justice of the peace to death in one of the goriest bits of violence Hollywood cinema had seen since... well, since the shower scene in Psycho, funnily enough. The woman flees, leaving the victim's wife and Jim to pick up the pieces.

But we don't continue with them, as we are concentrating on Miriam, only she's not Miriam as that was actually a different character played by Patricia Breslin, and is the half sister of Warren (Jean Arless) who is a wealthy heir and seems to be married to the woman, who we now learn is named Emily. Now, Warren is a strange chap, almost as if he is hiding something, and indeed as if Castle was goading the viewer into trying to work out what the big revelation would be; let's just say it's not as difficult to spot as he might have wished. Emily now works as the nurse to Warren's old nurse Helga (Eugenie Leontovich), but she appears to be itching to bump off the old lady, even though a stroke has cost her the power of speech and her mobility.

So every so often Emily gets company coming round to the house, and Helga rather comically tries to attract attention to her helper's mental imbalance by knocking a doorknob on the arm of her wheelchair, only for Emily to airily explain away the old lady's panic as simple excitement that she has a visitor. Another example of the kind of dark humour Castle and his regular screenwriter Robb White liked to inject into their projects, although to be fair they probably got that from Hitchcock as well, but the atmosphere of this all being a bit of a giggle never quite leaves it in spite of people getting stabbed or having their heads sawn off - or maybe, though they might not have readily admitted it, because of that. The gimmick this time around was a "Fright Break" where nervous audience members could leave the auditorium five minutes before the terrifying (?) ending, although there was another gimmick which gave Homicidal its notoriety, and to be honest its rather flat camp. But for its gall, it was undeniably amusing. Music by Hugo Friedhofer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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