HOMICIDAL (1961) – The Dungeon Review!
Homicidal was one of four titles in The William Castle Film Collection that I had not seen previously. Homicidal was released one year after Psycho and drew comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic. Apparently Castle conducted focus groups through his fan club where he asked members if they had seen and enjoyed Psycho and if they would go see a similar film. There is no denying some similarities but Homicidal is a good thriller in its own right and it is uniquely William Castle!
No hokey monsters here but of course William Castle includes his trademark gimmick. Money Back guarantees for those too frightened to see Homicidal’s shocking climax. Just before the climax a clock appears on the screen. If you leave before the clock runs out, you will get your money back. BUT, you’ll have to stand in the “Coward’s Corner” until the other patrons are let out of the theatre.
William Castle introduces the film while working on some needlepoint. At the end of his introduction he shows us his completed needlepoint project which spells out the films name; Homicidal. Homicidal boasts the most plausible plot of any Castle film I’ve seen thus far. Homicidal’s opening sequence hooked me right off the bat and includes violence that was pretty graphic for 1961. An attractive blond woman checks into a hotel under the name Miriam Webster. She offers a bellhop $2000 to marry her assuring him the marriage would be annulled immediately after. The bellhop is puzzled but agrees. They drive far out of town to the home of a justice of the peace who Miriam stabs to death. She drives away from the scene solo to a large secluded house. We learn that she is the caretaker for a mute wheelchair bound woman named Helga. The plot thickens when we meet the real Miriam Webster. We learn our former Miriam is actually Emily who is employed by Miriam’s half-brother Warren. We also learn Warren is about to come into a large fortune. To say anymore about the plot would be a spoiler but I will say this, “the twist” wasn’t exactly a revelation. Most viewers will see it coming. Despite this I was intrigued to see how it would all play out.
The film has a lively pace with little unnecessary dialog. The story is surprisingly dark and includes themes of child abuse and sexuality. Joan Marshall is fascinating to watch as the callous Emily who slowly unravels during the course of the film. The character is not particularly likable but her theatrics are a great deal of fun to watch! While the story is more sophisticated than other Castle fare the film still has some campy b-movie appeal. Much of this is thanks to Marshall’s delightfully over-the-top performance as Emily. It isn’t just the performance but the wacky things Castle and writer Robb White have Emily doing. The murderous Emily has some great hissy fits, spats of anger and a few quietly weird and awkward moments. I got a real kick out of Emily’s constant terrorizing of her mute wheelchair-bound charge Helga. Helga spends most of the film looking horrified and pounding on the arm of her chair. This might seem a little mean spirited but Helga isn’t an innocent party in Homicidal. Actress Eugenie Leontovich is actually pretty good in the Helga role, but Marshall’s performance is what really makes Homicidal worth watching.
Homicidal is an entertaining thriller that despite the obvious “twist”, still has its share of surprises. The delightfully demented performance from lead actress Joan Marshall definitely makes it worth a look. Recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: William Castle