Night #14: Homicidal (1961)

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We’ve been to Haunted Hills, and through Tinglers, and even Ghosts… but now we’re going to meet a group of people who just happen to be… Homicidal.”

Directed By: William Castle

I don’t know where to begin with this one. First of all though lets just jump back a year. So, we moved from the age of Sci-Fi that made up most of the 50s and perhaps in an all too obvious button on that, 1960 saw the release of Psycho. That movie’s influence would be felt a few years later, but in the immediate aftermath shock master William Castle (So lovingly portrayed in Joe Dante’s Matinee) came right out of the gate with Homicidal. By his own admission he would’ve got there sooner but he had to finish editing up his previous movie, Thirteen Ghosts.

What a movie Castle delivered. It’s a wild, kind of offensive (By modern standards) psycho-sexual ride through a sleepy Californian town. Before the movie even starts William Castle himself appears to introduce it. Really I think it’s a practice we should bring back. I would love if Michael Bay appeared before the next Transformers movie to warn us of the horror we’re about to watch. Alas.

In the opening, Emily (Joan Marshall) checks in to a hotel. She makes eyes at the bellboy there and offers him two grand to marry her that night and they’ll get it annulled. She spins him a tale of why it has to be that night and because we would have no movie otherwise he goes along with it. They visit a justice of the peace who begrudgingly agrees to marry them and, when he tries to give a kiss to the bride she lashes out with her knife and stabs him. As far as openings go it’s a pretty good one.

We see that Emily cares for an infirm lady in a wheelchair who can’t talk (Breaking Bad fans, you know the deal), and is terribly mean to her. If we didn’t hate her before then surely we do now. This is Helga and she was the legal guardian to Walter and Miriam, half-siblings who are about to come into a fortune. Well Walter is as he’s the son, Miriam has to rely on his kindness, which is something Emily brings up just to taunt her.

Emily even makes moves on Miriam’s suitor, a rather straight man who works at the chemist. She tells him that Miriam wants to meet him later at her flower shop and when he shows up, Emily knocks him out. Finally when he comes around we get to meet the enigmatic Walter, and thus begins the game of who is going to win out: The virtuous Miriam or the devilish Emily? And will Walter find out in time?

So I’ve surmised a lot there because I’m going to spoil the movie because…well because I have to. I need to share it. If you’re making plans to watch it then you should. It’s a fun little Psycho ripoff (Right down to the final scene explaining everything, weirdly a little less awkward here than it was there).

However, here we go:

Ready?

Walter and Emily are one and the same. Joan Marshall plays both characters although her voice was dubbed over by an unknown male for Walter and not very well too since he sounds louder than everyone else does. You see, Walter was never a boy and he was born female. However his father wanted a female so his mother lied about it, got the justice of the peace we see in the opening to lie about it on the birth certificate and then finally Helga continued the charade after their parents died.

‘Walter’ was about to come into 10 million big ones, and couldn’t have anyone knowing his secret, so he invented Emily. It’s all very tawdry and like I said, maybe offensive to today’s eyes. I had to look it up but there’s repeated mentions of a trip to Denmark, but it turns out that it’s one of the only places where successful sex changes were taking place. It’s something that the audience probably would’ve picked up on at the time but kind of doesn’t mean anything now. It would be a minor detail, but the movie is sure to drop it in a number of times just so you get it.

As someone who likes trashy cinema I have to say I kind of loved it for how audacious it was. Not least of all the subject matter but for how gleefully it steals from Psycho. William Castle was no Hitchhock though, and so the movie never really rises above its B-Movie ambitions. Thank heavens.

Oh and one more thing that we should bring back. Castle always had a gimmick and with this one it’s a timer that appears on screen. Castle literally stops the movie to tell you that you have sixty seconds to leave the theatre if you don’t think you’re ready and to go and stand in the ‘coward’s corner’ and wait until the movie is over. This is something that cinema needs. More than 3D, more than IMAX or 4DX, we need a coward’s corner.

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