Homicidal (1961)

Directed by William Castle [Other horror films: Macabre (1958), House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Old Dark House (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), Let’s Kill Uncle (1966), The Spirit Is Willing (1967), Shanks (1974)]

William Castle is probably one of my personal favorite directors when it comes to pre-1970’s horror. His campy style never fails to entertain, and though his movies may rarely be necessarily special (with the exception of House on Haunted Hill, which is definitely special, and perhaps Mr. Sardonicus), they’re almost always entertaining, and Homicidal is no different.

Partially influenced by the success of Psycho from a year previous, Homicidal gives us a story filled with different characters and plenty of mystery, along with a conclusion of which the influence of Psycho can clearly be gleaned. Just because the film shares some elements with it’s better doesn’t mean Homicidal is without credit, though, because this movie has a lot going for it.

The cast throughout is stellar. It’s true that Joan Marshall gives one hell of a performance, and though maybe a little over-the-top at times, it’s a Castle movie, so I don’t imagine many could hold that against her. What’s even more impressive, though, is the performance given by Eugenie Leontovich, who plays a mute character, and must express herself solely via facial expressions. The terror that her character felt in certain scenes was palatable, and I loved it.

Patricia Breslin (who also popped up in Castle’s I Saw What You Did) was pretty good as the focal character past a certain point, and though she wasn’t really near as stellar as others, I definitely appreciated her presence. Somewhat similar is Glenn Corbett – he was perfectly fine in his role, but he didn’t stand out quite as much as other cast members.

Being a movie from the early 60’s, and also being black-and-white, Homicidal doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of gore (though there are two scenes of note – one a multiple gut-stab, the other the results of a decapitation – that are worth seeing), but it does give us a decent little mystery with a really fun finale (following Castle’s corny Fright Break, of course, which allowed theater-goers 45 seconds to leave prior to the film’s conclusion).

Since I’ve seen this once or twice before, I obviously knew how the film was going to end, and I suspect that most modern-day audiences, hard-wired to see plot twists coming from a mile away, will spot this one from, well, miles away, but that doesn’t, in my mind, make the conclusion any less stellar. It may well be obvious to new-time viewers, but I recall being surprised the first time I saw this, and while that may just mean I’m gullible, I still felt appreciation for that.

What I also appreciated was the opening to this film, which had director William Castle speaking to the audience, referencing previous works (Macabre, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and 13 Ghosts) and having a jolly time with it. It reminded me a bit of Edward Van Sloan’s speech which opened up Frankenstein. It’s corny, but it’s fun, which I think Castle excelled at.

Homicidal may not be my favorite work from Castle, but I do think it’s a pretty good movie, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the classics the genre has to offer.

8/10

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

The last time I saw this movie, it was free on IMDb. If I had to guess, this was around 2009, 2010 or so. It’s been around ten years since I’ve last seen this, and I can’t express what a blast it was to finally see The Pit and the Pendulum again after so long.

Luckily, this movie very much stands the test of time. It’s simple, yet tense, and, if you’re a new viewer, may keep you guessing for a little while. It’s also rather tragic, as the antagonist come the end wasn’t at fault whatsoever for their actions, and honestly, I can’t much say I blame them for the horrors that went down.

It’s Vincent Price that really brings this movie to life. Price is one of my favorite actors of the genre, and this is one of his top performances, without a doubt, especially toward the end when he seems to break entirely, shouting, over and over again, “TRUE! TRUE! TRUE!” – who couldn’t feel bad for this man during that time? His performance in House of Usher was no slouch, but I think he does even better here, and I really find him engaging through the whole of the film.

To be sure, I have no complaints about John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Antony Carbone, and Luana Anders. Out of these, Carbone was the most forgettable, but he still had a great performance. Steele, of course, was in quite a few classic horror films, such as Black Sunday, The Ghost, Castle of Blood, and Nightmare Castle, and she did great here. She doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time, and when she does, she’s not particularly sympathetic, but she’s still great. Anders isn’t a name I was familiar with, but I do know that she also stars in Dementia 13, so I thought I’d mention that.

Pit and the Pendulum has a very oppressive, ominous feel to it, and while some might say that things don’t really pick up until the conclusion, the whole film is pretty much fantastic from beginning to end. I enjoyed the flashback of Price’s character, and how that’s later expanded on. I loved the last split-second ending, which really felt deserved. I loved the psychedelic nature of a few of the scenes (not unlike a portion of House of Usher), and the mystery, and that scene where they check the corpse of the supposedly dead woman.

Really, this whole film is great. Until I see the other Corman-Poe films, I can’t say it’s the best (I’ve heard tell that Premature Burial, while not possessing Price, is a pretty good movie), but I can say that it’s hard for me to personally imagine a better one.

8.5/10

The Innocents (1961)

Directed by Jack Clayton [Other horror films: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)]

Very much a classic movie, The Innocents is a very interesting case, perhaps one of the best cases, of a horror film with an interpretative plot. The story’s simple, in which a governess is hired to watch over two children, but as things turn sour, are there supernatural spirits afoot, is the governess losing her mind, some combination of the two, or a simple case of possession?

The Innocents asks a lot of questions and doesn’t much give in the way of answers (The Turn of the Screw, the novel by Henry James which this story is based off of, is much in the same vein). In some cases, that bothers me, but here, I think it’s done really well. We’re sucked into the idea that Miles and Flora are being possessed, but there’s enough evidence to suggest a failing mental health is more the culprit. Fans of both psychological horror films, along with supernatural/ghost movies, should definitely give this a watch for this interpretation issue alone.

Personally, I’ve been of the mind that Deborah Kerr’s governess character, due to a lot of factors, is just losing it, and becoming a bigger danger to the kids (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) as opposed to anything supernatural. That said, nothing’s written in stone, and there are scenes which lead credence to both possible solutions.

Deborah Kerr is fantastic here, and again, I think you can see her beginning to lose her grip clearly as the movie goes on. The two kids, being Pamela Franklin (who starred, 12 years later, in The Legend of Hell House) and Martin Stephens, both do beautifully, though boy, does Stephens’ Miles get annoying after a while. Lastly, as a housekeeper, Megs Jenkins too brings a lot, and it’s from her that Kerr’s character begins dwelling on the possibility of possession.

The Innocents has a very creepy vibe to it, which is bolstered by the large, Gothic mansion and the black-and-white cinematography, not to mention that dreary tune that pops up now and again. Oh, and the poem that Miles read during the party was also a nice touch, especially since no one but Kerr’s character seemed to find anything wrong with it.

I’ve only seen The Innocents twice now, but I do think it’s very much a classic that warrants looking into. Compared to many modern day horror movies, it may seem quite tame, but I think it holds it’s creepy vibe wonderfully, and with the fantastic setting and interpretation that will no doubt take place by the viewer, this one is a winner.

8.5/10