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HOMICIDAL (director: William Castle; screenwriter: Robb White; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Edwin Bryant; cast: Glenn Corbett (Karl), Patricia Breslin (Miriam Webster), Eugenie Leontovich (Helga), Alan Bunce (Doctor Jones), Richard Rust (Jim Nesbitt), James Westerfield (Mr. Adrims), Gilbert Green (Lt. Miller), Jean Arless (Emily/Warren); Runtime: 87; Columbia Pictures; 1961)
“A wonderfully hokey B-movie from the director with all the gimmicks, William Castle (Tingler).”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A wonderfully hokey B-movie from the director with all the gimmicks, William Castle (Tingler). He uses a fright-clock onscreen. The audience members who are too frightened to see the scary conclusion can get reimbursed by walking on a yellow line, with the spotlight on them, to a yellow booth labeling them as cowards, where there would be a cashier. We don’t have showmen like Castle around anymore, instead we got corporate executive types running the studios, looking only at the bottom line. They have taken the fun out of promoting a movie and have made it just another stale business marketing venture.

Castle effectively features in Homicidal a lot of copycat things from other films such as the outlandish psychotic mannerisms of the killer, which was lifted straight out of Psycho. That the story makes absolutely no sense and has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, is besides the point.

The film opens in 1948 showing a young brother and sister in conflict over the doll he took from her, and he is squeezing it maliciously before ripping it up causing her to cry. It’s obvious that he will grow up to be a sickie.

The next shot is in today’s Ventura, California, as a strikingly attractive blonde, Miss Miriam Webster, is checking into the Ventura Hotel. She soon contacts the bellboy, Jim Nesbitt, and offers him $2,000 to marry her, but also tells him that after the ceremony they will annul the marriage. This strikes Jim as being a little odd but, what the hell, he thinks, she must have her reasons; and, he says to himself out loud, “I guess, I have nothing to lose.”

At the justice of the peace’s home, late at night, the marriage is made official and before you can say Jackie Robinson, the bride pulls out a long surgical knife and she carves up Mr. Adrims (Westerfield), before he can even kiss the bride as part of the service. He is now the late justice of the peace.

After fleeing alone in Jim’s car and then abandoning it, Miriam returns home where she is taking care of Helga (Leontovich). She’s a mute, paralyzed Danish woman, who is in a wheelchair and can only communicate by tapping on the table. It also turns out that the murderer’s name is not Miriam but Emily. Emily has been hired as a live-in nurse by the boy Helga raised, Warren, who now feels obligated to take care of her.

Entering the house for a visit to Helga is the real Miriam Webster (Breslin), the brunette half-sister to Warren (the boy who squeezed her doll but who has now grown up to be a seemingly solid young man of almost 21-years). Warren has since that time developed a good relationship with Miriam, as they both realize they were brought up in a dysfunctional household. It seems that Warren’s father was a monster who demanded his wife give birth to a boy. When Miriam was born he dumped her mother and married again. This time his new wife gave birth to Warren and Helga was hired as a nanny. The father was disappointed in Warren, he wanted his son to grow up strong and to eventually run his successful business. He hired a boy named Karl (Corbett) just to pick fights with Warren to toughen him up, as he would sit back and laugh as he watched them in action.

The psycho-dynamics of this twisted yarn is a real hoot. Emily and Warren (Jean Arless) speak in unnatural stilted tones, while Karl and Miriam go out together and are so sugary sweet that one could hyperventilate by just watching them.

The good Dr. Jones (Bunce), the family doctor, unfortunately was not present when Warren was delivered by his nurse Helga. He always wondered why Helga left him and went to work for Warren’ family right after the delivery. And when Warren’s folks died soon after in a car crash, she assumed responsibility in raising the two children. Helga eventually took Warren back home to Denmark with her, returning only after she mysteriously got crippled.

On Warren’s 21st birthday, which is in two days, he stands to inherit 10 million dollars that his father left to his only son.

Homicidal is a classical horror film, but featuring mediocre acting and an absurd plot; its one gigantic plus is the interesting characterization by Jean Arless, who seems to be swimming in a different stream than other cast members. The ending is predictable but fun to watch and for that matter, this shamelessly exploitative film is a total gas. Even the serious explanation for what a homicidal psychopath is as summed up by Karl after talking to the police investigator, is one that should be treated with benign bemusement. Karl states, “Anybody can kill who doesn’t have an outlet for their hate.”

Castle himself introduces the film, and thereby gets you in the right mood to see this shocker. If you are in the proper humor for a movie that doesn’t take itself that seriously you have nothing to lose by seeing it, which is the attitude the bellboy had. This is the kind of film that defies critical analysis, if you’re in the mood for schlock-shock this could be most entertaining.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”