Homicidal (1961)

“It’s only when hate is dammed up that it breaks out in murder!”

Poster

Synopsis:
An attractive blonde (Jean Arless) with deadly motives murders a justice of the peace (James Westerfield) under an assumed name, then returns home to wreak additional havoc.

Genres:

Review:
William Castle’s notoriously popular B-grade follow-up to Psycho (1960) comes across as laughably inferior today, with predictable plot twists, uneven acting, bad dubbing, and outrageously naive behavior by every character involved. The film’s primary plot twist is obvious from a mile away, and its storyline is too ridiculous to be genuinely frightening. Amazingly enough, audience members at the time reacted differently, with many kept in the dark about the true identity of one of the key characters, and some actually taking advantage of Castle’s highly publicized “Fright Break” gimmick, in which they could leave the film pre-denouement for a full refund by carrying a yellow “I am a bona fide coward” card and waiting in the corner of the lobby.

Despite its obvious flaws, however, Homicidal comes across today as a reasonably enjoyable cult film, primarily because all its ludicrous elements add up to such silly fun. Plus, though the primary plot twist is far too easy to guess, the hidden secret behind this twist comes as a genuine surprise. If you forget that Homicidal was ever meant as a serious rival to Hitchcock’s masterpiece, you’ll probably get a kick out of its enjoyably campy approach to sibling rivalry, gender, loyalty, and murder.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A deliciously campy sensibility
    Camp Value
  • Good use of Solvang, California as a small-town locale
    Solvang
  • Effectively eerie use of lighting and shadows
    Lighting
  • An interesting second plot twist (but you’ll guess the first one immediately!)

Must See?
Yes, simply for its notoriety as a follow-up to Psycho.

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One Response to “Homicidal (1961)”

  1. A gleeful must. A so-called ‘shameful rip-off’ of ‘Psycho’, but I think Hitchcock himself had a good chuckle over this ‘homage’. Similarities are apparent, yet ‘Homicidal’ differs in significant ways and very much stands on its own. The main difference is that, in ‘Psycho’, the protagonist’s pathology renders him relatively weak (Hitchcock’s main challenge, which he rose to admirably). In ‘Homicidal’, the protagonist is the kind of driving force that made Castle’s job a lot easier, and a lot more fun. In spite (or because) of various ludicrous elements that defy credibility (delineating the main one ruins the plot hinge), ‘Homicidal’ is the kind of film that benefits from repeat viewings, esp. if you’re a connoisseur of levels of camp. ‘Homicidal’ is a prime example of ‘conscious camp’. Some particular gem moments: the prolonged look of the distraught, older bellboy when ‘Miriam’ chooses the younger, studly one; Emily enters the drugstore and ‘fondles’ a young boy; Emily’s treatment of bride and groom ornaments (a personal fave); Emily is interrupted by a doctor at the door and looks at the upheld knife in her hand as if thinking, “What’s this?”. The film clips along economically, valiantly tying up plot threads with the occasional gaffe (“Then Helga took Warren to Denmark. What happened there, we don’t know.”). And the famous ‘Fright Break’, silly as it is, actually does add considerable tension to the denouement. Some film fanatics keep their personal collections combed down, thinking in terms of ‘essentials’. This is one of mine.

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