Directed by William Castle and written by his frequent collaborator Robb White, 1961's Homicidal doesn't get as much attention as some of Castle's better known horror pictures, The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts and The Tingler being the most obvious examples, but it provides just as much enjoyment as those more famous films do. It's also a bit less gimmicky and more focused in terms of storytelling. While it might be more of a ‘thriller' than an out and out horror film, it's still a picture that finds Castle working at the top of his game. It's also geared more towards an adult audience than many of his other pictures.
Castle himself offers up an amusing introduction to the picture and from there we meet an attractive if slightly odd blonde woman named Emily (Jean Arless). She checks into a hotel room and then offers the bellhop some money if he'll marry her. He's understandably confused but she reassures him that their marriage won't last, in fact, she'll have it annulled right after the ceremony. He accepts, he meets her at the right location on the right date and after the ceremony is finished he witnesses his now legally wedded wife stab the justice of the peace to death.
From here we see Emily more or less go underground and reemerge as a caregiver to an elderly woman named Helga Swenson (Eugenie Leontovitch) who is confined to a wheelchair. Helga's niece, Miriam (Patricia Breslin), who works as a florist just around the corner and dates a pharmacist named Karl (Glenn Corbett), is almost instantly suspicious of Emily. When the cops let her know that someone suspected of murder has used her name to check into a nearby hotel, Miriam's suspicions are confirmed. Around this time, Miriam's brother Warren returns from a trip that took him to Europe. The story is that he hired her in his absence to care for aging Helga, but Miriam isn't so sure that this is actually true. When one of these characters winds up dead, the motive would seem to be a sizeable inheritance…
If you think of this as ‘William Castle does Psycho' you're not too far off the mark. There are definitely some easy comparisons to make here between Hitchcock's masterpiece and this faster, cheaper picture. At just shy of ninety minutes Castle keeps this one moving fast and throws in a pretty great twist that, if obvious by the standards of the day, was probably pretty shocking when it hit theaters over a half a century ago. Some great makeup work and a truly effective bit of acting from Jean Arless make this one work a lot better than it might sound, while some nice photography helps to ensure that things always look nicely framed and at times quite atmospheric.
The movie benefits from a couple of remarkably twisted set pieces and a pretty lurid subject matter for its time, while Castle is able to get good performances out of all involved. Arless definitely steals the show but Leontovitch is quite sympathetic as the elder woman and both Breslin and Corbett are decent in their roles. They interact well and are believable as a couple and Breslin in particular has an appreciable wholesomeness to her that suits the character. All in all, yeah, this might borrow just a tiny bit more from Hitch than it needed to, but judged on its own merits it works and it works well. It's twisted, tense and just sick enough to hit all the right notes at all the right moments. Oh, and of course, it contains one of Castle's trademark gimmicks, in this case a ‘fright break' where a ticking clock indicates when the more cowardly viewers might want to leave to prevent being subjected to absolute shocking terror!
It's probably a safe bet that this fullframe black and white transfer on the MOD/DVD-R release of Homicidal is the same one that was used on the previous press DVD release from Sony from some years back. It's in decent enough shape, there's only minor print damage to note and contrast looks pretty good. Black levels aren't reference quality but they're certainly acceptable and detail is alright. This probably should have been matted to 1.85.1 but there's no obvious cropping here so this would appear to be an open matte transfer, just like that aforementioned DVD release.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track, there are no alternate languages, subtitles or closed captioning options of any kind provided here. The quality of the track is fine. Dialogue stays clean and clear and while things lean towards the flat side, this seems like a reasonably accurate representation of how the movie should sound. The score has a bit of depth here and there and the effects sound good while the track shows consistently well balanced levels from start to finish.
Extras on the disc include a featurettes called Psychette in which a few film critics like David Del Valle, Don Glut and Bob Burns talk about the history of this picture and about Castle's style. Some great clips and archival photographs are used here and it runs about seven and a half minutes. There's also a clip from the film's premiere which was held in Youngstown, Ohio at the Palace Theater. It's a nifty vintage piece that features Castle interviewing audience members after a screening and it runs five minutes. The film's theatrical trailer is also included as are some very basic static menus.
Homicidal is a really enjoyable thriller with some fun performances at a great plot. It's stylishly shot and well-paced and it makes good use of its cast. The hooks are in the script, however, and this proves a fine example of how great a storyteller William Castle could be, with or without the gimmicks, when working with good material. This MOD/DVD-R from Sony would seem to be a clone of the now out of print pressed version that came out in 2002, albeit in an even more barebones version than that. It's more affordable than tracking down copies of that disc, but hardly an upgrade. Recommended on the strength of the movie.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.