Archive for the ‘murder’ Tag

Homicidal (1961)   5 comments


A little girl plays happily with her doll.  As she pours an imaginary cup of tea, a boy enters the room, steals the doll, and walks out of the room leaving the girl in tears.

Twenty years later, when a justice of the peace is stabbed violently after performing a wedding ceremony, police hunt for his killer.

marion crane
“Marion Crane said it was just off the highway.”

William Castle’s answer to PSYCHO, HOMICIDAL, tells a neat story of family expectation, mental illness, and murder.  Without giving too much away, I’ll say that HOMICIDAL is a fun film and the first to include a fright break.  One of Castle’s legendary gimmicks, the fright break guaranteed the film-goer a refund if he was too scared to stay until the end.  A forty-five second timer appeared onscreen right before the climax of the film allowing the faint of heart time to exit the theatre.  When Castle found that one percent of the patrons were asking for refunds, he instituted a Coward’s Corner, a yellow kiosk in the theatre lobby.  To get there, scaredy-cats had to walk up the aisle lit in yellow while a recording bellowed, “Watch the chicken!”  At the Coward’s Corner they had to sign a card that read ‘I am a bona fide coward.’  The combination of the audience’s ridicule and the signing of the coward card put an end to Castle’s refund troubles.

“Watch the chicken!”

As gimmick-ridden as this film and many other William Castle films are, they’re still well made and entertaining as hell.  The black and white cinematography by Oscar winner Burnett Guffey looks wonderfully sharp and Hugo Friedhofer, another Academy Award winner enhances the mood with his score.  Patricia Breslin and Glenn Corbett lead a tight cast of character actors and it’s fun to guess what will happen next.

“When Shat and I left that diner, I though all our troubles were over.”

HOMICIDAL’s charm lies in its over-the-top story told with a straight face.  The actors don’t smirk at you like Dean Martin does in a Matt Helm vehicle.  They’re serious.  I like HOMICIDAL more than I probably should.  Catch it if you can.

I have the same sampler in my kitchen.


Wait Until Dark (1967) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

wait poster

A trio of con men try to trick a blind woman into giving them a doll stuffed with heroin. The simplicity of the plot allows writers Frederick Knott, Robert Carrington, and Jane-Howard Carrington to embellish their characters which makes for an entertaining and thrilling film. Audrey Hepburn stars as the woman in peril who has a lot more on the ball than the bad guys think. The three bad guys, Richard Crenna, a wonderfully evil Alan Arkin, and Jack Weston play different parts in an elaborate scheme to get their drugs from the beleaguered Hepburn. Wait Until Dark looks more like a play than a film. Knott wrote it for the stage. Because of that, you get a real sense that Hepburn has to outsmart the trio. She has no way out and therefore no choice.


I’ve never been a Hepburn fan, but she plays her part beautifully. It could easily have played with a lot of flailing and “Why me?”, but it wasn’t and for that reason it really works. Alan Arkin does the most with his part as the demented Roat. He’s a sociopath who delights in torture and a truly scary guy. After seeing this film, I’m even more impressed by Arkin’s acting talent. Within three years he made The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Wait Until Dark, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The man has range. Directed by Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia With Love) Wait Until Dark had tight direction, a Henry Mancini score, a talented cast, and a wonderful script. It also looked great in the theatre. Don’t miss this one.

Roat introduces us to


October 20, 2014

Rope (1948)   Leave a comment

Alfred Hitchcock exchanges his usual cinematic style for a more playlike one as he puts his own spin on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killings in Rope. John Dall and Farley Granger star as Brandon and Phillip, sons of privilege, who decide that killing a classmate they deem inferior and getting away with it is proof of their intellectual superiority.

“We’re better than you.”

The film opens with the camera moving from a placid street scene and into the students’ palatial flat, closing in on Brandon and Phillip strangling their victim with the eponymous weapon. The two have a drink and discuss their evening plans. As Robert Mitchum says in Out of the Past, the pair are “a little cold around the heart”.

“Oh, you wanted a Windsor knot?”

They don’t stop with their ghastly crime. To further reinforce the belief in their Nietzschean Übermensch status, they hold a cocktail party on the day of the murder and invite the victim’s parents. They even serve dinner on a chest containing the body. Sweet.

The corpse makes it tasty.

Based on the real life Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924 in which two wealthy University of Chicago students kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks just to prove they could, Rope begins during the murder and follows Brandon and Phillip as they prepare for the party, bicker, and attempt to hide their crime. Filmed on a single set using long uninterrupted shots of up to ten minutes at a time, Rope breaks a few established rules of cinema to great effect. As the evening progresses, the killers’ facades of control erode and the apartment seems to shrink. That sense of claustrophobia grows as Brandon and Phillip feel cornered by their former teacher and idol Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart). At first Rupert appears to be cut from the same cloth as the killers, but as Rupert observes the pair, the audience sees his suspicion and anxiety. It’s fun to watch Rupert inveigle his way into the guests thoughts and the hosts insecurities.

“The something of something.”

Since we know what happened to Leopold and Loeb, we can guess as to the fate of Brandon and Phillip, but it’s still a good time and the dialogue, written by Hume Cronyn and an uncredited Ben Hecht, is witty and dark.

“To murder!”

I love Rope and despite or perhaps because of the film’s divergence from the director’s usual path, it’s my favorite Hitchcock.

Hitchcock always won at Rock-Paper-Scissors.

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