Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Homicidal (1961) The Best Psycho Rip-Off You Probably Never Heard Of!

I am assuming that most of you already know who William Castle is but for those you who dont, simply put he was the Hitchcock of schlock horror films in the 50s and 60s. His best known film is probably The House on Haunted Hill (1959) starring Vincent Price. Side note: Elvira herself considers Haunted Hill a favorite of hers. 

Sure these films were mostly based around a in-theater gimmick however they still managed to be, at worst  mildly amusing and at best classic spook show fare. Castle's films were very much a product of their time and hence most haven't aged very well, still, for a lot of people they remain brilliant and enjoyable works of art. Yes I said art damnit!  I always felt like they have a spooky-dark ride quality to them and its why Turner Classic Movies loves to show stuff like 13 Ghosts (1960) around Halloween. Hell Castle even produced and has a cameo in Rosemary's Baby (1968) a film that went onto huge success.

When Psycho (1960) screamed into theaters, audiences and critics were completely blown away by it. Indeed its hard to understate just how ground breaking it was. Seeing how it literally changed the game in terms of shock and thrills it was bound to attract rip-off's. And some were even really good, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) which was Oscar nominated and even spawned a whole new sub genre the 'Psycho-Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol'. The king of razzle dazzle and larger than life personality William Castle wanted to get in one the fun and made Homicidal (1961) Following a brutal murder, a mysterious blonde named Emily breezes into her home town and with it threatens to reveal a host of dark family secrets. There is also a hefty inheritance in play, which might drive someone HOMICIDAL!

First off: I think the key to loving this movie, and indeed most of Castle's films is dont take things too seriously, after all they were pretty much made for a younger audience too busy making out in the back row. In other words they were just fun popcorn movies, not some grand art. Maybe you think this is a way to excuse the films short comings but you cant hold the same standards for Castle like you would, say Goddard or Hitchcock.  If you love campy kitsch Castle is a perfect fit, especially in in the fall season. Homicidal from the first few minutes weaves an interesting little mystery and Castle tries to one-up the shock of the shower scene with his own brutal murder -though not nearly as artful or subtle. But really why would you want a subtle William Castle movie. The plot and pacing is fairly brisk and there is never really a dull moment to be had in this over the top, atmospheric potboiler. Castle cleverly takes the DNA of Psycho and flips it around to make it his very own. Even though the 80s get s a lot of credit for being the hay day of horror, the 60s produced some of my favorite fright films including The Innocents (1961), Masque of the Red Death (1964) and others. And Homicidal, cheap and campy as it is, is very much re-watchable and a joy to witness. Sure its a rip off but damned if its not a bat crap crazy one that has a lot of fun and knows exactly what it is.

Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket
Almost coming full circle Castle would also get in on the Psycho biddy genre, famously making Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford and seeing how it made a lot of money, went onto make two more films with her. Homicidal is a movie very much worth seeking out if you, like me, love spooky, cheesy, whodunits that never takes itself too seriously.  Besides Id take this over the shot for shot 1998 remake any day. Hope you enjoyed this blog and please check out my others and book mark for more updates.

Twitter: @StrangeCinema65
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