“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1961 / Director: William Castle / Actors: Wolfe Barzell, Patricia Breslin, Glenn Corbett, Joe Forte, Gilbert Green ... / DVD released 2002-03-12 at Columbia TriStar / Features of the DVD: Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled „
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Jean Arless as Emily
Glenn Corbett as Karl Anderson
Patricia Breslin as Miriam Webster
Eugenie Leontovich as Helga Swenson
This 1961 film is a bit of quirky weirdness. Often described as seeming a sort of homage to 'Psycho', you can see a similarity of style. It was produced and directed by horror maestro William Castle, who was responsible for several of my fave 1960-era horror movies such as 'House on Haunted Hill', 'The Tingler', 'Mr Sardonicus', 'Strait-Jacket', and 'I Saw What You Did'.
It's an unsettling story of a pretty young woman, Emily, who also just happens to be a totally unhinged homicidal manic. The plot is a little out of the ordinary and there is a twist ending that I didn't see coming. In fact, in his usual true showmanship style, William Castle promoted the film with the tagline 'A WORD OF WARNING! Please don't reveal the ending of this picture or your friends will kill you - IF THEY DON'T, I WILL!' And when it was shown in cinemas, the audience were surprised to see that the film pauses just before the final reel with the announcement that there would be a one-minute 'Fright Break' during which anyone too scared to see the rest of the film could depart now and get their money back! My copy of the film has the 'Fright Break' included, and you are rewarded with 'You are a brave audience!' if you haven't fled by then.
The story begins with Emily checking into a hotel and then charming a handsome young bellhop into becoming smitten with her. But she has an ulterior motive: she offers him a huge sum of money if he'll marry her, at a specific time and place. Warily, he agrees. When the special evening comes, they drive to the home of Emily's choice of Justice of the Peace, Justice Adrims. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Justice Adrims shakes the groom's hand and goes to plant a kiss on the bride's cheek. However, our dainty blushing bride pulls out a huge surgical knife from her bag and stabs the poor old geezer repeatedly with surprising ferocity as we get treated to close-ups of her wild staring eyes and some dramatic music. She flees and leaves everyone to it, driving off into the night.
She pulls up at a large palatial house in a quiet suburban town and lets herself in. After going to the upstairs bathroom to wash the blood off of her knife, she goes to attend to a mute old lady in a wheelchair. 'I have something to tell you', she says sweetly to the old lady. 'Adrims died tonight - SCREAMING!!!' We cut to breakfast the next morning and Helga, the old lady, understandably doesn't have much of an appetite, which just makes Emily cross. Thankfully a young woman, Miriam, arrives and breaks the ice. We learn that Miriam is half-sister to Warren, whom Emily and Helga share the house with. It transpires that Emily's role here is as a carer enlisted by Warren to look after his aunt Helga.
Emily decides to spend the latter part of the morning going all deranged and smashing up wedding floral arrangements at Miriam's flower shop while Miriam is away from the shop, and then she springs out and brains Miriam's boyfriend Karl over the head when Karl comes by the shop looking for Miriam. We fade out and then see Karl unconscious on the floor with a young man hovering over him, gently slapping his face and saying 'Karl! Wake up!' We learn that this is Warren. He helps Karl to his feet and they try to piece together what happened. Warren seems a nice enough sort, but there is something a bit odd about him that we can't quite put our finger on. They each go their separate ways and when Warren gets home, Miriam is waiting for him. She expresses doubts to Warren about Emily and some strange behaviour she'd observed, and asks Warren how much he really knows about Emily. Warren tries to reassure her, but Miriam doesn't seem convinced, and neither are we...
I've seen this a few times over the years since I was a kid and always enjoy watching it. This is one of those films that gets very mixed reviews, but I'm one of those who like it. Seeing this film for the first time years ago on late-night TV as a teenager with my mother, we loved it and spent weeks quoting lines from the film at each other! The story is intriguing and you want to see how it all turns out and if Emily will get her comeuppance. There have been mixed opinions on the highly unusual twist ending - I've read quite a few where they say they could see it coming a mile off, and others where they say it came as a complete surprise. For myself, I did sense along with the ones who saw it coming, that something was 'a bit off' in a way I can't spoil here, but didn't guess what it actually was, and was very much taken by surprise by the ending (so was my mother when we saw it together!).
I do think it's one of the better of the circa-1960 horror movies, with a more interesting story than most. It's also a bit different from most of William Castle's output - they're usually more sort of horror comedies or at least fairly light-hearted, but this one is played straight and has a dark and almost Film Noir look to it in some respects.
Acting is mostly fairly decent for a low-budget movie, and as for Jean Arless (real name Joan Marshall, but she used this stage name just for this one film), who plays Emily, not only does she chillingly carry off the combination of dainty-looking winsome blonde as maniacal murderer, but goes above and beyond that in a way I can't give away here as it would spoil the film. You'll have to see the film to see what I mean!
The cinematography is of a good standard, with effective use of darkness and shadows to give the film the necessary dark and creepy edge when called for, and there are some nice outdoor shots of Solvang, California, a quaint and picturesque small Olde Worlde 'Danish village'-style town (I've been there and found it lovely), where Miriam has her flower shop. My copy, a VHS tape I got on eBay a while back which was released in 1995 as part of 'The William Castle Collection', is a good clear, crisp quality, so although I can't speak for the particular DVD on this page, good quality prints of this film are certainly available.
Highly recommended for fans of William Castle's own special style, for fans of late 50s-early 60s horror, and just anyone who likes the idea of a quirky Psycho-like film with a bizarre ending.
Also on Ciao under the same name.