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Homicidal/Review

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Released a year after Alfred Hitchcock’s game-changing Psycho and, yes, re-staging many of that films dynamic moments, Homicidal is a ripped-from-the-headlines exploitation film worthy of new consideration. It’s not so much that it’s stellar filmmaking, a collection of reflective ideas and accompanying images, it’s that this genre oddity; a film that takes the psycho sexual taboo themes found in Psycho to an extreme, draws you in and keeps you hooked until the big, unprecedented reveal at the end.

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Automaton-like Emily (Joan Marshall: billed in this film as Jean Arless) pays an attractive young hotel bellboy named Jim (Richard Rust) to marry her and then get divorced the following day. It’s a curious request but Jim is happy to make the $2,000 that is being offered. The two drive to a remote justice of the peace and get married. At the conclusion of the ceremony Emily savagely murders the justice of the peace and flees.

The hunt is on. Emily lives in a large house on the outskirts of town where she takes care of her employer’s elderly wheelchair bound mother Helga (Eugenie Leontovich). Her employer is the elusive Warren, a young man waiting for an impending inheritance: he’s not in town too much—he travels for work. But Warren’s inquisitive sister Patricia (Miriam Webster) is; much to Emily’s dismay.

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Will the police locate Emily in her rural sanctuary? Her picture is, after all, plastered across the front page of the local newspapers. Is Emily a danger to her employer and her invalid charge Helga? Just recently she had her “surgical instrument” sharpened. And what exactly is it about her that is so distant, detached and weird?

The world of Homicidal is populated with a few other gewgaws. Warren has a pronounced overbite, is mousy and unconvincing as a successful businessman; Patricia is emotionally involved with everyone on a level that no one else is in the film is; and Karl (Glenn Corbett), Miriam’s accommodating boyfriend, is flat and wooden: not in the way “crazy eyes” Miriam is, but in the way that an impressive-looking young actor plucked from Central Casting is.

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Homicidal is a film best experienced without too much foreknowledge. Director William Castle (Strait Jacket) does a splendid job of bringing Rob (House on Haunted Hill) White’s unusual screenplay—which covers elder abuse, dual personality disorder and depression—among other things, to sensational, exploitation cinema life. Add Burnett (Bonnie and Clyde) Guffey’s arresting cinematography and a splendid score by Hugo Friedhofer and you’ve got an A-list, B-movie.

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Look for the 60-second “Fright Break”; a point in the film where the action stops, a clock appears on-screen, and audience members are encouraged to leave the theater if they’re too afraid! Don’t be one of those people: stay till the end.

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Josiah Howard is the author of four books including the seminal Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and The Village Voice. A veteran of more than 100 radio broadcasts he is a regular contributor to Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014-15 made regular appearances on TV One’s award-winning documentary series Unsung. Visit his Official Website.
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