Homicidal, 1961. 8/10

A surprisingly entertaining thriller. Although it’s clearly derivative of Psycho, Castle does a masterful job balancing suspense, plot, and a few doses of camp in Homicidal. There’s plenty going on throughout: something does seem off with Warren, but I didn’t figure out his masquerade until nearly the end; Helga is miserable the entire time; and Emily seems not to be done killing after the first stabbing.

Psycho, on the other hand, has much less continuity. It seems like two stories mashed into each other; Hitchcock’s heroine has no ties to the killer, she just happens to check into his motel. Then the Bates motel takes over the plot. But in Homicidal, Emily and/or Warren are the focus from the beginning; only the bellhop’s character recedes into the background.

Like the Bates motel, the mansion in Homicidal plays a central role, even in the prelude showing Miriam and Warren as kids. Helga is a sort of haunting presence, well before the headless staircase descent. Hitchcock uses the skeletal mother’s appearance for the same shocking effect to cap off Psycho. But Castle out-creeps Hitchcock with the Warren/Emily transformation (the bi-sexuality wouldn’t be a big deal now, but using it as a cover for murder is something else). Bates wanted his mother to live on in his imagination, but Emily literally was Warren.

I find that the plot does make just enough sense; it does seem weird that Miriam wouldn’t be aware that Warren was really Emily, but maybe, since they were half-siblings, we’re to understand that there were gaps in their relationship that could sustain the mystery.

The short ‘intermission’ before the culminating scene didn’t seem out of place to me. It does imply familiarity with the horror/suspense genre in that era, and particularly with Castle’s plot devices. As other reviewers have said, this is the sort of movie that sent kids behind sofas. It’s full of nightmares. 8/10.

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