The Couch, 1962. 8/10

Clever hook into this horror movie: a serial killer giving notice when he’s going to kill. Then, macabre wind-up animal toys play as a backdrop for the first murder. Charles Campbell (Grant Williams), our perpetrator, doesn’t waste sourcing an ice-pick from his shrink Dr. Janz’s (Onslow Stevens) office.

Charles relates how he got fired for brushing off a flirty girl–actually he fantasizes about making out with her. “Why do I feel…that way?!” he wonders, talking about his feelings of inferiority and misplaced aggression. Pretty much abducting Terry (Shirley Knight) seems improbable–why would she trust him, or even want to be around him? Meanwhile, his landlady’s daughter Jean (Anne Helm) has an eye on him too.

Although it next looks like he’s targeting his former boss, he seems to pick the actual victims randomly. The nighttime city streets are his milieu and hunting grounds. There’s quick cuts between the police detectives trying to trace his calls and the couch in Janz’s office. “My father never believed in me” he confides to Janz. Then he goes into a fairly revealing flashback, dredging up his incestuous feelings for his sister–with his father lurking in the shadows.

Prowling around his grandfather’s abandoned estate with Terry has a sort of gothic feel–not just the spectral grounds–but hearing voices from the creepy statuary. It seems he’s on the verge of a serious relationship with Terry. It’s just not believable; she’s not presented as naive, but just doesn’t see the red flags popping up around Charles.

That he’s also an ex-con isn’t a shocker. Apparently, his relationship with his sister morphed into something more because she became a surrogate mother to him; the really weird thing is he thinks that she’s dead, but she isn’t. As Janz figures, the fact that she’s married means that since she’s no longer ‘available’, so, in effect, she’s dead to him.

The false confession is a cool device–quickly thrown away. Another neat trick is the juxtaposition of two kids goading each other about ‘the stabber’ while Charles is just across the street. And still, Terry allows Charles to pull the wool over her eyes–that he’s got an inheritance, he’s a stockbroker, etc.”Everything’s fine, I’m free” he tells her. They sort of play doctor in Janz’s office, for the first time that we see he gets overtly domineering with her.

His undoing is that Janz doesn’t die. Is Charles going to try to kill him ‘again’? He gets crafty with the hospital disguise–very good suspense as he skulks about for his prey. And what a spooky scene as the whole floor echoes with Janz’s voice and reverberating with light and shadow. So he wanted to kill his father, but backs off killing Janz, ironically thanks to a paternal comment of Janz’s.

The Couch has been criticized for haphazard cinematography, but I think it works very well. The abrupt transitions fit the opposing contexts. The performances are quite good, and the ending couldn’t really be better. Other than the Charles/Terry romance straining suspension of disbelief, and fairly slow pacing, The Couch has a lot to offer the horror film fan. 8/10.

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