Homicidal is a horror film produced and directed by William Castle in 1961 which was memorable for one thing more than anything else, namely Joan Marshall under the pseudonym Jean Arless, playing the role of a lifetime. It was something of a shock back when the film was released and if you have not seen the film, you would be hard pressed to tell just what is going on, so convincing are the special effects. Putting all of that aside, the film itself is a wonderful little chiller, one that keeps you guessing all the way through to the eventual revelation and conclusion. That horror, along with the palpable suspense and everything else that went along with it is all thanks to the wonderful script by Robb White and William Castle’s ability to interpret it.
While the direction was tight and the script extremely well-written, it was the people who brought it to life and this film would not be what it is without the superb acting ability by the various players who would bring it to life. Joan Marshall is especially frightening as she nails down the needed madness of a woman wasting her life away and when she says she will kill, you believe her as she is so clearly a sociopath. When others are around, like Patricia Breslin’s character Miriam or Karl played by Glenn Corbett, she is as normal as can be, but as the film progresses and Emily gets more and more frustrated, she starts to slip up and the cracks start to show. It is at these times when you as a viewer start to get a little antsy, wondering if she will just go full psycho and murder everyone, or if she has the willpower to reign it in until the time is right. Breslin meanwhile, is great as the female lead of the film. She plays the everyday, average woman well and even when she starts to notice things might be a little off, she rarely says anything except when pressed as she does not want to cause a scene or at least until she has some proof. Glenn Corbett does a fair job, though he is more of a supporting character than anything else, bolstering Breslin rather than starring opposite her.
Taking place primarily in the house, the cinematography by Burnett Guffey is effective in creating an atmosphere that is very moody and somewhat claustrophobic. The staircase factors into the film quite a bit, rigged to allow old Helga’s wheelchair to go from floor to floor. You know right from the outset of the film when you see it that it is going to be the scene of some sort of crime and when that moment comes, it delivers one of the best moments in the film. The only thing that managed to take you out of the movie was the ‘Fright Break.’ For forty-five seconds, William Castle stopped the film so as to give audience members the chance to leave the theater in case the movie was too frightening. Perhaps it worked during that time period, and it is somewhat of a novel gimmick, yet today it fails to do anything but be an annoyance.
The pacing of this film is a little relaxed, and at first you might find yourself wondering when things are going to get moving along, but when it does, the tension starts to boil and then there is nothing to do but sit back and ride it out until it lets you go. When you watch a movie today, particularly horror movies, they tend to go for shock or disgust rather than true fright. It is sorely lacking more often than not and while modern horror is still enjoyable, when you watch a film like Homicidal, you realize that there is just something missing that you can only get from older releases like it. Definitely a film you have to catch, if only for the big twist at the end.