The Psychopath (1966)
Here’s an Amicus thriller by way of writer Robert Bloch that I wish I had seen as a youngster. It would have scared the hell out of me leaving me fond memories in the years to come. I can just see myself curled up in the corner of our couch and dashing down the hallway to the safety of my bed after it was over. Not even daring to look at the closet where vague images and shapes lurk in the darkness. Such is the power of a creepy old hag sans makeup in a wheelchair living in a house surrounded by dozens of dolls of all shapes, sizes and facial expressions.
If I didn’t know better I’d think this was an early Dario Argento effort before he became a celebrated director of Giallo thrillers in the 1970’s. It has that feel from the outset when a man discovers his car has a flat prompting him to walk towards his destination. He’s being followed by a car shadowing him as he walks down dark, narrow streets after dusk. Not only is he run down but the car leaves little chance of his surviving by repeatedly crushing him against a wall leaving a smashed lookalike doll of the victim on the scene.
The victim was heading to a night of music where he sits in with three old friends in a stringed quartet. Arriving in his place is an Inspector played by Patrick Wymark. And so the questions begin as to the whereabouts earlier in the evening of those awaiting the dead man’s arrival. The surviving members of the quartet are Alexander Knox, Thorley Walters and Robert Crewdson. Also in the home are Knox’s daughter Judy Huxtable and her beau, Don Borisenko (sounds like a hockey player’s name).
The doll found at the murder scene is the key to the mystery and Wymark follows the trail to a doll shop. This in turn leads him to the home of the wheelchair bound Margaret Johnston and her house of dolls. Wymark will also learn she has a son living with her as both a caretaker and provider played by John Standing. There is a dark secret surrounding Miss Johnston’s past and her association with the men in the stringed quartet.
Knox who has a weak heart is going to be receiving her as a visitor in an extremely will staged, well lit scene. And why not considering this latest production from Amicus producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg was directed by the Oscar winning cinematographer and cult fan favorite, Freddie Francis. What we’re to discover is that her deceased husband was accused and convicted of Nazi war crimes and his jurors were the musical foursome. Falsely? That’s part of the mystery. What Wymark is soon to learn is that with each subsequent killing there’s another custom made doll left at the scene.
I’d rather not divulge too much more of the plot but do want to stress to one and all under no and I mean NO circumstances are you to watch the trailer of this one before seeing the film if you picked up the recent blu ray edition from Kino Lorber. Glad I didn’t because after watching the film I checked out the bonus materials and while I might be wrong I do believe that each and every murder from the film is shown in the trailer meaning you’ll know who isn’t going to make it the final reel. Who decides on these edits?
What I can share about the film are some observations and bits of trivia.
As this is a 1966 release can anyone think of another film that clearly has a topless pinup model hung on a wall and nudie magazines lying around in a movie from the same era? No way this would have happened just yet in a studio production on this side of the pond.
I mentioned earlier I’d loved to have seen this as an impressionable youngster. Sure I enjoyed it and will definitely be checking it out again as I’m a card carrying fan of Amicus productions. The poor man’s Hammer films? Arguably but in other cases perhaps better? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Seeing the film now for the first time proved to be an enjoyable experience yet the final reel could have been better. Almost seemed like some footage might have been missing or edited out. Then again maybe the big finale between Wymark and (^$&@) wasn’t well thought out/choreographed.
Ah hell, it’s still a creepy viewing experience and offers genre fans the chance to see one of Amicus’ full length movies as opposed to the anthology horrors they are fondly remembered for.
Robert Bloch was at this time a very busy writer. Following the success of Psycho in 1960 he worked on episodes of Thriller, Hitchcock’s TV show and the William Castle thrillers, Straight-Jacket and The Night Walker. Bloch then went to work for Amicus and is the credited writer on six of their films. The Skull (1965) Psychopath, The Deadly Bees (1966), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971) and Asylum (1972). The first four titles were all helmed by director Francis.
Would it have taken me nearly so long to finally see The Psychopath if it had starred either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee? Not likely and I can never help but wonder if either of them was approached to star in the film. The Wymark role could easily have been played by either one them. Not necessarily fair to Wymark who may be a lesser known name looking back but he did do a number of genre and horror films. Among them Hammer’s The Secret of Blood Island, The Skull, Witchfinder General and what might be his most notorious film, The Blood on Satan’s Claw. A film he died shortly after making at just 50 years of age.
Thanks to Kino Lorber, this one makes a fine addition to the Amicus section here in the movie room at Mike’s Take.