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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Homicidal (1961)

"I've never liked your eyes, Helga. They see too much."
- Emily (Jean Arless)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 21, 2002

Stars: Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich, Alan Bunce, James Westerfield, Jean Arless
Director: William Castle

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore)
Run Time: 01h:27m:22s
Release Date: March 12, 2002
UPC: 043396069305
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BCA- C+

DVD Review

Master cinema huckster William Castle always knew a winner when he saw it. Once Hitchcock had a huge hit with Psycho, Castle immediately began looking for ways to imitate it and siphon some of that cash off for himself. In the process, he also worked at developing a host persona similar to that Hitchcock cultivated in his television program, with a humorously macabre touch. The result is a seriously disturbed picture that has some decent merit of its own.

Emily (Jean Arless) is nurse to Helga, who apparently has suffered a stroke and is unable to speak and bound to a wheelchair. The only problem is that Emily is seriously and homicidally crazy, setting up bizarre schemes to murder people at significant times on certain days. There's no mystery about who the killer is; the suspense lies in who's next and what the motive behind the mayhem might be. I'm hesitant to say more about the plot, lest the ending be spoiled.

Jean Arless (who also acted under the name Joan Marshall) makes for a credible killer; with icy good looks and a threatening air, she appears quite capable of anything at all. Also notable is Eugenie Leontovich as the wheelchair-bound Helga; despite a wordless role she manages a range of emotion that a silent film star would be proud of. The rest of the cast is pretty pedestrian at best; hero Karl (Glenn Corbett) is typically wooden and uninteresting. Character names like Miriam Webster make one think the screenwriter spent too much time looking at his dictionary trying to think of a name, and I found it hard to suppress a giggle whenever her name was uttered.

But in a William Castle film, substance always played second fiddle to gimmickery. This time around, just before the climax, there's a 45-second "Fright Break," complete with onscreen countdown and Castle's taunting voiceover; when shown in theaters there was an opportunity to get your money back at this point—but you had to stand in a section marked as the "Coward's Corner" until the crowd had filed out. Needless to say, Castle didn't lose much money with this trick.

Surprisingly violent and bloody for its time, Homicidal actually manages at times to climb above its derivative roots. There are quite a few segments with genuine suspense, and the setpiece involving Helga's wheelchair elevator is worth the price of admission by itself. The climax is worth waiting for (and the Psycho-derived psychiatric analysis at the end here ties up loose ends without being as patronizing or redundant as Hitchcock's). Worth checking out.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The black & white picture is presented in full frame; it appears to be an open matte transfer however, because when 1.85 mattes are applied the compositions look fine and nothing significant is lost from the picture. As a 1961 feature, the film was certainly shown widescreen in theaters. The modified aspect ratio aside, the transfer is very nice indeed. Blacks are incredibly deep and rich, and the picture is finely detailed; even the houndstooth weave of Emily's coat, a pattern notoriously problematic in video, comes through sharp and clear. There is some slight speckling on the first section (on what looks like stock footage), but otherwise the source print is pristine. If this had been transferred in anamorphic widescreen, it would have gotten an A grade.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono is quite serviceable. Dialogue is quite clear throughout, and there is hardly any hiss or background noise at all. The music is detailed and well-defined, with decent range.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mr. Sardonicus, Strait-Jacket
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A short featurette, Psychette (7m:39s) includes interviews with genre writers such as Donald F. Glut and David Del Valle about the film and Castle's world of movie gimmickry. It's a worthwhile little piece that leaves the viewer wanting more. An anamorphic trailer for Mr. Sardonicus and a full-frame trailer for Strait-Jacket, simultaneously released on DVD by Columbia, wrap up the package.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A nifty little thriller, if a bit derivative, given a very pretty transfer. Too bad it's not in the original widescreen, but it appears to be open matte so at least we aren't losing picture. A nice little featurette helps make this more than just a barebones package, but where's the trailer?


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