Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In short: The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

A wave of peculiar facial self-mutilations of beautiful women hits an American city. The victims seem to have trouble realizing how bad acid is for the skin, or that you shouldn't poke your face into a fan, and only remember having done something quite harmless afterwards. Steve Kennedy (Joe Patridge), the cop investigating the affair, is understandably confused by what's happening.

Thing only start to become clearer - if not necessarily to Steve - when he, his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders) visit the stage show of hypnotist Desmond (Jacques Bergerac) and his assistant Justine (Allison Hayes). Desmond (and please, imagine the name spoken with a French accent) practices some exciting hypnotizing on Dodie, and shortly afterwards, she decides that there's not much difference between acid and soap. Marcia, obviously the brains in the relationship with Steve, thinks that there's something fishy about Desmond. Why, he might even have hypnotized poor Dodie into washing off her face! Steve reacts to that theory with huffy scepticism, so Marcia waltzes off to get herself hypnotized on stage for science. She resists getting the mind whammy, even though Desmond enhances his hypnotic powers with a blinking electronic gadget in the form of an eye, and so remembers the hypnotist's suggestion that she should visit him in his dressing room at midnight. And the 50s are barely over!

When Marcia tells Steve about it, he finally admits that something is going on with Desmond, and yes, it would be a great idea for Marcia to pretend the hypnosis had actually worked on her and visit the hypnotist in his dressing room, just as he wanted. Would you believe that this turns out to be A Very Bad Idea?

If you think the great William Castle was the only one doing gimmick driven horror films and thrillers during the 50s and early 60s, you will be quite surprised to encounter directorial hired gun George Blair's The Hypnotic Eye. The film's gimmick is twofold: firstly, in the sort of fourth wall breaking manoeuvre I suspect Castle would have approved of, the audience in cinemas was provided with the same balloons carrying the same drawings of "the hypnotic eye" as the audience of Desmond's show in the movie; admittedly, that's not as good the The Tingler's fourth wall breaking, but it's creative in a friendly and huckster approved way that doesn't disturb the enjoyment of the movie as a movie.

Which is - unfortunately - not what you can say about gimmick number two: taking the ten minutes directly before the movie's supposed climax to let poor Jacques Bergerac perform a hypnotism number on the film's audience that is not just much less interesting than his first number, but also takes away all possible tension the film might have developed for a viewer until then, deflating the movie like a needle-stuck balloon (with or without hypnotic eye).

It's a bit of a shame too, for up to that point, The Hypnotic Eye is a very serviceable little matinee thriller with some pleasantly gruesome moments and even some hints at a certain psychological complexity. The film's frankness about Desmond using his hypnotic powers as a sort of date rape drug isn't exactly pleasant, but quite effective, for example, while the hypnotist's relationship to Justine has quite an unexpected power dynamic I wish the film had explored a bit more instead of showing us a scene of a supposedly hypnotized studio audience jiggling their arms while Desmond blathers on.

But even with its total break-down right when it is supposed to get exciting, The Hypnotic Eye is a solid example of the huckster horror/thriller right at the point when it began to turn into what we now know would become a part of true exploitation cinema just a bit later.


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