Coming on the heels of Alfred Hitchcocks PSYCHO, there are those that call William Castles HOMICIDAL ($25) a rip off of the Master of Suspense. Castle fans tend to think of HOMICIDAL as an homage to PSYCHO, and I will give them that conceit, since I count myself amongst their number. However, even I recognize that Master Showman William Castle was "cashing in" on the enormous popularity of PSYCHO by advertising HOMICIDAL as The Story Of A Psychotic Killer! No matter what one thinks of the films originality, HOMICIDAL is a highly entertaining scare-fest with that William Castle touch.
The plot of HOMICIDAL concerns Emily, a sexy blonde, who checks into a hotel and pays a bellboy $2,000.00 to marry her and have the marriage quickly annulled. Unable to resist the easy cash, he agrees to her proposal and the two go off to see the Justice of the Peace. At the end of the wedding ceremony, Emily pulls out a large butcher knife and commits a grisly murder. Fleeing into the night, Emily is able to disappear back into her small-town existence, where she serves as the nurse and chief tormentor of a mute, wheelchair bound old woman named Helga. Not content in torturing the old woman, Emily also sets to destroy Miriam Webster, the half sister of Warren, the man who may or may not be her husband.
Not wanting to disappoint his target audience, director/producer William Castle provides the requisite suspense and grisly murders that one would expect from The Story Of A Psychotic Killer! With HOMICIDAL, Castle developed the gimmick of a "fright break" that allowed the audience a forty-five second countdown, in which anyone too scared to stay for the films climax could slink out of the theater and stand in the "cowards corner." The cast of HOMICIDAL features Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich, Alan Bunce, Richard Rust, James Westerfield, Gilbert Green and Jean Arless aka Joan Marshall.
Strangely, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made HOMICIDAL available on DVD in a 4:3 full screen presentation, unlike the other recent William Castle movies, which where were released in 16:9 enhanced wide screen. Looking at the excessive headroom in the compositions, one can clearly see that HOMICIDAL was intended to be matted for a wide screen presentation. Apart from being issued in the wrong aspect ratio, the black and white transfer looks quite good. The image is pretty sharp and provides a nice level of detailed. There is mild film grain at various times throughout the presentation, but nothing objectionable. The film element itself doesnt display very many blemishes and is in really solid shape for a movie over forty years old. Blacks are deep and inky, plus whites are clean and completely stable. Contrast is very good and the picture has a good level of depth. Digital compression artifacts are well disguised throughout the presentation.
HOMICIDAL is offered in clean sounding Dolby Digital monaural. At normal listening levels, there is no audible background hiss or signs of distortion. Dialogue is crisply rendered and is completely understandable. There are the expected frequency limitations in the recordings, but otherwise Hugo Friedhofers music sounds fine. English and French subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Running a bit over seven minutes is the featurette, Psychette: William Castle and Homicidal. Like the other featurettes on the recent Castle DVDs, this program includes interviews with recognized horror historians David Del Valle, Don Glut, as well as monster enthusiast Bob Burns and director Fred Olen Ray, all of whom discuss William Castle, HOMICIDAL and the films particular gimmick. Also included on the DVD are trailers for MR. SARDONICUS and STRAIT-JACKET.
HOMICIDAL is a whole lot of horror fun, and a film that benefits from the William Castle touch. The presentation is something of a disappointment because the movie is in the wrong aspect ratio. Castle fans will probably want to rent HOMICIDAL before contacting Columbia TriStar to offer their opinions on the full screen presentation of this wide screen film.
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