The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, November 14, 2010


One of my favorite things about the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) is the users that in researching a movie stumble across some huge plot twist and then complain about it.  What exactly did they think was going to happen when reading the message boards?  Oh no, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?!? Charlton Heston was on Earth the whole time?!? I did not see that coming!  Well, I'm not angry at anybody but myself, but I did just that this week as I watched 1961's Homicidal. Part of my reasoning for watching a lot of movies is the cast so here I read the cast listing and had basically the whole twist ruined.  Take that as some advice, kids, don't read the cast listing before watching a movie.

The start of the movie automatically made me question why I was watching this movie.  Director William Castle introduces the movie before the credits, talking about past successes he's had with movies like The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill.  This time around we'll be watching a movie about people who are....HOMICIDAL!  It's also shown on a knitting board, maybe the most terrifying opening ever.  The whole intro comes across as very self-serving and more than a little cheesy. Castle did have success in horror and thrillers in the 1950s and 1960s, and Homicidal is a good one, even channeling Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in several instances.

Living in a small California town with her brother Warren and their handicapped former babysitter Helga (Eugenie Leontovich), florist Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin) has carved out a nice, little life for herself with a successful floral business and a marriage coming up to pharmacist boyfriend Karl (Glenn Corbett). Her half-brother Warren stands to inherit $10 million dollars in a few days when he turns 21, but weird occurrences start popping up, many of them related to Helga's primary caregiver, Emily (Joan Marshall). A brutal murder one town over stirs things up, especially when the description of the killer matches Emily's appearance.  That's just the start though, causing Karl to wonder if someone is targeting Miriam too.  Can they figure out what's going on before another life is put at risk?

To be fair, I didn't realize I'd blown the twist after reading the cast listing.  Early on, there are a lot of characters thrown at you, especially in the opening where Emily is rather mysteriously introduced in a side-story that is relevant to the main story but not key.  The twist is one of those where if you actually pay attention, focus in on what you're watching and what's going on instead of just flowing along with the movie, you probably will figure it out.  That said, it's a good twist that is different from the typical twist you might see in a similar thriller.

Where it doesn't work is in the execution of revealing the twist for two different reasons.  One is the same thing that plagued the ending of Hitchcock's Psycho.  Instead of just letting things stand afterward, a medical/psychological explanation has to be offered to justify what just happened.  That would be fine if it made any sense what actually happened, but the explanation is so far-fetched and ridiculous that it all comes apart.  The fun with this particular twist is the build-up to the reveal and trying to piece it together as certain subtle clues are dropped here and there.  Even somewhat knowing what was coming, the twist is still fun to try and figure out.  The reveal is what disappoints in the end.

On to part two, one of the stupidest gimmicks I've ever seen in a movie regardless of the genre.  It's called "The Fright Break." Right as Miriam returns home to piece everything together, Castle's booming, obnoxious voice interrupts the story as a digital clock pops up on the screen.  He warns the viewer that anyone too scared to see the shocking ending should take the opportunity to leave the theater now.  Really? I know it's a gimmick, and you're supposed to start wondering what could actually happen next.  But that's your plan? Tell people to leave?  It doesn't help that what comes next is actually pretty tame whether you know the twist or not.  There's some good tension at work once Miriam comes back on screen and enters the house, but just like the subsequent revelation, the huge reveal is stupidly ridiculous.

The bright spot through all the schlock is Joan Marshall (billed as Jean Arless for some reason) as mysterious homicidal caregiver Emily.  Her introduction certainly keeps you guessing and does deliver one of the movie's more shocking moments with a twist out of left field coupled with some surprisingly graphic violence for 1961.  It's this character that keeps things interesting, keeps you guessing up until the very end.  It helps that Marshall was never a huge star so there's no baggage with her as an actress or her character.  Breslin and Corbett are solid if unspectacular with their parts that have them playing straight to Emily's oddness.

Homicidal <---trailer (1961): ** 1/2 /****

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