Twelve years later, Dr. Hichcock returns with his very-much-alive bride Cynthia, played by the iconic Barbara Steele. Almost immediately, Strange Things soon begin to happen around them and Cynthia starts doubting her sanity.
La Steele, wandering around in the dark with a candelabra--that's practically porn for some of you, isn't it?Such is the setup for "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock," a 1962 Italogothic shocker directed by Riccardo Freda. The necrophilia plot-line is approached without euphemizing--it's darn clear that Dr. H is into that chillier, stillier flavor of female companionship and he's shown pursuing such avenues of release with a wide-eyed CRAZYFACE throughout the film. His descent into madness as he begins to see apparitions of his beloved dead wife is portrayed with the sort of reeling, mugging literality that befits a melodrama of this variety.
I'm torn on how to approach this movie. I'd seen this a number of years ago and dismissed it at the time, so I wanted to return to it with a fresh eye. I really wanted this to be an amazing example of creepy-kink cinema excellence, and perhaps if I had a better print I'd be more inclined towards generosity but... this movie never quite achieves the levels of greatness it should, given the subject matter and style. Instead, I'm left wanting to watch other, similar films that, while less audacious in their subject matter, are eerier and better-crafted examples of on-screen gothickry. There are hints of "Tomb of Ligeia,"* "Gaslight," and "Rebecca," but those similarities only serve to underscore where "Hichcock" could have gone oh-so-much-better.
Let's not throw the baby out with the necrobathwater, though! There's plenty of neat stuff in this movie to admire. The doctor's post-mortem lusts are portrayed with very little punch-pulling--while you don't get anything that approaches Buttgereitian excess, it's made very clear exactly what is going through Dr. Hichcock's brain. There's a great scene where the doctor is staying late at the hospital and two morgue attendants pass by with a stretcher on which lies a sheeted body displaying Telltale Chestal Mounds. A rather corresponding rise seems to be elicited in the doc IYKWIM. As he contemplates the alluring corpse, all laid out and just begging to get necrodefiled, there's a ghoulish red beam of light cast on the stretcher, enhancing the creepiness by a factor of ten.
Moving on to the small matter of the TOTALLY RIDICULOUS and therefore AWESOME dialogue... It's in there, trust me. As Cynthia starts to crumble under the constant onslaught of weirdness, she flies to the hunkier, younger arms of her husband's colleague, Dr. Kurt Lowe. They share such exchanges as the following, delivered with refreshing matter-of-factitude:
Cynthia: "Is Bernard normal?"
Kurt: "As much as any man of genius."
He's crazy because he's BRILLIANT, honey--that's how smart people roll. I plan on throwing out this explanation all the time, FYI.
But--you're asking--is there a fabulously overwrought soundtrack set to match the Always-Electrical-Storming weather? Why--of COURSE there's a fabulously overwrought soundtrack filled with crescendos and violin trills and aaaaaall that good stuff. How else would we know we were in a gothic melodrama without such aural assistance?
The movie fits-and-starts its way to its climax, which I found to be both confusing and disappointing. I won't spoiler it, but suffice to say I had to watch it twice to see if it made any more sense on another go round--the verdict: NO. You better believe it ends with the house burning down, though! If Roger Corman taught us anything, it's that "cleansing by fire" is the ONLY way to close a gothic flick.
Many thanks to Prof. Jack for the DVD to replace my lamentedly-lost VHS copy :)
*YES, "Tomb of Ligeia" gets a mention here, because a) Vincent Price and b) Vincent Price delivering an impassioned monologue comparing his brain to a cabbage. It's good, people--totally underrated stuff.