In 1963, legendary B movie producer Roger Corman offered Francis Ford Coppola the chance to write and direct a film for him. Corman was looking for something that would be a cheap copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho (incidentally, one of my favorite movies ever), and Coppola delivered.
I first saw this movie on Hulu.com a few days ago. Up until then, I’d never even heard of it, but as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it. So, this then, is my tribute to Coppola’s first significant film, which fits the definitions of both thrillers and suspense films, as we discussed last week.
John Halloran takes a late night boat trip out on the lake with his wife, Louise. While on the boat, they discuss John’s mother’s will (although his mother is not dead yet). His mother has set it up so that everything goes to a charity in the name of Kathleen, who turns out to be John’s sister who drowned in the estate pond when she was just a child. John lets his wife know that if he dies before his mother, Louise won’t get a thing. Within minutes, John has a heart attack and dies. Louise disposes of his body over the side of the boat and devises a way to ingratiate herself into her mother-in-law’s life and will.
John is supposed to have gone to the family’s Irish castle to participate in a creepy memorial service for the dead Kathleen, but Louise goes in his place, explaining to the family that he has been called away on urgent business. Louise herself is not invited to take part in the ceremony, but when John’s mother faints dead away at the grave site (as she does every year), Louise swoops in and helps her, only to discover that her mother-in-law is caught up in delusions and memories.
This is where the real fun starts. Louise plans to “gaslight” her mother-in-law by trying to convince her that Kathleen is communicating to her from the great beyond. Louise sneaks into the dead girl’s room in the middle of the night and steals some of her toys (ultra-creepy that the room is still set up the way Kathleen left it years before). Then she jumps into the pond where the girl died to put the toys at the bottom of the pond, where they will float up in plain sight of her mother-in-law. Louise finds a frightening surprise at the bottom of the pond, though, and she gets an even more frightening surprise when she surfaces to find an axe murderer waiting to take her life.
The axe murderer then runs rampant around the estate, killing a poacher and attacking (but not killing) old Lady Haloran. Lady Haloran’s attending physician becomes determined to solve the mystery, and he does – with the help of John’s brothers, Richard and Billy. It’s a thrill ride all the way through this movie. I was glued to the computer screen the whole time!
One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. There’s a special place in my heart for thriller/suspense movie music – Hitchcock’s Bernard Hermann scores being some of my favorite music ever. This movie, although Hermann didn’t do the music for it, has some great mood music composed by Ronald Stein, who incidentally, did the music for Corman/Coppola’s THE TERROR (“The only thing more terrifying than a haunted castle is being trapped in one”), starring Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson. This, while it’s not one of the greatest films ever made, is an interesting film, and both actors give satisfactorily solid performances.
An interesting piece of trivia? The creepy, almost maddening song at the beginning of this film is called “He’s Caught” by rockabilly group Buddy and the Fads. It was originally released by Accent Records in 1959, but has since disappeared into their vault. Maybe, one day, it will be re-released. I hope so. There’s something hypnotically terrible about this song that makes you want to listen to it over and over again. And it does set the tone nicely for the rest of the film. But don’t take my word for it. You can watch the full movie on YouTube today.