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In the DVD documentary accompanying William Castle's Homicidal (1961), film historian David De Valle calls the picture more a homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho than rip-off. But let's call a spade a spade — as talented as Castle was in terms of showmanship, plotting was not his forte. And Homicidal — with its icy blond, murders, and plot twists — sure seems a lot like Hitch's seminal 1960 taboo-buster. Producer, director, and master of ballyhoo, Castle is aware of Psycho down to his camera placement (he even does a Hitchcockian introduction, featuring himself), but the movie would be better had he found the cash for a Bernard Herrmann score, rather than the TV sitcom-esque one heard here. The story revolves around Emily (Joan Marshall, credited as Jean Arliss), a caretaker for an old mute woman, who arranges her own marriage — which she plans to annul immediately — and stabs the justice of the peace to death. Emily has an unexplained obsession with Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin), whose name she used on the bridal registrar. As the police investigate the judge's death, Emily acts crazy and threatens to kill the old mute, while Miriam finds out she has a half-brother who's about to get a large inheritance. There are a couple of truly clever things in Homicidal, and these "money" sequences that Castle was striving for really do work. The opening murder is appropriately garish, the "Fright Break" — where the audience has 45 seconds to leave the auditorium before the more gruesome stuff begins — is a masterstroke that uses the power of suggestion to freak an audience out, and the end twist is a real zinger. Unfortunately, that's only about 20 minutes of an 87-minute movie, with the rest being poorly staged Psycho nods. Nonetheless, the sheer audacity of the "Fright Break" is almost powerful enough to make up for it. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Homicidal offers a full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with no perceptible cropping, while the monaural audio comes in DD 2.0. Extras include trailers for Straight-Jacket and Mr. Sardonicus, as well as the short "Psychette: William Castle and Homicidal" (7 min.). Keep-case.

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