Director: George Blair
Writers: Gitta Woodfield, William Read Woodfield
Producer: Charles B. Bloch
Cast: Jacques Bergerac, Joe Patridge, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Allison Hayes, Guy Prescott, Lawrence Lipton, James Lydon, Fred Demara, Eric ‘Big Daddy’ Nord, Carol Thurston, Eva Lynd, (and uncredited cast) Evan MacNeil, Mary Foran, Holly Harris, Phyllis Cole, Eddie Baker, Don Ames,Nina Borget, Franklyn Farnum, George Ford, Kenner G. Kemp, Al Roberts, Monty O’Grady, Cosmo Sardo
Police Detective Sgt. Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) is called to the scene of a woman (Evan MacNeil) that set her head ablaze trying to wash her hair over her stove’s gas burner instead of the kitchen sink. This is just the latest in a series of self-mutilations by attractive women. The victims all seem to have no memory of why they would maim themselves while trying to perform simple hygienic tasks. When Sgt. Kennedy and his girlfriend, Marcia Blaine (Marcia Henderson), attend the performance of the stage hypnotist Desmond (Jacques Bergerac), their friend Dodie Wilson (Merry Anders) volunteers to be an onstage subject for the act. Later that night at her home, Dodie disfigures herself with acid. Marcia tries to convince Kennedy that Desmond is somehow involved in the gruesome incidents.
The Flashback Fanatic movie review
The Hypnotic Eye is a horror film so direct in its approach that it seems like it prefigured and perhaps even inspired the blunt excesses of Blood Feast (1963) and the subsequent series of gore films a few years later by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Of course, this earlier film is more accomplished and restrained than Lewis’ notorious schlock, yet it still seems to be hanging its simple story on just two exploitable hooks: hypnosis and mutilation. Got your attention? Okay, that means you’re just as morbid as I am.
This film was following in the wake of the producer-director William Castle’s 1950s fright flick come-ons, which promoted new film processes that would give the audience sensations beyond other motion pictures. Those new processes were just so much ballyhoo used to justify a skeleton on wires flying over the heads of the audience or certain movie theater seats being rigged to vibrate.
The Hypnotic Eye stated in its poster that it was introducing Hypnomagic. That gimmick is really just setting up the hypnosis sessions that the stage hypnotist character Desmond conducts on his audience in the film (which are also directed at the audience watching the movie) to demonstrate the power of suggestion. To lend further credence to the hypnosis angle, one of the characters in the film tells us how legitimate the technique of hypnosis is, but that it can also be dangerous if not performed by qualified medical professionals.
As simplistic as horror films like The Hypnotic Eye are, they sate the need in horror buffs for a vicarious thrill. We are not distanced from engaging with the situations by having characters of great depth with subplots or backstories to deal with. This may not qualify as great drama, but there is less of a barrier between the characters on screen and the audience. We may not have a great bond with their personalities, but they are more accessible proxies for us as they confront the situations and threats in the story. We are not afraid for them as much as we are experiencing the dangers along with them. Hmmm, maybe that Hypnomagic is working…
George Blair was already an experienced director of B-films and television. He was just the sort of competent and reliable craftsman that could crank out a professional, low-budget product on a short shooting schedule. Blair’s matter-of-fact approach actually provides a nice contrast to the close-ups during Desmond’s hypnosis demonstrations and the opening scene’s nasty self-immolation. Hmmm, maybe that Hypnomagic is dominating my critical faculties…
As Sgt. Dave Kennedy and Marcia Blaine, Joe Patridge and Marcia Henderson are the good-looking couple trying to expose the movie’s menace. They have little in the way of character that distinguishes them. They are just attractive, decent people that we side with because they are doing the right thing, and we are hoping they satisfy our curiosity about the reason for the atrocities afflicting so many women.
As Dave and Marcia’s unfortunate friend, Dodie Wilson, Merry Anders spends the most screen time of all the victims with her disfigurement on display. It just occurred to me that this film’s performances are all quite low-keyed up until the climax. If anyone had the right to be hysterical, it would be Dodie Wilson. Yet Merry Anders’ performance never tips over that edge while her character is recuperating in the hospital. Understandably, she is upset and self-conscious of her damaged appearance, but she has much more composure than most people would after such a trauma. Whether this restraint was in the script, direction, or decided by Anders, this certainly makes us respect her character and feel a bit more deeply for her plight.
The top-lined star is Jacques Bergerac playing the stage hypnotist Desmond. When they coined the phrase “tall, dark, and handsome,” they meant a guy like this. With Bergerac in a tux and speaking with his French accent, he really doesn’t need hypnosis to put just about any woman under his spell. Like everybody in this film, Bergerac’s Desmond is more of an image than a character. But he has just the right presence to make us believe that he can be a famous celebrity performing hypnosis. We are often confronted with his commanding charm and authority in close-ups as he puts people into trances throughout the film.
The cast member of the most interest to horror fans would be Allison Hayes. This beautiful brunette was immortalized as the title character in 1958’s Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. Hayes may not be 50’ tall in this flick, but her statuesque figure still dominates the stage as Desmond’s silent assistant Justine. We are tempted to write her off as just a sexy accessory during Desmond’s shows until we see the smug hypnotist exchanging knowing glances with Justine as she silently directs his choice of hypnosis volunteers. Of course we are intrigued by this and wonder just what the hell these two are up to.
Any run-of-the-mill hypnotist can make you stare at a boring pocket watch or pencil while you fall into a trance. Just to be sure that we get our Hypnomagicked money’s worth, hypnotist Desmond brandishes a cool gadget that supplies this film’s title. Desmond wields his blinking hypnotic eye in close-ups that convince us of his hypnotic potency. Hypnosis may also be required to cure the migraine that may result from that hypnotic eye effect.
While the gorgeous Marcia is trying to figure out what the suspicious hypnotist is up to, she ends up under Desmond’s spell. (Damn, just where do I score myself a hypnotic eye?) We tag along with Sgt. Kennedy and his colleague, Dr. Philip Hecht (Guy Prescott), as they tail Marcia out on the town with Desmond.
With a plot and characters as simple as these, there still seems to be some padding needed to fill out the short running time of this film. Bring on the beatniks! After one of those fancy, flaming, gourmet dinners, the debonair Desmond escorts his entranced date for some trendy slumming in a beatnik café. The bongos, bass, and beatnik poetry run rampant as Lawrence Lipton (Beatnik Poet Laureate) bonds with this flashback fanatic when he recites his kooky composition “Confessions of a Movie Addict.” I’m a sucker for movie beatnik shenanigans, and the toxic haze of cigarette smoke in this joint overwhelms me with nostalgia.
More time is killed with repetitive scenes of Desmond’s stage act. While the hypnosis demonstrations that we see Desmond perform are necessary for our acceptance of his abilities, they do get rather tedious just before the film’s finale. This is the point at which the break-the-fourth-wall Hypnomagic gimmick of the film really kicks in. However, that tedium may provide a contrast to the crazed climax that seems all the more frantic and intense by comparison. Hmmm, that Hypnomagic must really have me under its spell…