Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Oh, Allison Hayes, how I adore thee. I sang your praises earlier this year in the gloriously campy voodoo-fest, THE DISEMBODIED (1957), and I am compelled to return to your side with 1960’s exploitation / trash classic THE HYPNOTIC EYE. You are not the main attraction in this gruesome-for-its-time sickie, but your performance as Justine stands out among the others like a rose in a cesspool.
Actually, THE HYPNOTIC EYE is a fun little drive-in feature with a twisted plot that probably stunned audiences right out of their rumble seats. Directed by television vet George Blair (who directed hundreds of episodes of such fare as THE GENE AUTRY SHOW, RACKET SQUAD, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, CASEY JONES, and WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE), the film zips along swiftly with bursts of yucky violence and real live hypnotism demonstrations. In fact, many of the actresses who performed in the film were actually mesmerized by an off-stage hypnotist and told what to do by the director using trigger words. Thus, a feeling of real trances and surrealism suffuses the film, although I’m not certain the poor actresses couldn’t have performed just as well using actual acting skills. The movie was even advertised as being filmed in Hypnomagic, a gimmick to get more seats filled in theaters, in which you – the audience—would actually be hypnotized while watching THE HYPNOTIC EYE. It didn’t work on me, but perhaps the population was more susceptible back then.
The film starts on a shockingly sick note, when a black lingerie-wearing woman drying her hair over an open burner on a stove shoves her head down until her hair catches fire. Instead of putting it out, she stands in her kitchen, screaming, unable to move while the hair on her head burns like Nic Cage in GHOST RIDER(2007). This whole scene is witnessed through the burner, the flames dancing around the edges of the screen, the camera lurking within the stove. Her entire head is wrapped in bandages and detective Dave Kennedy (played by Joe Partridge of many of George Blair’s TV shows) walks in and asks the doc, “Another self-inflicted mutilation?” Under questioning, the woman admits she put her hair in the flame on purpose and then promptly dies. Det. Kennedy expositions that eleven women have mutilated themselves with straight razors they thought were lipsticks or by sticking their heads into fans they thought were vibrators (what?). So far, it’s all been unexplained.
But life isn’t all mutilation and death for Kennedy. That evening, he takes his girlfriend Marcia (played by Marcia Henderson of RIOT IN JUVENILE PRISON, 1959 and THE WAYWARD GIRL, 1957) on a date to see a popular hypnotist, Desmond (played by Jacques Bergerac of GIGI, 1958 and LES GIRLS, 1957; he was also the fourth husband of Ginger Rogers). He makes a subject hot, then cold, then turns him into a very bad, mean dog! There’s nothing like humiliating volunteers in front of a wildly applauding audience. For his final demonstration, he gets three lovely women volunteers…and there is his assistant, Justine, played by the wonderful Allison Hayes in a hot sequenced outfit! She helps him pick out the three prettiest women in the audience. Dodie, a girl who came with the detective and his girlfriend, is one of the volunteers. Dodie is played by the lovely Merry Anders (TICKLE ME, 1965, THE TIME TRAVELERS, 1964), and she is hypnotized by Desmond, and she actually levitates on stage under his French-accented instructions. “Ladies and gentlemen…gravity defied!” Det. Kennedy insists it’s all a trick of misdirection, although his girlfriend Marcia is thrilled.
Dodie doesn’t remember anything that happened onstage, and she rushes off after the show to the back entrance. In a hypnotic state, she stares at a poster of Desmond then goes home where she fills a sink with boiling water and sulfuric acid and washes her face in it, melting away her skin and becoming the twelfth victim. She survives, but is hospitalized and must be covered in paraffin, since her skin is burned away. Det. Kennedy and Marcia visit her, and she admits that she remembered going home and washing her face but nothing else. She knows she did it to herself, but she didn’t feel any pain at the time.
Det. Kennedy goes to a call and drops Marcia off at the theater where Desmond is performing, since she wants to see the show again. Under Justine’s subtle direction, Desmond chooses, of course, Marcia. She is the new subject for the levitation trick! After the show, she tells Kennedy that Desmond is no fake, but that she faked being hypnotized and Desmond whispered in her ear that she wouldn’t remember anything except that she was to go back to his dressing room at midnight. So, accompanied by Kennedy and his friend, a psychiatrist, she goes back to Desmond’s lair and plays along.
Once in his dressing room, she really is put under his spell by a blinking electronic eye thingie. He tells her to get up and go to dinner with him. He asks her address, and she tells him, while Allison Hayes lurks behind the corners, obviously bitter about the situation. Desmond escorts Marcia to a nice restaurant, and her bodyguards sit at another table in case Desmond tries anything. Then, they go to a way-crazy-man beat club for coffee and jazz. So far, it’s a pretty great date. Then, an old man in a beret screams “I have just written a poem. Confessions Of A Movie Addict Or The Holy Barbarian Blues. I was a teenaged movie monster. I cut my teeth on Clara Bow…” He goes on to recite the entire damn poem to bongo accompaniment. He should’ve just called the poem “We Need Padding. So Here Is Filler.” Groovy, man, groovy. Desmond dances with Marcia amongst the beat cats and chicks, which gets Kennedy all hot and bothered. While dancing, Desmond whispers in Marcia’s ear, then he escorts her home and the detective waits outside while old Desmond makes out with his girl. After a few minutes, the door opens, and Justine steps into the room. She tells Desmond, “There isn’t much time.” Justine makes Marcia go further down under. Desmond asks, “How many more?” Justine replies, “As long as there are faces like this.” She then instructs Marcia to get ready for bed and she turns on the shower for her, making the water scalding hot. What kind of plumbing does she have that the water is boiling hot in the shower? Marcia strips while Justine orders her into the “cool, cool shower”. At that moment, Dave Kennedy knocks on her door, interrupting the mutilation.
At the door, Justine informs Dave she’s a friend from school, visiting Marcia, but Marcia went to public school, and that just throws a monkey wrench into Justine’s plans. But Marcia remains in a hypnotic state that can be triggered at any time. It does make her act like a sex kitten, however. Of course, big dumb lunkhead Dave still doesn’t get the connection between Desmond and the mutilated girls and Justine. With cops like him, it’s a wonder any case ever gets solved in the city. Justine, certainly a suspicious character, disappears out the fire escape. Whoops! Lost another suspect.
The psychiatrist friend is found in the morning playing classical piano in a smoking jacket with a white dog lying atop the piano! He tries to explain the whole thing to dim-bulb Dave, but Dave is still in the dark. They go to visit the first victim, the woman who stuck her face into an electric fan. She says she has never been hypnotized. Other victims confirm they were never hypnotized or saw the stage show. However, it is soon discovered they are all lying (under post-hypnotic suggestion). They have all been to see the show.
What is the strange relationship between Desmond and Justine? Why is Justine causing the hypnotized ladies to mutilate themselves? The answer is right out of a twist ending in a Scooby Doo cartoon. It’s both ridiculous and horrifying at the same time, and it provides the lovely Ms. Hayes to really strut her stuff and chew the scenery.
THE HYPNOTIC EYE barrels along at a clipped pace for a brief 79 minutes, giving the viewer no time to discredit its hole-filled plot. It’s hard to dislike the movie; it really pulls out all the stops to entertain. It even contains a whole scene where Desmond looks right into the camera and hypnotizes the viewer in the movie audience! There are beautiful women who are turned into monsters in various terrible ways through very good make-up effects created by Emile LaVigne, who created make-up for such great films as WEST SIDE STORY (1961), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE DISEMBODIED (1957). I wonder if Allison Hayes had him as her favorite make-up artist? There are the dumbest cops of all time and damsels in distress. The acting is good enough for this sort of thing, but the crisp photography by Archie Dalzell, who photographed LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS the same year, and also shot THE TRIP (1967), FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN (1971) and EBONY, IVORY, AND JADE (1979), makes it all pop.
Plus, where else will you hear the great line, “If you like my beautiful face so much, you can have it!”
I command you to see THE HYPNOTIC EYE! I command you to get the restored copy from Warner Archive! I command it!
I give THE HYPNOTIC EYE three burning heads out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl