Monday, May 20, 2013

The Hypnotic Eye

Hypnotism, or more specifically the idea that hypnosis could be used as a form of mind control, has a long history in the movies, that I think goes back all the way to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, if not further. Even if the idea is a bunch of bunk, it makes for some fairly entertaining movies. A good example of one that's incredibly entertaining -- enough so to become a camp classic -- is The Hypnotic Eye.

The movie starts with a shocker, even before the opening credits: a woman washing her hair with flammable chemicals, then turning on a gas burner in her kitchen, and putting her face up to it, setting her hair on fire! The paramedics arrive, and so do the police, looking for information for her. But she dies before she's able to give them anything useful. Why are the police there? Well, apparently this is about the tenth case of some formerly pretty woman mutilating her pretty face in bizarre circumstances. Obviously there's got to be something behind this, and it's up to the police, in the form of Detective Dave Kennedy (Joe Partridge) to figure out why.

Cut to Kennedy's private life. He's going out to a show with his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson), and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders). This is a hypnosis show, and any halfway astute viewer shoud take a wild guess that the hypnosis show and the mutilated women have something in common. The hypnoist, the great Desmond, is played by Jacques Bergerac, while his lovely assistant Justine is played by Allison Hayes. As part of the hypnosis show, Dodie gets called up on stage, and is hypnotized to do something involving levitation that's totally impossible, since you can't violate the laws of physics under hypnosis. But whatever. Things are about to get much more fun. After the show, Dave and Marcia go one way, while Dodie ostensibly heads for home. However, we see her tricking her friends and going back to Desomnd's dressing room. Clue #2 that something untoward is happening. The next morning, Dodie is found with her face mutilated as well. Clue #3.

The police, of course, are preternaturally stupid in this movie, so Detective Dave and his police pyschologist friend Dr. Hecht (Guy Prescott) are absolutely baffled. The one person who does have an idea about what's going on is Marcia. And she sets out to prove it. Her plan? Go back to the hypnosis show, get called up on stage, pretend to be hypnotized, and then follow the same path that she believes all those other women must have taken, with the difference being that they really were under hypnosis, and unaware of what they were doing. The only problem with this plan is that, once in Desmond's dressing room, she sees the "hypnotic eye" that Desmond uses as part of his act, and does get put under hypnosis, putting her in severe danger. At least she had the smarts to tell Dave of her plan beforehand.

The plot is ludicrous, and there are even more outrageous parts to the story that I haven't mentioned yet. The actual hypnosis scenes are hilarious, from the first one involving a bunch of men in suits, to one at the end that looks like the sort of scene William Castle would insert into a film to try to get the audience involved. After the backstage hypnosis, Desmond takes Marcia out for a night on the town, which involves going to a beatnik club, since the movie was made during the beatnik craze that lasted for about a year either side of 1960. It's another scene that was presumably added in the thought that it would bring in more people wanting to see a famous beatnik performer, but a half century on just looks silly. And then there's the climax; the less I give away about that the better. The movie closes with a dour, Reefer Madness-style warning from Dr. Hecht about the danger of hypnotism that, after 75 minutes of previous schlock, only comes across as more hilarious. The Hypnotic Eye should be terrible on so many levels, but it's one of those movies that goes so badly wrong that it's a hoot.

The Hypnotic Eye has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, which owns the rights to the Allied Artists movies. For some reason, however, this MOD release hasn't shown up at Amazon yet, even though many other Warner Archive selections can be purchased through Amazon.

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