William Castle was famously described himself as a consumate showman, and it doesn't take much detective work to work out what inspired this 1961 shock opus. Much like what happened in the wake of HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) - not to mention SCREAM (1996) - PSYCHO (1960) inspired a whole avalanche of imitators and knock-offs, with Castle's HOMICIDAL being just one.
Intriguingly, HOMICIDAL starts with a pretty, yet odd, young woman (Joan Marshall) booking into a hotel. Going by the name of Miriam she surprises the bell boy by offering him $2,000 to marry her the next night. Puzzled, but bowled over by the cash bonus, he goes with her to the local justice of the peace, who agrees to marry them out-of-hours for a cash bonus. However, when he goes to kiss the bride she pulls a surgical knife from her handbag and repeatedly stabs him in the stomach! She makes a getaway whilst her new husband and the dying man's wife stare on with their mouths agape.
The woman returns to her home - a large isolated mansion - and then takes up her other hobby: tormenting the dumb and wheelchair bound housekeeper, Helga (Eugenie Leontovich). It turns out that her real name is actually Emily, and she is also sharing the house with her new husband, Warren, who has just returned from Denmark and is due to inherit $10 million on his 21st birthday. The real Miriam (Patricia Breslin) is actually Warren's half-sister, who regularly comes to visit the dysfunctional household.
Miriam is perplexed to be questioned by the police about the murder, and her boyfriend, Karl (Glenn Corbett), puts the pieces together and the finger points at Emily. But will he warn Warren and Miriam in time before she turns HOMICIDAL again?
Spoilers: Again, taking the lead from PSYCHO, Castle takes Norman Bates' transvestism one step further. Emily and Warren are, in fact, one and the same. Born a girl, Emily was passed off as Warren by her mother as a ruse to collect the inheritance that would only go to the first born boy - or the eldest girl (in this case Miriam). This, and greed, drove her to deception and murder. Marshall puts in a striking performance; an ethereal ugly-beautifulness. Although, despite dubbing Warren with a man's voice, you do have to wonder how many people were fooled by the climactic reveal. End spoilers.
PSYCHO was a modern horror film, in-so-much that it didn't rely on a financial motive for the killings (like so many creaky old thrillers had done previously), rather the psychosis was much more organic and frightening. HOMICIDAL does, which makes it seems more curiously old-fashioned. What isn't so old-fashioned is the graphic violence, specifically the prolonged and brutal knife attack on the justice of the peace. A nod to slasher movies to come. Nothing else quite matches it in the film, although the decapitation of one character fore-shadows HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE and Castle's own, and more entertaining, shock opus STRAIT-JACKET (the Joan Crawford with an axe movie!) (both 1964).
Needless to say, the film has a somewhat campy feel to it now. No more so than when Emily goes on the rampage in the wedding shop, snapping the head off a nearby statue of a groom. However, at least the film does achieve one unexpected chill, when Emily describes to Helga how the justice of the peace suffered with surprising ferocity.
Typical of the showman that Castle was, the film came complete with a couple of gimmicks. The first was a 'fright break' a 45 second timer ahead of the film's climax as the 'final girl' approaches the house where the killer lurks. If movie-going patrons couldn't stand the suspense, then Castle had fashioned a 'coward's corner' in the lobby!
Whilst certainly entertaining, HOMICIDAL is, despite the gimmicks, more restrained than some of Castle's more celebrated movies.
female:2 / male:1
1) Male stabbed repeatedly in the stomach
2) Female decapitated
3) Female shot