TV Cream

Films: W is for...


Here at TVC Towers we are absolute, industrial strength, bathmat-festooning suckers for hypnosis in films. Hence even this much-of-a-muchness intriguer with Jose ‘Think I’m wooden? You oughta see my nephew!’ Ferrer hypnotising shoplifter Gene Tierney to diabolical ends is all right by us, because it takes the much misunderstood pseudo-science and, well, misunderstands it some more, which is always great value as far as we’re concerned, as it puts fun before logic, thus winding up the joy-handicapped oafs who always jump up jabbering whenever science is misapplied in the cinema, as if the filmmakers didn’t realise that already, and anyone gave a toss anyway. There are, as you’ll have surmised after clocking the forbidding sea of unbroken type before you, one or two other films in this woolly sub-genre, and, er, here they are. Ahem. We’ll gloss over your silent Caligari-esque stuff, or we’ll be here all day, so thick were cinemas with stovepipe-hatted Kevin Eldon lookalikes back in the Mark Curry-endorsed day. Ditto the endless cartoons wherein the lead character acquires a ‘self-hypnosis kit’, spends ten seconds swinging watch in front of mirror, and flies out the window. Film serials, however, we can accomodate. Bela Lugosi, unsurprisingly considering his Paddington Bear-thrashing staring abilities, shone as Chandu the Magician (real name, disappointingly, Frank Chandler) in several cheapie serials, and in this country Valentine Dyall’s mysterious Dr Morelle hypnotised patients both on radio and in a pre-horror Hammer film version. Stage hypnotists are clearly up to no good. Lon Chaney Jr bypassed flooding WH Smith’s with rubbish ‘I Can Make You Thin’ books in The Frozen Ghost, getting tangled up in a sinister wax museum instead. More career-savvy was the titular Nazi-loving watch-swinger in Hanussen, who tired of convincing Berliner punters they were chickens and got into bed with the toothbrush-tached shortarse of history book fame for fun and profit. Then you’ve got your ostensibly more serious (but not really) post-Spellbound ‘messin’ with me noggin’ psycho-thrillers. The Three Faces of Eve saw a hypnotherapised Joanne Woodward exhibiting a trio of turnabout temperaments due to a traumatic incident of the sort later to be immortalised in verse by Craig Charles. Shock Treatment, a sort of rip-off of the well-known mental illness sensationalising Shock Corridor, saw a slumming Lauren Bacall, in crabby bitch-nurse mode, administer mental torture to undercover pretend-loon Stuart Whitman. When the hypnocrats weren’t revealing inner turmoil, they were getting it on with past lives. Anthony Hopkins creepily convinced Shoulders off of The Big Bus his daughter was the reincarnation of his own dead girl via hypnotic regression in Audrey Rose. More daffily, suavely cardiganned hypnotherapist Yves Montand coaxed various historic incarnations out of gawky student Babs Streisand in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, resulting in nowt more sinister than a slightly tiresome one-woman show. More light-hearted mesmerism came came the way of Christopher Reeve (self-inflicted, to try and cop off with Jane Seymour (happy 56th by the way, Dr Q!) in Somewhere in Time), and Frankie Howerd (administered by a pissed Stanley Holloway in Up the Front). Of course, any hypnotist worth their salt has to have a crack at using their ‘fluence to induce others to commit deeds most foul. Good old Lydia Marlowe ran rings around Sherlock Holmes in The Woman in Green to this very end, and it’s safe to say The Doyle probably kick-started this particular sub-format (unless Jules Verne or H Rider-Haggard got there before him, we’re a bit rusty on our Reform Club boys’ own literature while our personal stash is still being rebound at the cobbler’s). Ronald Culver abused his powers to get Patricia Roc’s fiancee framed for murder in Merton Park cheapie The Hypnotist, and Robert Redford captivated bank clerks to aid the impromptu transfer of funds in the indelibly smart The Hot Rock, while Charles Bronson set his murderous sights a little higher, ntrancing dozens of Russian agents to blow bits of the US to smithereens over the phone in Davina-daft Cold War potboiler Telefon. From there it’s a short step to full-on Parallax View-style brainwashing, which is another topic entirely, but at least Laurence Harvey was properly made to feel sleepy in, and indeed as, The Manchurian Candidate. And of course Telly Savalas tried to go all spirally-eyed to convince Anouska
Hempel, Joanna Lumley, Jenny Hanley and the rest to sterilise the planet in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But of course, horror’s where the real power of suggestion lies. It’d take too long to outline the various uses of the ‘fluence that litter such diverse efforts as The Devil Rides Out, Tomb of Ligeia, Tales of Terror, Captain Kronos, Theatre of Death (a veritable compendium of eerie cliches which also featured the classic ‘painting with real eyes peering out’ trope), The Keeper, The Blood Beast Terror, The Devonsville Terror, Curse of the Alpha Stone (no, us neither), Night of the Demon etc. etc. Special mention, however, must go to two examples from either end of the spectrum. The Trollenberg Terror, among its many, many other achievements, such as Warren Mitchell’s manic Germanic accent and a ‘fog over the mountains’ special effect achieved via the no-nonsense method of pinning some cotton wool to a photograph, goes for broke with the logically perfect hypnotic monster – a giant eyeball. Added chutzpah points awarded for the poster legend: ‘WARNING! If you’ve ever been hypnotised, do not come alone.’ This is well said. Far more classy, in every way, was Bryant ‘The Projected Man’ Haliday’s turn as The Great Vorelli in oft-overlooked chiller Devil Doll, combining hypnotism with ventriloquism for the perfect sinister showbiz twofer, in a Christohper Lee stylee. Copious nods to Dead of Night abound – the dummy walks about and is called Hugo – but there’s a grainy, jumpy, slightly lurid style that’s all the film’s own (it’s easily the classiest film made by wayward Bond-spoofer Lindsay Shonteff), and Vorelli is a proper bloody sadistic bastard in the melodramatic hypnosis scenes. It’s our tip for the top of the hypnofilm parade, certainly, but then again, we haven’t seen LSD/S&M romp Wanda the Sadistic Hypnotist, so perhaps our opinions don’t carry the weight they ought to. Still, we got through this billing without mentioning those Ray Dennis Steckler spirally ‘Hypnovision’ bits or Werner Herzog supposedly putting half the cast of Heart of Glass under on set.

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