|Robert Flemyng sets the mood in Riccardo Freda's THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK.|
THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK was the US release title only, given to a film released in the UK in its uncut English-dubbed export version, THE TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK. The US version, which shared a set-in-cement double bill with Jess Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, was cut down to 76m 48s from its original 88m length. I was only being slightly glib with my opening line because, years before François Truffaut's extraordinary interview book presented its ground-breaking analyses of Alfred Hitchcock's visual tropes and techniques, Italian director Riccardo Freda (under his Anglocentric pseudonym of "Robert Hampton") used this opportunity to gather some of his own favorites together and play with them toward new ends.
To illustrate a few examples... There is a funeral scene that pays homage to the assassination scene in Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940):
There is a poisoned glass of milk that recalls one in SUSPICION (1941):
There is a scene in which a young woman discovers a skull secreted in her bed, à la UNDER CAPRICORN (1949):
And, most significantly, HICHCOCK also contains allusions to VERTIGO (1958):
Note also in that sequence the presence of incandescent red lighting, which at this time was the signature expression of Freda's former cinematographer Mario Bava. When I interviewed Freda many years ago for my Bava book, he confirmed for me that his collaborations with Bava continued past the point when published filmographies claimed they stopped. There was a reason for the secrecy surrounding such involvements, namely that Bava was, by this point, a director in his own right and it would have proven detrimental to that career to be seen accepting side-jobs on the projects of other directors. A director didn't "shine other people's shoes." Actor Brett Halsey also confirmed for me that he first met Bava on the set of another 1962 Freda film, THE SEVENTH SWORD (La sette spade del vendicatore), where he was shooting an atmospheric scene in a torture chamber with lots of incandescent red lighting - which is what caused me to ask Brett about the scene in the first place. Mind you, if Bava did have a hand in filming this sequence, it doesn't mean that he worked with Barbara Steele a second time; Flemyng's half of the scene, the half affected, was obviously shot separately. I didn't specifically ask Freda about Bava's possible involvement on THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK because the state of available video copies at that time gave no hint that such was likely. However, seeing this scene with its scarlet hues now red to bursting, I am tempted to revise my thinking... but not only for this. There is also the matter of a certain transitional shot that, now that I've finally seen it in high definition, made my suspicions that much more certain.
The first shot you see in the following sequence is the actual exterior of the villa where the film was shot. The following grabs are exteriors of the villa shown with an illuminated upstairs window, and also during storms - which, while utterly convincing on an old VHS tape, are exposed in high definition as trick shots involving a painting of the exterior with foregrounded foliage (including a potted plant!), tree trunks seemingly fashioned from black rubber tubing, and foregrounded rain from a watering can with a flickering light for lightning! Everything that went into this trick shot was consistent with techniques Bava brought to his own films, making HICHCOCK now highly suspect as a film that employed Bava as an independent unit. This trick shot is the kind of thing he could have created at home or on a weekend.
Something else about THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK that I never quite realized until this latest viewing: When Ernesto Gastaldi was hired by this film's producer Luciano Martino to write his script, it was always part of his mandate to emulate the latest British and American models of gothic horror. Certainly there is something in this film, which tells the story of Hichcock's return - with a new wife in tow - to his brooding villa a dozen years after his first wife's death, only to find it haunted by her spectre, which alludes to the Poe films of Roger Corman as well as the works of Alfred Hitchcock. But what I have never really noticed before about HICHCOCK is that it contains all the pieces that Robert Towne needed to write Roger Corman's THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965).
To wit: Both films are about necrophilia and second marriages, with an older man haunted by his first dead wife marrying a much younger woman and subjecting her to her predecessor's memory - as in Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940).
Both films find the master of the house enabled in his strange fetishes by the compliance of an aging domestic, who has a dark devotion of their own to the past lady of the house - and the young wife witness to strange things that persuade her that her predecessor may not be dead after all.
Hichcock's late wife also has a familiar, a black cat named Jezebel, who - as in LIGEIA - puts in an appearance atop her mistress's coffin.
Near the climax of both films, a character is depicted with a bloody shoulder.
And both films end in hellish conflagrations, with the young wife freed from the past and delivered into the arms of a man who truly appreciates her for who she is.
Naturally, it's disappointing that the film can only be shown in this country in the truncated form of a 50+ year-old theatrical release, and that it has been released in a no-frills package without commentary or context. But this is one you'll want to have anyway; it's one of the most important Italian gothics of the 1960s, and it's exciting to finally have this important variant (now the property of Paramount Pictures!) available in such a lovely presentation.
It streets next week, on September 13.
(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved by the author.