Homicidal is a 1961 thriller film produced and directed by the self-proclaimed "King of Showmanship", William Castle. Written by Robb White, the film stars Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich, Alan Bunce, and the enigmatic Joan Marshall (billed as Jean Arless). It was released with a "fright break" that allowed patrons to receive a refund if they were too scared to stay for the climax of the film.
A mysterious attractive blonde (Arless), an elderly family nurse who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak (Leontovich), and a soon to be 21-year-old family heir all share an isolated brooding mansion where many unseemly events occur.
The King of Showmanship
After fifteen years directing a string of B movies
, and Monogram
, William Castle mortgaged his house and formed "William Castle Productions" in 1958. His first release Macabre
, was a modest thriller. To draw attention to the film, he offered every audience member a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London
against death by fright during the film. Castle promoted the film with TV commercials and previews that focused more on the life insurance policy than the film. The public bought it and the film was a financial if not critical success. William Castle added a gimmick to most of his films over the next ten years.
As with most of his films William Castle spoke directly to the audience in a prologue similar to those Alfred Hitchcock
used for his then popular TV show. William Castle told the audience:
- "The more adventureous among you may remember our previous excursions into the macabre - our visits to haunted hills - to tinglers and to ghosts. This time we have even a stranger tale to unfold... The story of a lovable group of people who just happen to be homicidal."
The Enigma of Jean Arless
This was the only film credit for enigmatic star Jean Arless. Many have assumed this was her only film. In truth Jean Arless was actually actress Joan Marshall. She appeared in television and films from 1958 through 1969 using her real name. She also played Lily Munster in the pilot for The Munsters but was replaced by Yvonne DeCarlo when the pilot was picked up because of her physical resemblance to The Addams Family star Carolyn Jones. Joan's last role was a cameo in the film Shampoo (1975), a film husband Hal Ashby based on experiences from Joan's own life. Joan also acted as Barbra Streisand's personal assistant for the 1976 film A Star is Born. She died in Jamaica in 1992. Her ashes were spread under her favorite tree.
For her male role in Homicidal, Castle had Marshall's hair cut like a man's and dyed brown, had her wear brown contact lenses and had prosthetic appliances made to alter the shape of her nose, mouth and hands.
The Fright Break
As an on screen timer ticked away the seconds, William Castle advised audience members they could leave the theatre and receive a full refund if they were too frightened to see the climax of the film. To receive the refund any "coward" had to follow a trail of yellow steps implanted in the aisles to the "Coward's Corner" set up in the lobby and remain there until the film was over and the exiting audience filed by. William Castle insured the more wily did not stay for a second showing and leave during its finale by giving each audience member a "Coward's Certificate" color coded for each performance. The "coward" had to turn the certificate in to receive the refund.
- Time magazine said "It surpasses Psycho in structure, suspense and sheer nervous drive" and placed it on its list of top 10 films of the year for 1962, an honor not bestowed on Psycho the previous year. For the most part the other critics were not so kind. Even today most critics dismiss the film as a cheap imitation of the Alfred Hitchcock style.
- Glenn Erickson from DVD Savant said it was "a perfectly wretched movie, bad enough to make Castle's other hits seem like flukes."
- The mini mall used as the location for Karl's drugstore and Miriam's flowershop still stands today at 1532 Mission Drive in Solvang, California. It remains relatively unchanged in the 45 years since the film was made.