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The Hypnotic Eye

     "Ladies and gentlemen ... a word of warning. Hypnosis, although an important and valuable medical tool, can be extremely dangerous when used by untrained or unscrupulous practitioners. Therefore never allow yourselves to be hypnotized by anyone who is not a medical doctor ... Not even in a motion picture theater. Thank You. "

-- Dr. Hecht, Playboy Profiler Extraordinaire  




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The Hypnotic Eye

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Beginning innocently enough with a young woman lathering up her hair with shampoo, our feature quickly dumps that pretense and barrels right toward the gruesome, when we realize the woman isn't in the tub, or a shower, but in the kitchen. So, you ask, What's so gruesome about that? She must be using the sink, right? But then why does she turn her gas stove on? More importantly, Why is she sticking her head into the open burner?

As her screams dissolve into police sirens, we cut to several patrol cars roaring across the screen. Here, we reflexively squirm, wary at these familiar cop cars, and worry that this might be another Ed Wood movie ... but the credits follow and he's nowhere in sight. *whew* We come back and find the victim wrapped in bandages, the paramedics strapping her to a gurney. As the police try to break up a large crowd of gawkers, Detective Steve Kennedy (Joe Patridge) arrives at this disturbingly familiar scene. Seems there's been a rash of these self-inflicted mutilation cases plaguing this particular city. All of the victims were beautiful young women, with the latest bringing the total to eleven. The first stuck her face into an electric fan. Another thought a razor blade was an eyeliner brush. While yet another drank a cocktail of lye thinking it was a gin and tonic. 

One also had some trouble with a "vibrator" -- and even though the film later reveals that this was some ersatz "neck massager" I'm still not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole. I wouldn't dare. Back to the review...

Making matters even worse, each victim has no recollection as to how or why they hurt themselves. And since these scenarios are too bizarre to be ruled as accidents, foul play is suspected but none of the few clues there are really add up to anything. Kennedy tries to talk to the burn victim, but she, too, remembers nothing, and then succumbs to her wounds -- only the third victim to actually die, while the rest are disfigured for life. 

Returning to headquarters, Kennedy wants to consult with Dr. Phillip Hecht (Guy Prescott), the resident criminal psychologist, but it will have to wait until morning because the detective already has a pressing date with his girl, Marcia Blaine (Marcia Henderson), to see Desmond the Great, a famed stage hypnotist. Hecht bristles at this and rants that people like Desmond are fakers and phonies that prostitute the science of hypnosis. Kennedy agrees; to him, it's all a load of crap. But Hecht quickly sets him straight. Hypnosis is very useful tool in his line of work, he says, but, in the wrong hands, it can also cause great harm. Why yes, kids, that's what we like to call 'round these parts ominous foreshadowing...

The origin of The Hypnotic Eye begins with William Read Woodfield. A celebrity photographer and amateur magician, Woodfield also dabbled in screenwriting and had scripted a couple of episodes of Sea Hunt before he hit upon a -- at least to him, brilliant idea for a movie. Brilliantly cheap, that is, as Woodfield's genius attack was for a film that consisted of nothing more than a few spiraling patterns and a voiceover that planted a hypnotic suggestion into the audience that they'd just seen the greatest movie ever. Pitching this idea to his agent, Charles Bloch, who in turn pitched it to Ben Schwalb at Allied Artist, who liked the hypnosis angle but wanted a real movie to go around it, the project was soon to be given the green-light.

Collaborating with his wife, Gitta, Woodfield took Schwalb's mandated changes and hammered out a script titled The Screaming Sleep. When that was approved, the project was assigned to director George Blair, whose biggest claim to fame up until then had been his stellar work on the old Adventures of Superman TV show, especially those earlier, noirish black and white episodes. And with an allotted budget of $365000 and a twelve day shooting schedule, their end results are about a 60/40 split between the delightfully macabre and annoyingly dull filler with a slight detour into sheer stupidity along the way.

Considering the year it was released (1960), those end result on the positive side were also alarming graphic with the rash of mutilations that move Woodfield's plot along. And taking a page from the ultimate cinema huckster, William Castle, producer Bloch tried to amp things up even further by cashing in on the gimmick and audience participation phase of the late 1950's and early '60s. Shot in Hypno-Magic, the film's promotional materials warned that all who saw The Hypnotic Eye would become part of an enthralled army of zombies -- so continue to read this review at your own risk as we pick up the action with the dour, and still scoffing, Kennedy sitting alongside Marcia and her best friend, Dodie Wilson (Merry Anders), at the local theater.

On stage, the Great Desmond (Jacques Bergerac -- and yes, he's very, very, very French...) moves down a row of enthralled volunteers and runs them through some hypnotic-hoops. (Now make them cluck like a chicken!) How these entranced participants can decipher his thick accent and obey his commands is beyond me, but Marcia and Dodie are enchanted by the act and soon grow frustrated with Kennedy's belligerent skepticism. For the show's grand finale, Desmond calls for three more, female volunteers from the audience. Here, we can't help but notice that he seeks the approval of his assistant, Justine (Allison Hayes), before selecting each victim -- whoops, I mean volunteer. Picking two other women first, Desmond, with Justine's ominous nod, then picks Dodie last over Marcia. As the volunteers make their way onto the stage, Desmond promises the remainder of the audience a spectacular finish because -- before [our] very eyes -- someone will defy gravity tonight ... Putting the hypno-whammy on Dodie by basically bellowing commands at her -- that magically have reverb, and must be repeated at least five times before it works -- Desmond soon convinces the girl that she's as light as feather and stiff as a board. (Now make her cluck like a chicken!) With that, Desmond orders the other volunteers to pick her up. One takes her feet, the other her shoulders, and soon enough, Dodie is prone and parallel to the floor in between them with an astonishingly minimal effort. Then, Desmond commands them to let go -- and when they do, Dodie magically stays afloat in the air. Astounded, the audience roars in applause, except for Kennedy, who claims it's only an old magician's trick. Back on stage, as he gets his volunteer back on her feet, Desmond casually whispers something in the girl's ear, snaps his fingers, and Dodie wakes up none the wiser.

The show over, the trio regroups outside the theater, where Marcia grills Dodie about what happened and how. But all her friend can do is plead ignorance, as she can't remember a thing after getting on stage. When they decide to go for coffee, Dodie, suddenly entranced with a huge theatrical poster of Desmond, quickly backs out and takes a cab home instead ... Later, at her apartment, Dodie runs a sink full of water. We would assume she's just washing up -- until she adds something to the water. And when she puts the container down, the label reads sulfuric acid! Cupping a handful of the corrosive liquid, Dodie proceeds to splash it all over her face before plunging her whole noggin into the sink. When her nerve receptors finally kick in, the girl reflexively pulls herself out and knocks the bottle over. And as the acidic fumes fill the bathroom, the latest victim of this madness manages to catch a glimpse of her horribly burned face in the mirror before passing out.

The next day, when Marcia and Kennedy try to visit Dodie at the hospital, she won't see them until her doctor (Fred DeMara) shuts all the lights off so they can't see her face. And as Marcia tries to comfort her in the dim light, Kennedy, who, being a dimwit, probably feels right at home in the dark, asks the patient some important questions -- like where did that bottle of acid come from? Dodie recalls how she got home, and prepared for bed by washing her face, but, beyond that, remembers nothing else until she woke up at the hospital. As Dodie grows more distraught over her fate, Kennedy promises that he'll find out whoever did this to her ... After the couple leave the hospital, Kennedy mulls over the case. Dodie's story is sadly similar with all the other victims: they were all alone; they all mutilated themselves; and they all don't/can't remember as to how or why. Since Dodie was with them all evening, Marcia quickly tics off the events of the previous night to see if anything rings suspicious. When the only thing that happened to her and not to them was being hypnotized, Marcia immediately brands Desmond guilty by circumstantial association. Still thinking the hypnotist is nothing but a huckster and a charlatan, Kennedy scoffs at this deduction. Seems our hero is so obtuse that he still thinks Dodie was in on the levitation trick; and besides, What could possibly be Desmond's motive? Marcia has no answer, but still thinks Desmond is involved somehow and is determined to prove it. When they reach the car, Kennedy's radio is buzzing. It's Hecht, who wants to meet and discuss the case. Offered a ride home first, Marcia tells her blockhead beau to drop her off at the theater instead. Kennedy, being the dope that he is, humors his little amateur detective and obliges. But, unable to acknowledge the remote possibility that she may be right, and ignoring the fact that his girlfriend might get herself horribly disfigured -- or even killed, he at least promises to pick her up after the show's over. Our hero. *sigh*

Marcia sits through Desmond's entire program again, bound and determined to be selected for the finale. Luckily, Justine gives her silent approval and Marcia heads for the stage. Asked if she's ever been hypnotized before, Marcia answers no, and then gets bellowed at, loudly, while Desmond, with a quick, slight-of-hand movement, exposes a ping-pong ball with a pulsing strobe-light attached to it that's been secreted in his palm (-- and be wary those of you prone to epileptic fits with that thing). This is the dreaded Hypnotic Eye. Exposed, Marcia closes her eyes, tightly, resisting it and him with all her spunky might ... After the show, Marcia meets up with Kennedy and Hecht. Apparently, she was able to resist Desmond and tells the others about the pulsating ping-pong ball. She also has a date with Desmond later, who clandestinely whispered to meet him behind the theater at midnight. (Just like Dodie? Hmmnnn...) Hecht doesn't think she should go, thinking Desmond might have planted a post-hypnotic suggestion on Marcia and could take advantage of her. Kennedy, meanwhile, still being a dope, thinks she should meet up with him, and then they can tail them and find out if Desmond does, indeed, have anything to do with their investigation.

Man this guy sure likes to put his girlfriend in harm's way. Freud with have a field day with this dolt.

So, at midnight, and at her boyfriend's urging, Marcia heads down the dark alley to the back of the theater, and we can actually see the black cat waiting for his cue to spring into action. *BOING!* After surviving the cat, the overtly ominous soundtrack, and navigating the longest flam-dam alley in existence, Marcia enters Desmond's dressing room through the back entrance. Announcing herself to the empty room, he says he'll be right out (-- of the bathroom). In true Nancy Drew form, our amateur sleuth quickly searches the room and opens up a small case on top of his dresser. Inside, the flashing ping-pong ball strobes away and Marcia quickly succumbs to it's power. Now mesmerized, Desmond appears behind her and instructs that even though her eyes will be open, Marcia will be asleep and will only do what he commands. (Now make her cluck like a chicken!) He then offers to take her out to dinner. (That fiend!) But as they leave the theater, we spy Justine watching them from the shadows -- and she ain't very happy.

After dinner, Desmond takes Marcia club hopping, with Kennedy and Hecht never very far behind them. The seemingly happy couple wind up at a beatnik bar, where we're treated to a very lame poem by the King of the Beatniks entitled "Confessions of a B-movie Addict." It, like, could have been heavy, man. You dig? I dig, daddy-o. But this cat was so square, he was a Lego. Crazy, man. Crazy ... Okay, where were we? Oh, yes, the movie ... Anyways, after the poem mercifully ends, the house band cranks up a funky beat, allowing Desmond and Marcia to cut a pretty mean groove together. And as the enthralled Marcia does the Lambada, Kennedy's jealously perks up, only to boil over when Desmond whispers another command into his girl's ear that leads them back to her apartment. Once there, Kennedy wants to put a stop to it all, right now, but Hecht talks him into letting it play out. It isn't easy, though, as our lunkhead hero watches their shadows embrace on the window shade. Inside, Desmond and Marcia are indeed swapping spit until the door quietly opens and Justine walks in, who immediately calls Desmond off, saying there isn't much time. Taking total command, she orders him to leave but tells Marcia to stay put. (Does she have Desmond under hypnotic control? The movie never makes this very clear.) Before he leaves, Desmond asks Justine how many more will it take. Her reply, while taking Marcia's chin in her palm, is a cold "As long as there are pretty faces like these." Once he's gone, Marcia is told to get ready for bed; and while she starts to take her clothes off, Justine turns the hot water tap on in the shower. As the water grows hotter, judging by the steam, she waits until it's scalding before ordering Marcia to get in the "Cool, cool shower." But just as Marcia takes a few stupor'd steps toward the shower a knock at the door makes Justine stop her. 

Shutting the water off, Justine orders Marcia to stay put while she lets Kennedy in. Seems he saw Desmond leave and wanted to make sure Marcia was alright. Well ... actually, our hero threw a big old hissy fit and was ready leave her. Luckily, Hecht talked him into going inside to at least make sure Marcia was still breathing. Kennedy doesn't recognize Justine, or fall for her Jedi mind tricks, when she claims to be an old roommate of Marcia's in for a visit. Demanding to see Marcia, Justine says he'll have to wait a moment since she just got out of the shower. Moving quickly, the villainess implants the roommate story in Marcia's entranced brain, orders her to get rid of Kennedy, and fast, so they can finish that shower. Her enthralled puppet obeys and repeats the same cock-n-bull roommate ruse that still doesn't jive: Marcia never went to college, therefore she never had a roommate. Hearing all this in the bathroom, Justine makes her escape out the back window. Just missing her, Kennedy returns to Marcia, who suddenly snaps out of the trance, but, just like all the others, can't remember anything -- except that she and Desmond had a wonderful evening together.

The next day, Kennedy meets with Hecht at his swanky bachelor pad, where the psychologist is still in his robe and banging away at a piano (-- and close your robe, Hecht. We can see the squirrel -- if'n you know what I mean...). With his friend still upset with Marcia's strange behavior, Hecht can only laugh at him because the dope doesn't realize that Marcia was hypnotized the whole time and wasn't in control. Now convinced that Desmond and Justine are somehow behind the attacks, this not so dynamic duo decide to interview the other victims to see if they saw the hypnotist's show, too. But they can't interview the first victim -- the one who stuck her head into the fan, because she refuses to see them. And they have no luck confirming anything with any of the other victims, who still remember nothing, until they get to the one who thought the razor blade was her eyeliner. Told she never saw Desmond's show, either, before they leave, the women asks if they have any cigarettes. Kennedy gladly gives her what's left of his pack but has no matches. When she offers there are some in her purse, as he fishes them out, Kennedy finds something else in there and quickly sticks it in his pocket as he lights the cigarette, which finally illuminates her face and we see that her eyes have been completely gouged out!

Right after they leave, Kennedy shows Hecht what he found: the exact same balloon that Desmond hands out to the audience at his show. This  could prove the break they need, and they can cinch it by talking to Dodie. For if she denies ever seeing Desmond, they'll have proof of post-hypnotic suggestion shenanigans. And when they question her, sure enough, Dodie denies ever being hypnotized by Desmond. When asked if the name Justine means anything to her, Dodie says no. Listening in, the doctor then pulls them aside and reveals that when his patient was first brought in, she kept repeating the name Justine, over and over, and whoever that is, the girl seemed to be terrified of her. So they have the who, Kennedy muses, but not the why. When Hecht suggests that they get Desmond to answer that, they try to round up Marcia for the denouement but she's not at home. Fearing that she might be back under Desmond's spell, they head to the theater, where Desmond is currently in the middle of another performance. And Kennedy and Hecht can take as much time as they need because the film has decided to take a detour for a good ten minutes to allow Desmond to put the hypno-whammy on the audience -- along with the audience watching this movie, wanting them to participate and obey his every command. Does he turn them into a mass of homicidal zombies? Uhm, no ... He does the citrus lemon trick, the lead hands trick, the knee slapping trick, and then whips out the balloon. Speaking frankly, as I watch this on the tube, Desmond's spiel just isn't working on me. He then breaks out the pulsating Hypnotic Eye and dares us to look into it; but, I'm telling you, there's nothing to that blinking ping-pong ball and ... and ... cluck ... cluck... bwauckak!

Bwauck-bwauck-bwauck ... cluck ... cluck ... bwauck-bwauckak!

Bwauck-bwauck ... cluck ... cluck ... bwauck-bwauck-bwauckak!

Whoa ... eyegitty-eyegitty-eyegitty, what the? The hell?

Anyways, we spy Marcia in the audience, whom Desmond calls up for the grand finale again. Back in a trance, she clomps on stage just as Kennedy and Hecht burst through the auditorium doors. Turning the Hypnotic Eye on them, Desmond commands them to stop but it has no effect. Busted, Justine grabs Marcia and drags her up to the catwalks, high over the stage, and then watches as the two detectives quickly overpower Desmond and seize the Eye. Justine then screams at them to let Desmond go or else: the else being launching Marcia off the catwalk to her doom. Below, Kennedy draws his gun but is warned that if he shoots, she'll take Marcia with her when she falls. Leaving Desmond with Hecht, Kennedy changes tactics and starts up the ladder after them. Hecht, meanwhile, tries to reason with Justine, saying it's not worth dying for. Justine answers by raving that she has no life with a face like this, claws at her cheek, and tears off a latex mask, revealing a horribly scarred visage underneath. This, less than shocking revelation allows Desmond to break away. Seeing Hecht is in trouble, Kennedy blows Desmond away. Calling for her lover, Justine leaps off the catwalk, pulling Marcia along with her. Kennedy dives and just snatches Marcia by the hand. As Justine plummets to her death, Kennedy desperately hangs on to his girl. The shock of the near fatal fall snaps Marcia out of her stupor, and after a few harrowing moments, Kennedy manages to haul her up to safety.

Now that the bad guys are dead and the heroine is safe, Hecht turns to the audience and brings us all a word of warning about hypnotism: it can be a wonderful tool, he intones, unless it's used for dubious purposes by unscrupulous people. And we must be wary to maintain our safety because they can catch us anywhere, and at anytime. Even during a motion picture. He then gives the audience a wink and nudge and we fade to black.

Wait! Isn't anybody gonna cluck like a chicken?! 

Whaddaya mean I already did?

The End

So. Does the much ballyhooed Hypno-Magic actually work as advertised? No. Not at all. In fact, it kinda derails the movie, which is too bad because aside from that hypno-interlude of stupidity this really is one crackerjack of a movie. Perhaps that's being a little too harsh. I guess I really don't object to the segment where Desmond speaks directly to the movie audience and puts the old hypno-whammy on us. I just object to where it was placed in the film. It should have been inserted a lot earlier, like when Marcia returns to the theater for the second time, right before Desmond gets his hooks into her. Where they actually do have it, right after Kennedy and Hecht get the break they need and rush to the theater to rescue Marcia, really torpedoes the film's rocketing momentum, leaving the audience with nothing but a ten-minute padding penalty before the climax, so we can all flap our arms around for awhile.

The vital balloon was also part of Bloch's theatrical promotion, given out so moviegoers could mimic what Desmond had his audience doing. But I'm purty sure most of those balloons were either popped, launched, or used as impromptu whoopee-cushions / flatulence-simulators long before the film asked you to use them properly.

Behind the camera, director Blair's TV blocking roots shows but he, aside from that one misstep, keeps it interesting as things barrel right along. Heck, turn Marcia into Lois Lane, Kennedy into Jimmy Olson and Hecht into Clark Kent, and then have Superman fly in and save the day in the end, and The Hypnotic Eye is basically just one long episode of that old show. And for the record, that was a compliment. As I mentioned before, one of the film's major plusses is the unflinching eye that shows us the end results of all these terrible accidents -- that scene with the victim who gouged her own eyes out still makes me squirm. 

LIFE magazine (May, 1960).

The grue F/X for her, Dodie and Justine were provided by Emile LaVigne, who used cotton balls, torn pieces of paper and a highly flammable adhesive for the desired scarring-effect. Gil Boyne, meanwhile, was an actual practicing hypnotist and served as the film's technical advisor. And in that capacity he helped train Bergerac, and, for the theater scenes, Boyne actually put people under and gave them post-hypnotic suggestions for the film. Usually standing just off camera, he worked his stuff behind Bergerac to add to the film's authenticity.

Lurking at the bottom of the cast is a fellow by the name of Fred Demara, The Great Imposter himself. Apparently, Demara spent his whole life pretending to be someone he wasn't even remotely qualified to be. He even wrote a book about his exploits as a ship's doctor, a lumberjack and several other occupations that he had no real business being in. The book was eventually turned into a film with Tony Curtis and was the basis for the TV series, The Pretender. Lawrence Lipton might not have been the King of the Beatniks but he actually was one, and wrote the Beat bible The Holy Barbarians. The guy on the bongos, Eric "Big Daddy" Nord, was also big in the counter-culture scene, and it was his club, The Gas House, that was featured in the film. Nord would later hook up with Ken Kesey and melted into the Haight Ashbury scene. Meanwhile, at the top of the bill, this whole idea of using hypnotism to take advantage of people and causing them to do bodily harm to themselves is creepy enough -- and it could have even been terrifying, but Bergerac ultimately scuttles this. I can understand them wanting someone European for the part, to add an air of mystique to the character, but Bergerac lays it on so thick that it becomes laughable.

Allison Hayes, on the other hand, makes a fine screen villainess. But even here the film is a little coy with us and will cause some frustration: Was Justine in charge of the whole thing? The scene in Marcia's apartment almost suggests that she's got Desmond under some kind of spell, too. Does she? How did she become disfigured? Is Desmond somehow responsible, and must he now serve penance by helping woo these other women to their doom? Am I missing something? I could be. Caught as part of a triple feature with The Giant Behemoth and Confessions of an Opium Eater, this is another one of those films that I taped off of TNT's 100% Weird some twenty years ago, during the glory days when basic cable actually showed movies during the overnight instead of reruns and double-dipping with those same damned infomercials. So there is a chance something might have gotten edited out for the compressed time slot. Henderson is fine as the damsel in distress. She's just saddled to a couple of lug-nuts, one of them stripped and useless and covered in WD-40 (Prescott), the other wound up so tight that with only one more nudge it's liable to snap off completely (Patridge).

So, basically, we're back to the whole 60/40 thing, meaning The Hypnotic Eye is by no means a great film but there's still more than enough there to thoroughly entertain you, and it would make a fine addition to your film library -- if they'd ever give the damn thing a proper DVD release! It's got a great hook with the gruesome mutilations, and if you can get past Desmond's accent, his tendencies to ham it up, and the completely worthless hero, you'll have little or no problem looking straight into The Hypnotic Eye without flinching.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) Bloch/Woodfield Productions :: Allied Artists / EP: Ben Schwalb / P: Charles B. Bloch / D: George Blair / W: Gitta Woodfield, William Read Woodfield / C: Archie Dalzell / E: William Austin / M: Marilin Skiles / S: Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Joe Patridge, Guy Prescott

Originally Posted: 06/04/03 :: Rehashed: 09/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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