Saturday, May 14, 1973: Homicidal (1961) / Mothra (1961)

HomicidalSynopsis: A pretty blonde woman (Jean Arless) checks into a hotel. As she is settling into her room, she tells bellhop Jim Nesbitt  (Richard Rust) that she will pay him a thousand dollars if he agrees to marry her at a justice of the peace that very night — a marriage that will be immediately annulled. Jim is taken aback by the offer, but nevertheless agrees.

Following her instructions, he meets her at midnight and they drive to the office of Alfred Adrims (James Westerfield), the justice of the peace. Adrims is grouchy at being awakened in the dead of night to perform a marriage, but the woman agrees to pay the high price he demands.

The woman lists her name on the marriage certificate as Miriam Webster. Adrims finishes the ceremony, but the woman pulls out a knife and stabs him repeatedly. As Adrims’ wife screams hysterically, the woman calmly walks out.

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The woman then goes to an opulent house in Los Angeles, and we learn her name is Emily, caretaker for the elderly and wheelchair-bound Helga (Eugenie Leontovich) who lives there. Helga cannot speak or make herself understood, but she does seem vaguely frightened that Emily will do her harm.

Helga, we learn, was the longtime caretaker to the two children who grew up in the house: Warren and his sister — whose name is Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin). Warren has been abroad for a number of years but is returning in order to claim his inheritance. Miriam returns to the house as well, as she hasn’t seen Warren in many years.

Reunited at the house, Warren tells Miriam that he is still angry at the whippings that he and Miriam received as children from Helga, who was acting on instructions from their cruel father, who died some years before. He mentions that it’s only two days until he turns 21 and comes into his inheritance, and he mentions that if he dies before the two days is up, Miriam will inherit the entire estate.

Later, Miriam’s boyfriend Karl (Glenn Corbett) fills a prescription Emily has for a deadly poison, and Miriam herself is approached by the police in connection with the murder of the justice of the peace. Jim Nesbitt says that this woman is not the Miriam Webster who committed the murder. But a police sketch that appears in the newspaper convinces Miriam and Karl that Emily may well be the murderer.

That night, Miriam awakens to find Emily standing in her room; Emily then leaves and goes into Warren’s bedroom. The next day Emily reveals that she and Warren have been secretly married, meaning that she will share in the family inheritance….

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Comments: The second William Castle film to be screened on Horror Incorporated, Homicidal is every bit as lurid and over-the-top as The Tingler, though perhaps in a different way. While The Tingler’s absurdities focused around the concept of a centipede-like creature that grows in your spinal column when you’re scared, Homicidal’s nuttiness is grounded in reality — or some loopy version thereof. You might say that Homicidal does for human psychology what The Tingler did for forensic pathology.

Somehow, the fact that Homicidal is a blatant knock-off of Psycho adds to its appeal. It’s not a movie that you are going to take seriously on any level, so you might as well relax and just go with it.

Like all of Castle’s films, this one is shot through with plot holes and improbable motivations. And the structure of the film is exceedingly odd. But Castle at least knew how to hold the attention of his audience. Emily gives an odd come-on to the hotel bellhop, who clearly figures the woman is a nut. But her money is attractive, and despite his evident disappointment at her pointed statement that the marriage will be “immediately annulled” (meaning, immediately after the ceremony) he goes with her to to the justice of the peace. The stabbing — which happens in the first 10 minutes of the film — comes completely by surprise, and keeps the audience interested through the rest of a rather mundane first act, which gets rather weighed down with exposition.

 

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Like Psycho, the film is a pretty standard murder mystery until the last reel, when there’s a shocking plot twist that upends the whole narrative. The twist in Homicidal is somewhat riskier than Psycho’s, because one character has been masquerading as another for the entire length of the film. I think Castle pulls the trick off about as well as he could have. But of course, this being a Castle film, he had to have another gimmick, one that he could promote on the movie posters.

He’d already insured the audience against “Death by Fright” (Macabre), buzzed their seats with surplus airplane de-icing motors (The Tingler); offered a “ghost viewer” that would allow patrons to see on-screen phantoms (13 Ghosts) and run a skeleton over the audiences’ heads (The House on Haunted Hill). The gimmick in Homicidal was a “fright break” — a 45-second freeze frame in the last ten minutes that allowed audience members too terrified to watch the conclusion of the movie to exit the theater. Patrons could then get their money back: after spending the rest of the show’s running time in the “Cowards Corner”, set up in the lobby, the price of admission would be “sneerfully refunded”. They’d also get a yellow certificate handed to them declaring them a “Certified Coward”.

Homicidal isn’t Castle’s best picture, but it’s entertaining in a very silly, over-the-top way. It’s not clear if the “Fright Break” was included in 16mm TV prints of the movie. For what it’s worth, I expect that it was — there was no compelling reason to remove it. Overall, this would make for a fun, slightly ridiculous entry for a late-night double feature.

 

Mothra

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Synopsis: A typhoon rages off the coast of Japan, and a maritime monitoring station notes that one ship, the Genjin Maru, has inadvertently wandered close to the center of the storm. When the crew finds the nearest island on the charts, they realize it is Biru Island, which had previously been used as a test site for nuclear weapons by the powerful nation of Rolisica and is considered deadly. However, with the ship foundering, the captain has no choice but to tell the crew to abandon ship.

After the storm has passed helicopters scour the area, looking for survivors. Four men are picked up on a beach at Biru Island.

After the men are retrieved, they are kept in an isolated ward in the hospital complex. The four men appear to be in perfect health, though they should all be dead. Newspaper reporter Fukada (Furanki Sakai) — known as “the Bulldog” (“Snapping Turtle” in the subtitled version) because of his tenacity — asks the men why they aren’t feeling any ill effects, and one of them says it must have been the juice they drank while there — juice given to them by the natives on the island.

This causes enormous consternation, because the island is not only supposed to be completely uninhabited, but uninhabitable as well. An expedition to the island is organized. Camera-shy scientist Dr. Chujo Nazako is set to accompany the expedition, and Fukada and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagana) visit him in his home, and despite his icy demeanor, Fukada manages to befriend him by rescuing a pet rat lost by one of his kids.

No reporters are allowed on the expedition, but Fukada stows away on the ship and by the time he’s discovered it’s too late. The trip is financed by the oily Rolisican emissary Nelson (Jerry Ito), who would just as soon throw Fukada overboard, but the scientists on board — even though they have little sway over Nelson — lobby for Fukada to be allowed to join the shore party and chronicle the events that unfold.

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The island proves to be very dangerous place, with perils up to and including carnivorous plants, but the most astonishing discovery is two very tiny women who speak in unison. Seeing the potential of exploiting them, Nelson returns to Japan with the two girls and places them in (what else) a popular nightclub act. The girls are lowered to the stage in a tiny golden carriage, where they sing sad songs that repeatedly use the word “Mosura”

Fukada, Michi, Chujo and his mouse-owning son get in to see the girls, who are being held captive by Nelson in his nightclub. The girls are not too worried about themselves, but they do express some concern for their friends. Their protector is a giant caterpillar called “Mosura” with whom they are telepathically linked; and it’s only a matter of time before it will arrive in Tokyo and tear it apart until the girls are returned….

 

 

Comments: Mothra represented  a new twist on the giant monster genre when it premiered in 1961: unlike Gojira (1954) and Rodan (1956), it wasn’t an extinct creature thrust into the 20th century, eager to mete out destruction. Rather, Mothra’s only aim is retrieving the twin fairies who have been stolen from Biru Island and thus restoring the balance to a world that had been distorted by human machinations — not the least of which is the nuclear tests which have poisoned the environment. Thus all the destruction that occurs in the film is the fault of the greedy Nelson, who embodies all the worst traits of “Rolisica” — a country that, while fictional, was clearly modeled on the United States.

Japan is depicted as under the thumb of the powerful but immoral Rolisica, but always manages to retain the high ground. Throughout the film the Japanese are presented as unfailingly wise and reasonable, free of the ruinous devotion to profit that has tainted Nelson and his fellow gangsters (in the end they are revealed as no more than gangsters) who destroyed Biru island with atomic tests and who seek to exploit the fairies. This is the first overtly political entry of Toho’s kaiju movies (and the last until 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: All-Out Giant Monster Attack, in which giant monsters are depicted as a curse brought on by Japan’s sins against her neighbors in World War II) and the first to depict the monster as a hero, defending the good guys instead of just destroying cities.

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Speaking of good guys, we have a pretty winning cast at work in Mothra, with the beefy Furanki Masai standing out as the “Snapping Turtle” reporter who won’t let go of a story. Chujo is played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who would appear in a number of kaijus and who gets some funny moments as the scientist afraid of having his picture taken (“the sound of the shutter clicking is to me like the sound of the guillotine”) he says uncomfortably. Kyoko Kagana’s Michi is one of a long line of female sidekicks to the hero that inhabit this sort of film — not quite a romantic interest, more like a kid sister tagging along with the hero. She doesn’t get many good lines here, but she makes them count, particularly her rejoinder to Chujo’s guillotine line. She holds up her cigarette lighter / camera and tells him, “Unlike the guillotine, you can’t always tell when you’re picture’s been taken.”

Yumi and Emi Ito were popular twin singers of the time who were billed as “The Peanuts” and who were splendidly cast here as the twin fairies. They weren’t really called upon to do much in the way of acting, but they were able to say their lines precisely in unison, which isn’t as easy as it looks. The two would return for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).

 

One comment

  1. It’s been so long since I first saw HOMICIDAL that I don’t recall if the climactic twist was a surprise or not, but the fact that the character is obviously dubbed is definitely a tip off. The most shocking trivia item for me was learning that Mrs. Pat Modell, wife of Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, was the former actress Patricia Breslin, who stars here as Miriam and later did Castle’s I SAW WHAT YOU DID. MOTHRA was that rare kaiju that totally eluded me as a kid, recently airing on Turner Classic Movies in its original Japanese language version.

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