Brilliant London medico Dr Hitchcock has a naughty little secret. He likes to drug his beautiful young wife and then have his wicked way with her, even though she’s perfectly willing without pharmaceutical assistance. Unfortunately, he goes too far and she dies. 12 years later, he returns with a new bride; a rich heiress with a history of emotional problems…
Darkly gothic horror that makes up for what it lacks in original plotting by looking like a million dollars. Director Riccardo Freda and his cinematographer Masciocchi Raffaele turn every frame into a rich, gorgeous composition of deep reds and blacks that reminded me of far more well-known pictures such as Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975). Freda was the director who had walked off ’l Vampiri’ (1957) and left it to completed by his Director of Photography, Mario Bava. As Bava later became a highly regarded director in his own right, particularly noted for his visuals, there’s a tendency to credit Bava with the sumptuous look of ‘I Vampiri’ (1957), but this film suggests that credit may be a little misplaced.
Unfortunately, plot and script don’t match the technical aspects of the production. It’s not that there isn’t potential in the story, there is, especially considering the subtlety of the first hour. There’s a quietly chilling sequence where the Doctor makes a late night visit to the morgue, where the implication is enough without displaying the action. Robert Flemyng is also fine in the title role, presenting the inner conflict of the character with initial restraint, before he begins to unravel completely.
There’s also excellent support from the ever reliable Barbara Steele, making more out of her standard ‘damsel in distress’ role than most performers would have been capable. lt’s just a shame that the film’s third act collapses into predictable melodrama and the clichéd finish is all too familiar. Plot threads are tied up without a convincing sense of logic or consistency and, although this does not undo all the good that has come before, it’s still quite a disappointment.
Freda made a lot of films in his career, mostly sword and sandal epics and also some giallo thrillers in the 1970s, re-teaming with Steele for well-regarded horror/thriller ‘The Ghost’ (1963). Flemyng was a decorated war hero and a familiar presence as authority figures in big budget films such as ‘The Quiller Memorandum’ (1966) and ‘The Medusa Touch’ (1978). He also took more prominent roles in smaller movies like ‘The Body Stealers’ (1969) and the Cushing Vs. Moth quickie ‘The Blood Beast Terror’ (1967). Steele appeared in several similar European films of varying quality, before moving into the mainstream, but it’s still the gothic horrors which she is generally associated with today.
The wonderful visuals and thick, brooding atmosphere of this film still remain to be enjoyed, and it’s a rich pleasure. However, with a better storyline and script this could have been a classic.