Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tell-Tale Heart, The (1960)

...aka: Hidden Room of 1000 Horrors
...aka: Horror Man, The
...aka: Panic

Directed by:
Ernest Morris

Hey, Bill Castle wasn't the only one using gimmicks in the 1960s. This one opens with the foreward "To those who are squeamish or react nervously to shock, we suggest that when you hear this sound..." The screen then fades to black and we hear a heartbeat. "...close your eyes and do not look at the screen again until it stops." And when the very first scene begins, what do we hear? A heartbeat, of course! Strangely, this little gimmick isn't even really used in the film during the more violent scenes that may actually effect squeamish people, but instead is a sound used (along with dripping water, a ticking clock and clammering metal) to illustrate the lead character's inner turmoil. Librarian Edgar Marsh (Laurence Payne) is suffering from nightmares. Sniffing a mysterious white powder (hmm... cocaine?) seems to help calm him down, but it doesn't help change the fact he's lonely, painfully shy, socially backward and sexually inept. After being turned off by an aggressive woman at a bar, he returns home to flip through nude postcards while slowly rocking in a chair. Hey, even though it's loosely based on Poe there's nothing wrong with throwing some D.H. Lawrence in here too, is there?

The very next day, he spots an attractive young woman exiting a carriage. Her name is Betty Clare (Adrienne Corri), she's just moved to town to work as a florist and is going to be living right across the road from Edgar. In fact, her window is adjacent from his so he has no problem peeping in as Betty brushes her hair and changes clothes. Edgar quickly becomes infatuated and wants to ask Betty out but doesn't know how to go about it, so he turns to his best friend Carl Loomis (Dermot Walsh) for advice. Carl and Edgar share a love for chess, but couldn't be any more different otherwise. Carl is debonair, outgoing, charming, popular with the ladies, a good dancer and a world traveler with varied interests.

Edgar finally works up the nerve to ask out Betty and the two go on a couple of awkward dates. But when Betty is introduced to Carl, she's instantly smitten, and so is he. One evening Edgar is watching Betty's window and sees her and Carl making love. In a rage, he lures Carl over, murders him with a fire poker and buries his body under floorboards in a room he keeps locked. From then on out, he begins to sink deeper into madness; haunted by the sound of Carl's still-beating heart...

A low-budget, low-key, set-bound psychological horror tale from Brigadier Film Associates; this was basically swept under the rug during its day and has since been pretty much forgotten. And that's not really much of a surprise since it was made the same year as the controversial PEEPING TOM and the extremely popular PSYCHO; both expertly made films with strong psycho-sexual content. Despite the fact this isn't as good as the two aforementioned films, it's still well worth watching. Payne gives a well-modulated performance as an awkward, reclusive man gradually becoming unglued. Walsh and the very expressive Corri are also good in their roles. The Victorian era production design is passable, though not particularly detailed.

The film deals almost exclusively with the three aforementioned characters, though small roles are played by Selma Vaz Diaz (maid), John Scott and John Martin (detectives who show up at the very end), Annette Carell (landlady) and David Lander (jeweler). The film may have been released as late as 1963 here in America.


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