The Hypnotic Eye: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of 1960

The Hypnotic EyeDavid Pirie in his excellent book A Heritage of Horror identified a new kind of horror film that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, namely the Sadian horror film, so-called because it was suggested that they would appeal to sadists only. The initial titles in this trend were HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS, and PEEPING TOM, but of course the tradition stretches back to the days of the Grand Guignol.

An early American contender for this new Sadian type of horror movie was the sleazy shocker THE HYPNOTIC EYE, which features one of the most memorable openings of any ’60s movie, right along side of Sam Fuller’s classic kick-off to THE NAKED KISS. The first shots of THE HYPNOTIC EYE depict a young woman lathering up her hair with shampoo. Instead of bending over the sink as one might expect, we see her bending over an open flame on her range – in a unique shot from the range’s point of view. Her hair catches fire (actually flames are superimposed over her hairdo) as her screams of agony dissolve into police sirens.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)Sick? Certainly, but a brilliant piece of shock cinema that grabs the audience’s attention immediately. THE HYPNOTIC EYE is the brainchild of William Read Woodfield, who initially had the idea of making a movie with nothing but white lines that would hypnotize an audience and plant the suggestion that they had experienced a great movie. He told the idea to his agent, Charles Bloch, who turned around the sold the concept to Allied Artists; only naturally Allied Artists wanted a real movie to go with it. Woodfield banged out a script he called THE SCREAMING SLEEP; George Blair, who had directed many episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was assigned to direct, shooting the film in 12 days on a budget of $365,000.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) bandageFollowing the fiery opening, Detective Steve Kennedy (Joe Partridge) tries to comfort the now bandaged woman, who seeks assurance that she won’t be transformed into a monster. An orderly shakes his head no when Kennedy glances at him, and after receiving false assurance to ease her mind, the woman passes away. Later, Kennedy discusses a recent spate of female mutilations with criminal psychologist Dr. Phillip Hecht (Guy Prescott). So far 11 women have been mutilated, including one who mistook the blades of a metal fan for a vibrator, a woman who mistook a razor for her lipstick, and one who drank lye when she thought she was drinking coffee. (Blair cuts from this dialogue directly to the image of the metal blades of a fan to give the dialogue an additional level of discomfort).

Kennedy heads out with his girl friend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders of TIME TRAVELERS) to see a stage hypnotist, the Great Desmond (Jacques Bergerac). Kennedy is a skeptic and insists that the hypnotist uses plants and stooges to achieve his results. When looking for volunteers, Desmond selects two women and then selects Dodie, after a nod from his assistant Justine (Allison Hayes of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN fame). Desmond makes Dodie stiff as a board, then light as a feather, and causes her to levitate using nothing but hypnotism (and stage magic). He also whispers something into her ear that is apparently a post-hypnotic suggestion.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)After the show, Dodie heads home and prepares to wash her face in her sink. Once more director Blair and cinematographer Archie Dalzell select an unusual angle through a glass sink as Dodie pours something into the water. Another angle shows us that she poured in sulfuric acid just before using her hands to splash her face. Suddenly registering pain, she pops up in THE HYPNOTIC EYE’s second major shock scene, and we see in her bathroom mirror that the acid has already eaten into her flesh.

Compared to later films in this cycle, such as Hershel Gordon Lewis’ THE WIZARD OF GORE and Joel Reed’s BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (aka THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW), THE HYPNOTIC EYE is relatively tame, but for its time it was quite a shocker. That the victims are all beautiful women has caused the film to be labeled misogynist by some. On the other hand, from this point, the plot deals mainly with Marcia’s correct assumption that Desmond has something to do with the mutilations, with Kennedy allowing Marcia to go back to Desmond and jeopardize her own safety in order to find the truth.

The Hypnotic Eye of the title proves to be a blinking device with the shape of an eye with concentric circles that flashes light at the spectator. Desmond conceals it in his palm to put his victims under his hypnotic control more quickly. Dr. Hecht twice gives warning that while hypnotism has medical benefits, in the wrong hands it can cause great harm. However, as regular viewers of Penn & Teller’s show BULLSHIT! know, hypnotism itself never works without the full participation of the so-called victim.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)Like the good journeyman director that he is, Blair keeps THE HYPNOTIC EYE moving at a good pace, and manages a few more effective shock and suspense scenes. In one, Kennedy canvases the surviving victims, asking them if they had attended a hypnotism show, heard of Desmond, or of Justine. All of them, including Dodie, say no. However, one of the women asks for a cigarette and a light, and when Kennedy digs in her purse for some matches, he sees a “hypnotic eye” balloon, and as he lights her cigarette, we see that the woman had gouged her own eyes out (her face having been kept dark until that moment).

Another good suspense scene has a hypnotized Marcia in her own apartment as Justine suggests she take a nice shower while turning up the water to its hottest setting. Just as Marcia is about the enter the shower and become scalded, a now-concerned Kennedy knocks at her door, causing Justine to hold off at the present and attempt to pass herself off as an old roommate of Marcia’s over for a visit. (Kennedy uncovers the lie as he knows Marcia never attended a private boarding school, though why he doesn’t recognize her as the magician’s assistant just seems to point up his obtuseness).

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)Unfortunately, THE HYPNOTIC EYE stumbles a bit in the third act, as we get treated to a ten minute segment in which Desmond attempts to hypnotize the entire audience (including the audience in the theater watching the film). This was ballyhooed by Allied Artists as Hypno-Magic (a variation of the Hypno-Vista gimmick that Emile Franchel used to open American engagements of HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM), and it stops the forward momentum dead as we watch members of the audience following Desmond’s directions – and as we supposedly become hypnotized ourselves.

At the climax, we finally get the motivation behind all these mutilations: when Desmond gets shot, Justine rips off her face mask to reveal a scarred visage beneath, before doing a double-gainer onto the stage below her. Fortunately, our plunky young heroine is plucked from peril by her paramour as we reach the happy ending, and Hecht reminds the audience not to allow anyone but a medical doctor or someone assigned by a medical doctor to hypnotize them, contravening the intentions of the sequence which occurred just shortly before.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)Unfortunately, the heavily French-accented Bergerac is more of a liability than an asset to THE HYPNOTIC EYE. As Woodfield told Tom Weaver on the Astounding B Monster website, “My idea of casting was a man named Pedro Armendariz; I thought he would have been wonderful as the hypnotist. Somebody got the idea of Jacques Bergerac, and Bergerac was available and Armendariz wasn’t, and Armendariz had language problems that were too much. But Armendariz to me had the look. No one has ever accused Bergerac of being a very good actor.”

Adding some interest to the picture is a sojourn to the beatnik coffee house where Lawrence Lipton recites a beat poem, “Confessions of a B Movie Addict,” with numerous references to classic horror films while musician Eric “Big Daddy” Nord beats time on the bongos. Additionally, Ferdinand DeMara, known as the Great Imposter for his practice of bluffing his way into occupations he had no business being in (such as ship’s doctor and lumberjack), was given a cameo as a doctor in a hospital, which according to Woodfield allowed them to promote the film with DeMara’s appearance on the JACK PAAR SHOW. (DeMara wrote a best seller about his exploits, which became a movie with Tony Curtis and was the basis of the TV series THE PRETENDER).

While overall rather low-rent and disreputable, THE HYPNOTIC EYE does provide some genuine shocks, and after seeing it on Seymour’s FRIGHT NIGHT TV show, I have never forgotten it. Even so, it is still not as sleazy as THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, and it does hold your interest throughout. This is one early ‘60 shocker that deserves to be better known and to finally see a release on video.

THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960). Directed by George Blair. Written by William Read Woodfield, Gitta Woodfield. Cast: Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Joe Patridge, Guy Prescott, Fred Demara, Jimmy Lydon, Lawrence Lipton.

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About the Author

Dennis Fischer

Author of Horror Film Directors and Science Fiction Film Directors (both from McFarland).

One Response to “ The Hypnotic Eye: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of 1960 ”

  1. Two things worth mentioning:

    1) Ferdinand Demara’s participation in the film was the result of Merry Anders’ friendship with Tony Curtis. Tony was filming “The Great Impostor” on a nearby stage, and Merry visited the set. Demara was on the set at the time, and when the producers learned of it, they decided to add him to the movie for publicity value.

    2) In order to attain the most realism in the hypnosis scenes, the producers hired one of the best stage hypnotists of the time, Gil Boyne. Not only did he teach Bergerac how to perform but he also hypnotized the actresses to go into trance on cue, so when Merry Anders goes into a trance on stage, she really is in a trance. Boyne also demonstrated backstage when he was there: I have pictures of him demonstrating with Allison Hayes from Boyne himself.

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