I can’t imagine I’d meet much resistance if I were to state that horror cinema pre-dating the 1990’s is more enjoyable than anything representing the genre today. Sure, I love to give all new horror films, independent or otherwise, a fair chance, but I will always return to the films of yesteryear to have the most enjoyable and frightening time. Thus explaining my recent viewing of Riccardo Freda aka Robert Hampton’s 1964 production of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock.
After the accidental overdose and death of his beautiful wife, Margaret, Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) can no longer bear living in his home. After a leave of over 10 years, he returns to his estate with his new wife, Cynthia (Barbara Steele, Black Sunday, Piranha). Cynthia’s stay in her husband’s old home is anything but welcoming, however. She begins to see visions of apparitions, fearing that Bernard’s ex-wife has come back from the dead to haunt her.
A tale about perversion and the supernatural, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, is a rather unique film. Not unique in the sense of its style — it is very reminiscent of other gothic horrors of its time — but unique in its content. How could a film dealing with essentially necrophilia be released to the masses this early on in horror film history? It did receive some rather negative feedback in both Italy and the states upon its release, but seems to have stood the test of time, having perhaps reached cult status amongst diehard genre fans.
Dr. Hichcock, originally titled L’Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, features many similarities to a myriad of other European gothic films of the 60’s and early 70’s. A setting consisting of a brooding dark castle-like estate and a score made up of chilling piano and string pieces are its most powerful traits. Barely ever a lull at all in the powerful orchestral tones, the music managed to take on a character role all its own. In fact, if the score wasn’t present, this film would have been exponentially less enjoyable. That isn’t to say there weren’t other great aspects of Freda’s tale.
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock features a talented cast of English performers. Already familiar with Barbara Steele’s work in Black Sunday and The Pit and the Pendulum, I knew what to expect from the ever-lovely actress. It was my unfamiliarity with Robert Flemyng that impressed me the most. An actor with a seemingly long résumé, Flemyng had an illustrious career, spanning six decades… six! After watching his portrayal of the good doctor, it is easy to see why. He commanded attention every time he was on screen and did a wonderful job as our antagonist.
While the 80’s will forever be horror’s golden years, in my opinion, it is fun to revisit the films that preceded all of the great classics, especially Italian horrors that happen to pre-date the famous Giallo films. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is not my favorite piece from the 1960’s, but it certainly holds its own amidst the films that came out around that period.
You can pick this up for the first time ever on Blu-ray from the folks over at Olive Films. They’ve done a great job bringing The Horrible Dr. Hichcock back to life and delivering it to modern-day horror fans.
I give this one 3 black cats out of 5.