Wednesday, January 22, 2003


This trashy but fun B-horror film scared the beejezus out of me when I was 10 or 11 and saw it on our local Chiller Theater. Its best part is the opening where we see a woman casually going about washing her hair in the sink, except instead of shampoo, she is applying some flammable gel, and instead of a sink, she sticks her face over a stove burner (the camera watches her from beneath the burner) and her hair catches fire--the effect is good for a few seconds, but we see it for too long and realize that the fire is superimposed on her head. It turns out that she is just the latest in a series of beautiful young women who have mutilated themselves and can't explain why. The only other disfiguring act we see is a woman who washes her face in sulferic acid, but we see the results of several others, including one woman who stuck her face in the whirling blades of an electric fan and another who swallowed lye. It takes quite a while for the slow cop and doctor to figure out what we figure out pretty quickly: they are all victims of a stage hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac) and his statuesque assistant (Allison Hayes), who are picking women from the audience and giving them post-hypnotic suggestions that lead them to their acts of self-mutilation. Bergerac (who was married for a few years to Ginger Rogers) is quite handsome and fairly good in the role, considering he has to ham it up quite a bit during his stage act. Hayes, the star of the original ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, is also good, if rather one-dimensional; mostly, all she has to do is stand around looking sexy and vaguely sinister (as it happens, she winds up being the mastermind behind the mutilations). For the most part, the movie is paced well until it stops dead in its tracks near the climax for an audience-participation hypnosis trick that seems inspired by the pranks of William Castle (THE TINGLER, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL). The climax itself then feels rushed. The movie's main problem, however, is that it can't top that great opening!

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