Director – George Blair, Screenplay – Gitta Woodfield & William Read Woodfield, Producer – Charles B. Bloch, Photography (b&w) – Archie Dalziell, Music – Marlin Skiles, Special Effects – Milt Olsen, Makeup – Emile Lavigne. Production Company – Bloch-Woodfield/Allied Artists
Joe Patridge (Detective-Sergeant Dave Kennedy), Jacques Bergerac (Desmond), Marcia Henderson (Marcia Blaine), Allison Hayes (Justine), Merry Anders (Dodie Wilson), Guy Prescott (Dr Philip Hecht)
LAPD detective Dave Kennedy investigates an incident in which a woman has set her hair on fire over her gas oven. This is the eleventh such incident in which beautiful women have inexplicably mutilated themselves, thinking they were doing something everyday. Dave’s girlfriend Marcia Blaine drags him along to see the stage hypnotist Desmond. Her friend Dodie volunteers as part of Desmond’s act and is levitated, although Dave is sceptical that Desmond’s powers are real. That night, Dodie becomes the twelfth victim as she splashes sulphuric acid on her face. Marcia becomes certain that Desmond is involved and returns to see him. Afterwards, she starts behaving strangely and is compelled to go out on a date with Desmond. As becomes apparent, the one behind the mutilations is Desmond’s assistant Justine who now appears to be targeting Marcia as her next victim.
The Hypnotic Eye is a fascinating, if largely forgotten, effort from the 1960s. It was made right after the notorious Herman Cohen production Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and one suspects that the producers were attempting to tap into the same lurid sensationalism. It features the same attention-grabbing – and undeniably effective – shock despatches of women. In the opening scene, one woman gets up in the middle of the night and puts shampoo (?) on her head and then in closeup detail tries to dry her hair over the flame of a gas oven, setting her face on fire. (The subsequent police investigation of the scene holds what today reads as an unintended howler as Joe Patridge comments: “One of them [the other victims] stuck her face into the blade of an electric fan. Said she thought it was a vibrator”). There is also another shock disfigurement that occurs later in the film where a hypnotised Merry Anders goes home and tries to wash her face with a bottle of sulphuric acid.
The most captivating and fascinating aspect of the film is the hypnotist played by Jacques Bergerac. Bergerac was a French actor who had played a small number of roles both in France and the US but was most famous at the time the film was made for having married Ginger Rogers. Bergerac plays the part with an accent and vocal intonation that has been closely modelled on Bela Lugosi (and is clearly intended to represent the same threat of the charming but sinister European seducer that Lugosi embodied). Bergerac has an intensely captivating presence whenever we see him on stage – something that is undeniably aided by the artful employment of shadow underlighting. What kind of takes you back after seeing other real-life stage hypnotists is how much of his act seems based around domineering and shouting orders at his subjects. The scene where he hypnotises Merry Anders and then appears to levitate her is particularly riveting.
The film becomes even more fascinating after the point where Jacques Bergerac hypnotises Marcia Henderson and then takes her out on a date and starts making out with her. After she goes back to her apartment, Bergerac’s assistant Allison Hayes abruptly enters and tries to command the still hypnotised Henderson to step into a scalding shower, only to be interrupted when Joe Patridge comes to the door whereupon Hayes commands Henderson to make up a story about her being a school roommate. The exact nature of the scheme that Hayes and Bergerac are engaged in is never made clear [PLOT SPOILERS] – it is revealed that Hayes is disfigured and is taking revenge against other women that she sees as beautiful. So why is Bergerac hypnotising the women for her? Is it a jealousy motive where she is disfiguring the women he seduces after having placed them under the influence? If so, why does he go along with allowing his dates to be attacked and mutilated? His exact complicity in her revenge doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The film ends with a scene where Jacques Bergerac hypnotises his entire audience and then in an amusing fourth-wall breaking gag turns to the camera to tell people that this sort of thing should not be conducted by unlicensed non-professionals.
The film features Allison Hayes who developed a minor cult as an actress in a number of B horror films during this period with the likes of The Disembodied (1957), The Undead (1957), The Unearthly (1957), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and in particular as the title role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). This may well have been one of Hayes’s best roles where she is given maximum opportunity to look calculating and malicious. As essentially the lead, Joe Patridge only manages to come across as intolerant. You can’t have a lot of respect for the hero in a film where it is made obvious from the very title the reason why the women are mutilating themselves – and if not that then the sinister effect surrounding Jacques Bergerac whenever we meet him – but it takes him more than three-quarters of the story to get past ridiculing the efficacy of hypnotism and make a connection about what is going on. Not to mention that he seems so oblivious that he is not in the slightest concerned when after going to visit Bergerac’s hypnotist, his girlfriend suddenly announces that she is going on a date with Bergerac.
Director George Blair had made numerous B thrillers and Westerns during the 1940s. His other genre entries include:- the ghost comedy The Ghost Goes Wild (1947); the jungle adventures Daughter of the Jungle (1949) and Perils of the Jungle (1953); the fantasy adventure Sabu and the Magic Ring (1957); and the Bowery Boys Old Dark House film Spook Chasers (1957). Blair also directed numerous episodes of tv’s Adventures of Superman (1952-8) and is credited as director on all of the five theatrical films that were repackaged from these.