Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960, Val Guest)
Continuing my journey through some of Hammer Films' lesser known monochrome thrillers, next up on the list was the 1960 psychodrama Stop Me Before I Kill!, a.k.a. The Full Treatment, directed by Val Guest after his Hammer adaptations of Nigel Kneale BBC scripts The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Quatermass II (1956), and The Abominable Snowman (1957), as well as wartime drama Yesterday's Enemy (1959) and shortly to helm the SF drama The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Guest co-scripted alongside Ronald Scott Thorn, adapting Thorn's novel "The Full Treatment" into what was to be Hammer's longest film to that date, running a full two hours - though the film would be hacked down to 93 minutes by its US distributors Columbia Pictures.
The film opens in media res with a scene of the aftermath of a car crash on a motorway, revealed by Guest in a tracking shot that takes us from crashed car (replete with jazzy score playing on the car radio, continuing Guest's established verite style) to askew oil tanker with it's painted advertisement announcing that "Alan Colby Uses" Castrol Motor Oil, the irony of which is soon revealed as we discover that race car driver Colby (Ronald Lewis, shortly to star in the following year in Hammer's Scream of Fear [a.k.a.: A Taste of Fear] and William Castle's Mr Sardonicus), 'the demon of the track', is one of the pile-up's passengers, along with his brand new bride Denise (Diane Cilento, of Tom Jones , The Agony and the Ecstasy  and The Wicker Man ).
The unlucky newlyweds finally embark upon their halted honeymoon almost a year later, but their romantic sojourn in the south of France (the location for many of these Hammer psychodramas) proves to be a difficult one due to Alan's post-concussion traumatic stress manifesting itself as unbridled aggression and the compulsion to strangle the bride during moments of intimacy and heightened emotion. And we're not talking in a sexy auto-erotic sense, here, alas.
"I daren't make love with my wife - i want to but i daren't touch her!", confesses the 'demon of the track' now in thrall to his own demons, "I daren't sleep with her, because... sometimes when i hold her i feel a sort of emotional compulsion...". Alan finds himself delivering this confiteor of his carnal constriction contemplations to Dr David Prade (Claude Dauphin, The Phantom of the Rue Morgue , The Quiet American , Barbarella ), a benign-seeming fellow holidaymaker who is also a psychiatrist. Doctor David may well have motivations of his own for volunteering to help Alan in a professional capacity, however, as signaled by Guest in a neat superimposition shot of the not-so-good doctor watching the lovely Denise swimming in the ocean, reflected in his voyeur-vision binoculars. All of this, and his distracting resemblance to John Sessions, make this trick cyclist a profoundly suspect character.
The twistings and turnings of the plot, as Prade manipulates the increasingly frantic and desperate Colby into being convinced he has committed a murder that he doesn't remember, are accentuated by Val Guest's assured directorial flourishes: a very nifty pull-back from a London establishing shot into the interior hallway of the couple's flat; a wonderful trick shot mixing between a tracking crane shot on location (panning up from a Harley Street road sign) up to a window, and in to the interior studio-shot scene of Prade's office in a very neat and almost imperceptible edit.
The scene of Prade's 'psychoanalysis' of Colby features P. O. V. perspective shots and wild edits and pans that give us a real sense of Colby's jitteriness and edginess, twitching and flicking, scanning around the room, and use of a series of extreme closeups to ratchet up the tension as one man imposes his will on the other in order to mentally destroy him.
A very watchable suspenser of psycho-sexual strangulation that draws the viewer in and sweeps along to its dramatic conclusion