For a brief period in the mid-1950s,
America survived Bridey Murphy mania. When a Colorado
housewife was hypnotically regressed to her past life
as the afore-named 18th-century Irish farm lass, the
nation was suddenly hooked on reincarnation. To no one's
surprise, movie makers were quick to capitalize on the
public's short-lived hypno-fever. But psycho-probing
of the subconscious was by no means confined to the
films of the fifties:
Honorable mention: The Cabinet of
Dr. Caligari (1919)
German director Robert Wiene helped to revolutionize
horror with his surreal manipulation of filmmaking's
rudiments. The film's depiction of obsession, its expressionistic
sets, and Conrad Veidt's sleepwalking mime from hell
changed the way the world looked at scary movies.
10. The Alligator People (1959)
Beverly Garland is a newlywed nurse at her
wit's end. It seems her scaly, alligator groom has vanished
into the bayou and she's blocked the entire horrific
experience from memory. Dr. Douglas Kennedy induces
a trance in an effort to unravel the mystery which,
he determines, is better left forgotten.
9. Bewitched (1945)
Radio dramatist-turned filmmaker Arch Oboler
made a pass at hypno-horror with this strangely subdued
story of schizophrenia. Phyllis Thaxter is a homespun
girl with an aggressive, man-eating alter-ego (voiced
by Audrey Totter). Edmund Gwen is the kindly doc who
prescribes exorcising Thaxter's villainous half.
8. The Search For Bridey Murphy (1956)
This "fact"-based film kicked off
the reincarnation frenzy of the fifties. Teresa Wright
is the well-adjusted homemaker who relives her past
in 18th-century Ireland via Louis Hayward's hypnotic
rummaging. The sober, straightforward film plays like
a documentary with Hayward, on occasion, addressing
the audience directly.
7. Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)
This one makes the list by virtue of its
recently restored opening prologue wherein the great
hypnotist, Dr. Franchel, explains the ramifications
of "Hypno-Vista." Anyone particularly susceptible
is asked to leave the theater for the ensuing 13 minutes.
Hopefully they returned for the feature, which had absolutely
nothing to do with hypnotism.
6. The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958)
I'm not entirely sure why I like this film.
Perhaps the rustic, western-ranch setting, its crudely
atmospheric 16th-century sequences and some near-hysterical
performances from its earnest cast won me over. The
hypnotic element is well-exploited with the titular
disembodied noggin commanding the local yokels to carry
out his dirty work.
5. Spellbound (1945)
Hitchcock's classic psycho-drama is hardly
a B movie, but its resounding influence on the genre
cannot be ignored. Beautiful shrink Ingrid Bergman helps
a distraught Gregory Peck to relive the accidental death
of his brother, complete with dream sequences designed
by Salvador Dali and a knockout Miklos Rozsa score.
This one scared the daylights out of me as a child.
4. Curse of the Demon (1958)
One of the most oppressively effective horror
films of the fifties utilizes hypnotism as a pivotal
plot point. Rand Hobart, an ignorant, hayseed Satanist,
has been struck dumb by the unthinkable horrors he's
witnessed. Via Dana Andrews' plumbing of his subconscious,
he emerges screaming from his trance-like state -- one
of the great shock moments in cinema.
3. The Hypnotic Eye (1959)
Shamelessly exploitative and callously sadistic,
this classic gimmick shocker is also a heck of a lot
of fun. All of smarmy Jacques Bergerac's hypnotic subjects
(including pretty Merry Anders) eventually turn up horribly
disfigured at the behest of his sinister, scarred partner,
Allison Hayes. When originally shown in theaters, the
house lights were actually turned on when the time came
for Bergerac to demonstrate the wonders of "Hypno-Vision."
2. The Undead (1957)
Roger Corman claims that, by the time he
managed to deliver this film to theaters, the Bridey
Murphy craze upon which he hoped to capitalize had already
passed. Pamela Duncan, as streetwalker Diana Love, is
the regressee. Trance-ported back to the middle ages,
she encounters Satan himself, not to mention Billy Barty,
Bruno Ve Sota and flamboyantly buxom Allison Hayes.
1. Svengali (1930)
The main attraction is John Barrymore's stark-raving
scenery chewing in the title role. Lovely Marian Marsh
is Trilby, Svengali's tragically entranced protege.
Stunning art direction and atmospheric miniatures help
make this one of the very best of the early talkies,
its clumsy comedic elements notwithstanding.