“The Hypnotic Eye” (1960) Part I

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053931/]

Beau­ti­ful women dis­fig­ure them­selves under the hyp­not­ic con­trol of a suave stage hyp­no­tist and his sin­is­ter assis­tant. Part I (here) con­sists of a descrip­tion of and the his­to­ry of the movie: sub­se­quent parts will include selec­tions of the pro­mo­tion­al mate­r­i­al and press images (from my exten­sive col­lec­tion) gen­er­at­ed to pro­mote the movie.

Descrip­tion: Detec­tive Dan Kennedy (Joe Par­tridge) is try­ing to fig­ure out why beau­ti­ful women are dis­fig­ur­ing them­selves with­out real­iz­ing why. He con­sults police psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Phillip Hetch (Guy Prescott) who is car­ry­ing on a dia­tribe against stage hyp­no­tists, espe­cial­ly the cur­rent tar­get of his wrath, the stage hyp­no­tist “the Great Desmond” (Jacques Berg­er­ac). Their jobs coin­cide when they and their friends Dodie (Mer­ry Anders) and Mar­cia (Mar­cia Hen­der­son) attend one of Desmond’s per­for­mances, after which Dodie dis­fig­ures her­self with acid. Dan and Phillip can’t explain the con­nec­tion, because they’re sure they saw Dodie get into a cab and return home alone after the show. (What they didn’t see was her leave the cab and walk back­stage after they left.)

The next night, under the watch­ful gaze of Dan and Phillip, Mar­cia attends anoth­er of Desmond’s per­for­mances, where she vol­un­teers to be brought up on stage to be hyp­no­tized; unbe­known to her, his assis­tant Jus­tine (Alli­son Hayes) picked her out specif­i­cal­ly from the throng of eager vol­un­teers. When they meet lat­er that evening, she tells Dan and Phillip that she had resist­ed being hyp­no­tized on stage. She also tells them that she was giv­en a post-hyp­not­ic sug­ges­tion to return to Desmond’s dress­ing room lat­er that night, much to their sur­prise and dis­gust, an appoint­ment she plans to keep.

Upon her arrival, Marcia’s curios­i­ty brings her to search through Desmond’s dress­ing table and even­tu­al­ly to open the box that holds the Hyp­not­ic Eye, a strobe light in the shape of a large eye­ball. The bright flick­er­ing light with­in the Eye imme­di­ate­ly cap­tures her atten­tion, and Desmond hyp­no­tizes her from off cam­era, this time for real. Desmond takes advan­tage of Marcia’s com­pli­ant hyp­no­tized state to escort her on an extend­ed date, fol­lowed duti­ful­ly by Dan and Phillip. That date fea­tured din­ner at a fan­cy restau­rant and lat­er drinks and danc­ing in a smoky night­club called the Gas House, a pop­u­lar “beat” night­club in Venice, Cal­i­for­nia. (The own­er, Eric “Big Dad­dy” Nord, played the bon­go drum­mer dur­ing this scene and the poet who recit­ed his works was Lawrence Lip­ton, some­times called “The Poet Lau­re­ate of the Beat­niks” and author of “The Holy Bar­bar­ians”, a well received his­to­ry of the Beat Generation.)

When Desmond returns Mar­cia to her apart­ment, they engage in a brief moment of sub­dued pas­sion, but Jus­tine inter­rupts them, hav­ing over­heard Mar­cia tell Desmond her address before they left the the­ater. Jus­tine rein­forces Marcia’s hyp­not­ic trance as Desmond departs, leav­ing Mar­cia under Justine’s hyp­not­ic con­trol. Jus­tine leads Mar­cia into the bath­room, where she plans to have Mar­cia scald her­self in steam­ing hot water, under the hyp­not­ic guise of it being a sooth­ing show­er. Only the for­tu­nate appear­ance of a wor­ried Dan pre­vents the tragedy, and Jus­tine slips out the win­dow and escapes.

Based on their new evi­dence, Dan and Phillip re-inter­view the dis­fig­ured women: they all denied attend­ing Desmond’s show, includ­ing Dodie, which is obvi­ous­ly false. Armed with this evi­dence, Dan and Phillip rush to Desmond’s per­for­mance, in part because Mar­cia is not answer­ing her phone. They real­ize that she has some­how suc­cumbed to Desmond’s hyp­not­ic pow­ers again and is in the audi­ence. Desmond begins to hyp­no­tize the audi­ence (and the movie audi­ence: this is the audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion part of the movie) through the use of a sug­ges­tion test involv­ing an inflat­ed bal­loon. When Dan bursts into the the­ater, Desmond tries to use the Hyp­not­ic Eye on him, but he shakes off the effect and attacks Desmond. At the same time, Jus­tine is threat­en­ing the entranced Mar­cia. Con­front­ed, Jus­tine rips off her mask, reveal­ing the scarred ugli­ness under­neath, the source of her jeal­ousy. Dur­ing the fight, both she and Desmond fall to their deaths, end­ing their reign of terror.

His­to­ry: The ini­tial con­cept for the movie, and much of the movie’s look, was the result of the screen­writer, William Read Wood­field. A mag­a­zine and celebri­ty pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Wood­field began writ­ing scripts in Hol­ly­wood for such ear­ly TV series as “Seahunt” and “Death Val­ley Days” while con­tin­u­ing to work as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. It was in the ear­ly pre-dawn hours while he was dri­ving back to Las Vegas from a pho­to shoot on the set of the movie “Spar­ta­cus” in the Neva­da desert that he encoun­tered the well‑known phe­nom­e­non of “high­way hyp­no­sis”. He thought he could use that imagery to cre­ate a movie that would hyp­no­tize the audi­ence into believ­ing they were see­ing the great­est movie ever, a feat of illu­sion and decep­tion well suit­ed to some­one who had been a child prodi­gy as a stage magician.

The movie, as he described it to his agent, Charles Bloch, would begin exact­ly as he had imag­ined it: a high­way, with the white line pass­ing before the audi­ence. A nar­ra­tor would put the audi­ence through a sim­ple sug­gestibil­i­ty test. Those in the audi­ence that didn’t respond were invit­ed to leave, then the movie would begin to hyp­no­tize the rest of the audi­ence, telling them that they were see­ing the best movie they had ever seen, and to tell their friends about it lat­er. Giv­en the inter­est about hyp­no­sis in the wake of the Bridey Mur­phy phe­nom­e­non a few years ear­li­er, it just might have worked.

But when he pitched the movie to Allied Artists, the pro­duc­ers were enthu­si­as­tic about the idea, but they actu­al­ly want­ed a movie. The idea was fine, but they want­ed some­thing with a plot. To get it, pro­duc­er Ben Schwab paid Wood­field approx­i­mate­ly $30,000 write a script based on the idea. Wood­field called the movie “The Scream­ing Sleep”, a slo­gan that would even­tu­al­ly appear on the adver­tis­ing material.

The idea of hyp­no­tiz­ing the audi­ence remained, although it have a William Cas­tle-like twist, framed as part of the sto­ry line (and used in the movie pro­mo­tions.) Each mem­ber of the audi­ence would be giv­en a bal­loon with the “hyp­not­ic eye” logo upon entry. In the cli­max, when Desmond instructs the audi­ence in the movie to blow up the bal­loon and use it as part of a sug­gestibil­i­ty test, the audi­ence in the the­ater was to do like­wise. Thus was born the “Hyp­no-Mag­ic” audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion routine.

To make the stage hyp­no­sis scenes more authen­tic, the pro­duc­ers hired famous stage hyp­no­tist Gil Boyne. Boyne not only trained Berg­er­ac on how to per­form as a stage hyp­no­tist, he even went so far as to work with the actors who would be part of Desmond’s stage and hyp­no­tize them into per­form­ing the sug­gest­ed stage hyp­no­sis scenes on film. Boyne also hyp­no­tized the actress­es to go into trance on cue and would stand behind the cam­era and trig­ger their trance on cue, so when Dodie or Mar­cia are sup­posed to be hyp­no­tized on film, most like­ly they are real­ly in a trance.

As a pub­lic­i­ty stunt, the pro­duc­ers also got the not­ed ser­i­al impos­tor Fer­di­nand Demara to make a cameo appear­ance as the masked doc­tor near the begin­ning of the movie. Mer­ry Anders was a per­son­al friend of actor Tony Cur­tis, who was play­ing the lead in a movie based on Demara’s career on a near­by sound­stage. Demara was also present dur­ing the film­ing, which result­ed in his being invit­ed to appear. Unfor­tu­nate­ly his real-life abil­i­ty for imper­son­ation did­n’t trans­late to on-film act­ing ability.

The movie was shot in approx­i­mate­ly 12 days and cost $365,000, includ­ing the pay­ment to Wood­field for the script. Includ­ed was an exter­nal (and extra­ne­ous, as even Wood­field now admits) scene shot at the Gas House, a pop­u­lar “beat” night­club in Venice, Cal­i­for­nia that was the loca­tion for Desmond and Marcia’s date.

Com­men­tary: In the stereo­typ­i­cal hyp­not­ic hor­ror movie, the ter­ror comes from either the loss of life or the loss of con­trol. But here, the ter­ror is from the loss of beau­ty. But is that loss sig­nif­i­cant­ly different?

In this movie, women muti­late their faces and bod­ies under hyp­no­sis. Just as their beau­ty (since only beau­ti­ful women were being tar­get­ed by Jus­tine) and there­for their phys­i­cal image was destroyed, so too was their self image and self worth, judg­ing from Dodie’s severe depres­sion and reluc­tance to being seen. This reac­tion is anoth­er way of demon­strat­ing a loss of iden­ti­ty, and that loss is the same as exem­pli­fied by the loss of con­trol, because the loss of con­trol results in a loss of self as pow­er­ful as dis­fig­ure­ment would bring. While this may seem sex­ist, men, too, can react in much the same man­ner, although, for them, it more like­ly would be the result of a loss of a limb than disfigurement.

It should be not­ed that the loss of beau­ty is derived from a loss of con­trol on the part of the vic­tims: their sur­ren­der­ing to the hyp­not­ic pow­er was what made them fol­low Justine’s sug­ges­tions that led to their disfigurement.

And the vic­tims are not the only ones suf­fer­ing from a loss of con­trol in this movie. Desmond demon­strates guilt over his com­plic­i­ty in Justine’s crimes, and he could stop her at any time by sim­ply not pro­vid­ing her with any more vic­tims, but he stops short when giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty with Mar­cia. Based on his on-stage rela­tion­ship with Jus­tine, he should be able to con­trol her actions, but, instead, he has no con­trol over her in his off-stage rela­tion­ship with her. Giv­en his atti­tude, it is pos­si­ble that he is coop­er­at­ing with Justine’s plot out of a sense of guilt, as though he were the cause of Justine’s dis­fig­ure­ment. That ques­tion is left unan­swered, an point that should have been addressed in the movie, because, with­out it, Justine’s actions lack any attempt at sym­pa­thy and are sim­ply seen as resent­ful jeal­ousy: lack­ing that ratio­nale, Jus­tine seems as out of con­trol as Desmond, verg­ing on the psychotic.

[amtap amazon:asin=B0047DKLBO]

Rec­om­men­da­tion: As a lost trea­sure only now legit­i­mate­ly avail­able on DVD, it is worth seek­ing out if only for the Gil Boyne con­nec­tion and influ­ence, but its hype and his­to­ry also rec­om­mend it to any­one with a seri­ous inter­est in hyp­no­sis and the way it gets rep­re­sent­ed in the movies.

Ref­er­ences:

  • The Astound­ing B Mon­ster: “Hype, Hor­ror and Hyp­no­Mag­ic”, Issue 11.
  • The Astound­ing B Mon­ster: “Ode to a 50 Foot Woman”, Issue 10.
  • The Astound­ing B Mon­ster: “10 Names Ever B Lover Should Know”. Issue 16.
  • The Astound­ing B Mon­ster: “What Makes a Gim­mick Film Clas­sic?”, Hor­ror Issue.
  • Guil­lo­ry, Crys­tal: “Not Entranced by the Hyp­not­ic Eye”, Hor­ror Wood Webzine
  • Hef­fer­man, Kevin: Ghouls, Gim­micks and Gold: Hor­ror Films and the Amer­i­can Movie Busi­ness, 1953 1968, Chap­ter 3: “Look Into the Hyp­not­ic Eye!”
  • John­son, Floyd: “Con­trol­ling Desmond: The Hyp­not­ic Eye and Oth­er Pow­er Strug­gles”, Deliri­ous: The Fan­ta­sy Film Mag­a­zine, Num­ber 4, pp15-22.
  • Read­er Review: “The Hyp­not­ic Eye”, “It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie”
  • Weaver, Tom: “Inter­view: Hyp­not­ic Eye Lead­ing Lady, Mer­ry Anders”, ?, ?, pp 20–21
  • Weaver, Tom: “Stare Into the Hyp­not­ic Eye”, Famous Mon­sters, Issue 195, pp 67–70, 82.
  • Wood­field, William Reed: “The Hyp­not­ic Eye” (final shoot­ing script)

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