The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is an Italian horror film from director Riccardo Freda (here going under the pseudonym Robert Hampton), written by Ernesto Gastaldi (er, Julyan Perry – you see the pattern), and starring Robert Flemyng as the titular doctor and Barbara Steele as his wife Cynthia. Freda’s film was released in 1962, and it has all of the trappings of classic Gothic horror: dark and stormy nights; a windy mansion where our main character is often tucked away alone; a ghastly woman traipsing around the premises; and the candelabras that add so much mood to the already dreary setting. But the reference to Alfred Hitchcock isn’t just in the horrible doctor’s name alone; The Horrible Dr. Hichcock basically takes much of its plot from Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Rebecca, adding a few sprinkles of necrophilia and proposed vampirism here and there to pulp up this Italian shocker.
Succinctly, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is a story of tragedy at the hands of a doctor who seems to have uncontrollable fetishistic urges. Dr. Hichcock is a prominent surgeon, and when the film opens, Freda paints the picture of an opulent, happy lifestyle; he’s got a gorgeous wife named Margherita (Maria Teresa Vianello), a successful career, and an enormous house. What’s missing? Well, nothing really; it’s just that Dr. Hichcock’s sexual tendencies are a bit peculiar, in that he uses his anesthetic to put Margherita into a deep sleep while he ravages her basically lifeless body. It’s all fun and games – indeed, Margherita seems to enjoy it in a Stockholm syndrome sort of way – until he accidentally injects her with too much anesthesia and she dies. What’s a man to do but retire away for a decade and then suddenly return to his home with new bride Cynthia?
Freda’s film is also known as L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock, or The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock, and that’s an even more appropriate title considering how many storytelling gaps are present in the film. The history of Freda’s film tells of necessary cuts to the script, removing exposition scenes due to production issues, and one can certainly see the large amount of editing that’s been done to the film’s plot. Gastaldi’s script is nuanced throughout the opening scenes of the film, carefully painting a picture of Dr. Hichcock as an unannounced necrophiliac who simply can’t get enough of the female body in a state of helplessness. That necrophilia is, at least as far as the viewer can tell, mostly harmless; for whatever reason, Margherita is fine with this kink, a motivation the viewer is never privy to because she quickly dies.
But Gastaldi’s script soon has an interesting quandary for its viewers – it’s significantly lacking in character motivation, allowing no room for development or growth, and yet it also highlights some of the film’s most interesting questions. One can assume that due to the script cuts, a lot of Hichcock’s necrophiliac tendencies and progressions into madness are left out of the final cut; but Freda still conjures up a moody tale of a rather erratic, unpredictable doctor who, throughout his return to his home, begins to slip further and further into his unacceptable behaviors.
With Freda giving precious little insight into Hichcock as a person, the viewer is put in the same position as Cynthia. Freda centers on Cynthia as she begins to experience the strange goings-on at Hichcock’s mansion, and the viewer is given little information, adding an off-kilter feel to what could have been a straight recreation of Rebecca. Similarly, the ghostly haunts plaguing Cynthia at the house – footsteps to her door turning the knob, a white-veiled woman with the same boots as dead Margherita – are unexplored in a way that leaves them eerily vague. It’s as though Cynthia has stumbled into a literal house of horrors, complete with ghouls and a killer husband. Freda weaves these two ideas together disjointedly; it’s never clear Hichcock’s involvement with the reanimated Margherita, though a scene does depict him running out to the courtyard to look for her when he hears her ghostly piano music.
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is sloppy, then, but also shockingly effective at times. The necrophilia and sexual deviance pushes the boundary for 1962 cinema, and Freda and Gastaldi navigate these tumultuous themes well. The film certainly creates a lingering unease, too, as Cynthia continues to hear and see things during the night. The questions the film raises are never answered, and characters are fairly flat despite the possibility for more depth, but this also adds a surreal tone to Freda’s direction. (At one point, there’s even a hint that Cynthia is using Hichcock, rather than actually interested in him or his work; when conversing with Hichcock’s peer Kurt (Silvano Tranquilli) about medicine, she waves off her knowledge and attraction to the subject. It’s not really brought up again, but The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has themes of adultery as well that come up more and more as Kurt becomes Cynthia’s hero.) Here is a film that suffered through mandatory cuts and nearly came out the better for it, emphasizing the mystery inherent in sexual fetishism and depicting Dr. Hichcock as a victim in the thralls of his baser human urges while also exploring a Gothic story about vampirism and feminine captivity.
There are no special features on this release, so I’ll just relay information about the Blu-Ray version of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock Olive Films is releasing. Olive Films generally does not do any sort of restoration on their Blu-Ray films, and that’s clearly evident on The Horrible Dr. Hichcock – lots of crushed blacks, a lack of texture definition, and cloudiness do mar the film quality, but in general this is the best edition of the film to own right now until a proper restoration has been completed.
Likewise, the audio also has some significant issues, the most prominent being a heavy static fuzz on the track toward the beginning of the film. Either it fades out later or I just became used to it, but either way, it’s noticeable early on. There is also some warbling that affects the score most of all. However, since this isn’t a restored version of the film, this Blu-Ray from Olive Films is great for those who have been looking to own this film in HD.