Horror Movie A Day: Quint on EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962) You dirty little double-crossing bitch!
Published at: Oct. 3, 2008, 9:19 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
It was bound to happen… I finally slipped on this column. Thanks to post-Fantastic Fest craziness I’m on a horrible sleep schedule that had me awake at 1am yesterday morning. I had a busy day so I figured I’d use that as an excuse to stay up and swing myself off of the horrible schedule a little.
Due to the VP debates and some side work I ended up not getting to today’s movie EXPERIMENT IN TERROR until nearly 2am this morning, meaning on my 25th hour of consciousness. I couldn’t make it. I got an hour in and just couldn’t stop myself from falling asleep.
So, I slept a good long while, woke up and watched the movie from beginning to end, but now I’m officially a day behind. I’m watching my next movie, which I haven’t pulled yet, as soon as I finish writing, editing, uploading and posting this one, so I will be all caught up.
Sorry about that… at least I waited until my 4 month anniversary to slip 15 hours... Happy 4 month Anniversary, AMAD! I promise not to be late to the Five Month Anniversary!
EXPERIMENT IN TERROR is a title I had never even heard of until I stumbled across the DVD while scouring Half-Price Books. I don’t know how many of you guys have been to a Half-Price Books (I think it’s a Texas thing, not nation-wide), but it’s a sort of used all-media place. Books, magazines, CDs, video tapes, DVDs, etc.
Most of their DVDs are used, but sometimes they have specials on new DVDs, usually the cheaper stuff put out by no-name labels or public domain titles, but sometimes they have some real deal things at super cheap prices. This was one of those titles, still in shrinkwrap. I think I paid something like $4 for it because of Lee Remick and Glenn Ford’s names on the cover and the fact that it was widescreen.
I’m really glad I grabbed this one when I could. For one, it’s a great little obscure movie and secondly it’s out of print now. If you want to buy this title used on Amazon you’re going to pay between $40 and $70. How crazy is that?
EXPERIMENT IN TERROR exists in a kind of middle ground between crime thriller and horror. There’s a lot of noir in this film, but I couldn’t classify it as such because Lee Remick (who most will remember as the mommy in THE OMEN) is about the furthest thing from femme fatale as you can get.
The movie opens with Remick driving through the streets of San Francisco, then through the suburbs, until she arrives home. She parks in her garage and is suddenly grabbed from behind by a wheezing man in black, features obscured by shadow. His voice is rough, coming in asthmatic bursts. He knows an awful lot about her, who her sister is, where she hangs out, where Remick herself works, who they both spend time with, etc. He says he will kill her and her sister if she doesn’t steal $100,000 from the bank she works in.
It’s a very shocking scene to kick off with. There is no safe getting-to-know-you buffer for the audience. The movie starts and immediately we get this 10 minute disturbingly intimate scene.
THE PINK PANTHER’s Blake Edwards directs and he chooses to present this scene in mostly one shot, focused on Remick’s terrified eyes, the man’s hand over her mouth as he whispers in her ear. We don’t get a good look at him, but he’s also not exactly completely hidden.
Edwards doesn’t make the point of the movie trying to figure out who this guy is. There is no big twist involving his character, but Edwards does want you to be afraid of him. The shadows are there for menace, not to conceal a surprise “Gotcha!” moment later in the movie.
When the man leaves Remick alone the very first thing she does is call the FBI. She gets ahold of Glenn Ford, FBI Agent Ripley, before the Man pops up behind her and cuts off their conversation. He tells her that’s her one mistake and if she makes one more he’ll kill her and her 16 year old sister.
From here on out it’s a paranoid thriller as Remick tries to reach out for help without getting caught and putting herself or her sister in danger.
Glenn Ford might make a little bit of a leap of logic in knowing shit has gone wrong and he goes out of his way to be discreet when getting back in touch with her. On the whole, they treat the FBI as completely organized and wholly good and just, always on the ball.
It’s a little refreshing actually, even if not all that realistic, to just have the good guys be good guys. Each agent is smart, kind and good through and through. It’d get really boring really quickly if that was in every movie, but it works here. I kept expecting one of them to be helping the killer or at least one of them to fumble real bad and put Remick in jeopardy, but that never comes, which suddenly made the story fresh, taking it out of a familiar formula.
The point of view switches between Remick and Ford throughout the flick. In fact, I’d say it is completely Ford’s movie from the halfway point until the big finale at Candlestick Park. We follow him as he investigates a different killing, which he suspects is related, trying to find the identity of the man threatening Remick, which takes him all over San Francisco.
Like most people of my generation my first exposure to Glenn Ford was as Pa Kent in Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN and I haven’t been able to shake that impression of him no matter what movie I see him in. I love his work in the original 3:10 TO YUMA and THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and he’s great in this movie, instantly likable, but I will always see Pa Kent in him. Always.
The killer is played by Ross Martin, who really does make a memorable baddie. He plays this guy, named Red Lynch (nice villain name, isn’t it?), as a guy who justifies what he does, like any true to life villain would. During Ford’s investigation he finds a girlfriend whose son is in the hospital. Red has paid off all their debt and she refuses to help the investigation, even if it might save Remick’s life.
Ford tells her that whether or not Red was nice to her kid doesn’t change the fact that he’s killed 3 people so far and is threatening to do it again.
So you get a little grey area, which you know by now I love. I love little complexities and in this movie Red’s really the only one with that complexity. Ford is good through and through and Remick plays the role of wide-eyed frightened victim from beginning to end. She’s smart, don’t get me wrong. She takes risks, outsmarting her tormentor, in dealing with the FBI, but her performance is pretty one note. Thankfully that note is the right note she has to hit, so that doesn’t detract from the whole.
Final Thoughts: EXPERIMENT IN TERROR is a great little crime thriller high on suspense with three very engaging central characters. Ross Martin shines here and is the main reason to catch this flick. The other star is Edwards’ direction. I love seeing directors use the camera to tell a story and the way he forces your attention to certain things and hides different details from view really does add to a growing suspense. Top notch work from him. There’s another great score from his PINK PANTHER composer Henry Mancini to boot. If you can track down a copy that doesn’t break the bank definitely give it a view.
The titles up for grabs during the randomly picked Horror Movie A Day October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
I’ve added 5 more titles to the drawing pool and one of the five were drawn for the next one up, which I will watch as soon as this is posted and write that up tonight.
The movie will be the ‘70s cult flick THE DEVIL’S RAIN starring Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn, William Forkin’ Shatner (!), Eddie Albert and… John Travolta?!?
Yeah, that's going to be awesome… See you folks later tonight for that one.