The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (aka L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock) (Riccardo Freda, 1962)

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In 1885 London, a brilliant doctor with a taste for necrophilia runs into problems when his sexual proclivities leave his wife in a coffin.  

It seems a miracle that this could have been released as far back as 1962, as the subject matter alone would ruffle feathers even in this day and age. As can be expected based on the era this was made, the film isn’t overly graphic or lewd in nature. Instead, the viewer is treated to a well-crafted tragedy about lost love and misplaced desire.

The story is centered on the famous Professor Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng; Funny Face, The Man Who Never Was) whose innovations in the field of medicine are ground-breaking and well respected. His current research finds him developing a new form of anesthetic for surgical use. The problem is, the illustrious professor is a also a necrophiliac who views his serum’s ability to suppress human vital signs as an excellent opportunity to play some kinky sex games with his more than willing wife, Margherita (Maria Teresa Vianello). This is all well and good until he overdoses her one night and she codes for real, leaving him devastated. Quitting his gig at the hospital, he packs up and exiles himself far away. Twelve years later he returns home with his new wife Cynthia (Barbara Steele; Black Sunday, Curse of the Crimson Altar), much to the dismay of his live-in maid Martha (Harriet Medin; The Whip and the Body, Blood and Black Lace) who has purportedly been taking care of her invalid sister in the castle while the Professor was away. Needless to say, Hichcock’s new bride is none too pleased to be in the abode in which her predecessor expired, particularly considering there are paintings and reminders of her everywhere. Martha is oddly ill-disposed to Cynthia’s arrival, and Professor Hichcock is too busy trying to hook up with dead sluts at the hospital to pay any attention. Soon Cynthia is convinced that her husband’s dead wife is alive and roaming the halls when he’s not there and that she is in grave danger. Cynthia’s fears are quickly dismissed as paranoid delusion by her less than attentive husband, until he discovers that Martha’s “sister” is none other than his formerly deceased consort. Still madly in love with Margherita, Professor Hichcock plans on using Cynthia’s nubile blood to rejuvenate his beloved to her former splendor.
Given the camaraderie between director Riccardo Freda (I, Vampiri; Follia Omicida) and Mario Bava (Black Sunday, The Whip and the Body) it should come as no surprise when one observes the similarities between the two filmmakers’ styles. In fact, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock contains many of the aesthetic nuances and flair found in The Whip and the Body that it’s quite apparent both men co-developed the style that Bava later perfected. Having served as cinematographer to a couple of Freda’s films, Bava in fact finished both of Freda’s early horror outings: I, Vampiri and Caltiki the Undying Monster.
 As is typical of this style of film, light and shadow play a major role in setting the mood. In this instance they are also used to great effect in adding a touch of class that is in direct contrast to the film’s unsavory thematic elements. In one exquisite segment, Barbara Steele’s face breaks through its drape of shadow as she ascends a staircase at such a perfect instant that it’s impossible to imagine it’s anything but precisely calculated. The set design is so carefully put together that every scene is gushing with detail while simultaneously careful not to detract from what’s happening on screen.  Delicate aspects such as these make a film like The Horrible Dr. Hichcock stand head and shoulders above its less carefully crafted brethren.

COSDS-The-Horrible-Dr-Hichcock00013There were allegedly many segments in the original screenplay that expanded upon the story and motivations behind Hichcock’s deviancies, but due to severe time constraints Freda chose to excise them from the script. The film doesn’t suffer much from this decision, and remains briskly paced throughout its admittedly meager running time. There are some scenes where the conclusion as to what is going on is left up to individual interpretation, but the film is assembled in such a careful way for this to not be detrimental.
For any fan of classic horror, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is something not to be missed, and is widely considered to be one of Freda’s greatest works. What the film lacks in shocking visuals and violence it more than makes up for in method and panache, and the performances by everyone involved are outstanding.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating: 
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.

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