“The Hypnotic Eye” (1960)
by A.J. Hakari
Contrary to the better part of two decades I’ve spent bitching about movies online, I’m a forgiving guy. I don’t let nitpicks overwhelm my judgment, I usually ignore plot holes, and I rarely refuse to watch something based on its genre. There’s a lot that I look past in the name of suspending my disbelief, but I still have my limits — which, after seeing 1960’s The Hypnotic Eye, are confirmed to include hypnotism. Of all the devices films have employed to create tension over the ages, this has been one of the flimsiest, making it virtually impossible to take anything else the flick in question has to show seriously. The Hypnotic Eye‘s plot isn’t exempt from the snickers it solicits either, and were its acting and violent outbursts the slightest bit memorable, it might not have missed out on being a corny cult classic, too.
A most strange epidemic has broken out amongst the big city’s hottie population. Several young women have mutilated themselves, but not only have they been guzzling lye and setting their hair on fire, they have no recollection whatsoever of what drove them to do so. Detective Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) is utterly baffled, until he sees the possible culprit in action for himself. After attending a show performed by renowned mesmerist Desmond (Jacques Bergerac), a fetching friend of Dave’s who volunteered during the act harms herself, convincing him that the lothario is somehow responsible. But how can Dave save others from suffering a similar fate — including his own sweetheart (Marcia Henderson) — and prove Desmond’s involvement when the victims don’t even recall being hypnotized at all?
The Hypnotic Eye‘s promotion was built around “Hypnomagic,” a gimmick that rather naively expected the audience to play along with its not-so-subliminal suggestions. If this were a William Castle joint, we could’ve gotten a giant eyeball installed in every theater out of the deal, but ordering us to use our imaginations is as cheap and non-immersive as audience-participation tactics get. You simply don’t care enough about the dopey story to buy into The Hypnotic Eye‘s hokum. The film itself isn’t deadly serious, but that doesn’t stop it from trying in vain to pass off hypnosis as a scientific breakthrough worth building a crummy thriller around. Once you get past the conceit that most of its characters immediately take Desmond’s ability to command the wills of men at face value, all that’s left is a transparent potboiler that so swiftly spills the beans on what’s going on, calling it a “mystery” is a massive misnomer.
Alright, so The Hypnotic Eye can’t keep a secret, and when it does try to throw the audience a climactic curveball, the resulting twist feels confusing and inexplicable. But hey, this is a horror show at heart, so surely there’s some gruesome entertainment value to be had, right? Well, being a ’60s genre flick that wasn’t made by Herschell Gordon Lewis (whose The Wizard of Gore owes a little bit to this one), The Hypnotic Eye is awfully tame, with a few scarred or bandaged faces serving as the scant heart-pounding sights we get. The performances don’t trip your trigger much either, what with Patridge’s boxy cop sounding fifty shades of bland, Henderson playing a prototypical damsel, and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman‘s Allison Hayes flashing a perpetual stink eye as Desmond’s assistant. Bergerac is a smooth-talker, but his Desmond is hardly diabolical enough to hold so many under his sway.
With its inclusion of the most grim and surreal elements that horror had seen since the ’30s, The Hypnotic Eye was, if nothing else, a good indicator of where contemporaries like Psycho would soon guide the waning genre. But at best, it’s a pinky toe dipped in the pool, for the film as a whole is too lamely-executed to make a legit impression or pass the time with ironic yuks. On the great B-movie highway, The Hypnotic Eye is a detour few have taken before and even less will find worth traveling down in the future.