“The Snorkel” (1958)

by A.J. Hakari

"The Snorkel" poster

 

Hammer’s thrillers may not have had the ornate style and graphic content of the studio’s famous horror catalogue, but they held their own just fine. Their frugal budgets and smaller ensembles often resulted in more personal works that had to get creative in coaxing viewers to the edges of their seats. While The Snorkel isn’t a great or even particularly memorable film, it nicely reflects this philosophy of marrying suspense with simplicity. In other words, it gets the job done, enough so that you wish it had found less repetitive ways of padding out its one-hour premise to an extra thirty minutes.

Our movie opens on a murder en media res. As his wife suffocates to death on a gas leak above him, Paul Decker (Peter Van Eyck) hides beneath the floorboards safe and sound with the titular breathing apparatus. With the police declaring a suicide, it seems as if Decker has pulled off the perfect crime…or so he thinks. His step-daughter Candy (Mandy Miller) immediately proclaims him the killer upon hearing of her mother’s demise, having suspected him of doing in her real father years ago. Of course, being an emotionally-disturbed youngster puts Candy in the unfortunate position of having her pleas fall upon disbelieving ears. But Decker’s not about to take any chances, as he bides his time for the chance to spring upon Candy the same deadly ordeal as her mom.

The Snorkel is a “girl who cried wolf” story without much deviation from the formula. Candy tries to expose Decker, no one will listen, Decker barely misses killing her, rinse and repeat. It doesn’t get more daring than that, unless you count how Candy’s emotional state is used against her; her disregarded warnings have an added sadness when everyone around her is constantly reassuring her. Otherwise, if you thought up your own movie based on the above synopsis, The Snorkel would be at least 90% accurate to it. Most of the film’s dread stems from being told in great part through the villain’s perspective. The wordless opening sequence (which really is a fantastic hook) has Decker putting the finishing touches on his crime scene, before following his various thwarted attempts to put Candy out of commission. The first couple of times The Snorkel employs this technique are nice and intense, but around the dozenth occasion on which a supporting character interrupts a murder in the making, you lose hope of the flick having any new tricks to show you.

But to be fair, what works about The Snorkel does so pretty well and sticks around more than it goes to waste. The distractingly ADR’ed Van Eyck is a snug fit in Decker’s shoes, a pro at casting a cold-blooded gaze Candy’s way one second and playing the part of concerned guardian the next. It’s important in stories like these for the audience to buy the innocent face the villain puts on for the world, but Van Eyck has us covered. Though it takes Candy an alarming amount of time to put two and two together in terms of how her mother’s murder was executed, Miller’s performance is a sympathetic one that keeps us on her side. She’s even up to the task when asked to display some range, as when Candy openly taunts her step-dad with some information she knows and makes a seemingly chilling decision at the end. Plus, while it’s chiefly set at a spacious Italian villa, the movie has a neat claustrophobic feel, not overbearingly grim but enclosed enough to make you sweat.

Ultimately, The Snorkel is a filler film, a product made to be second on a double bill underneath one of Hammer’s legacy titles. Its weird name and featured gimmick are the only things that might entice casual viewers to give it a watch, but it’s a perfectly decent thriller that passes the time. Should you be a Hammer junkie looking to cross something off the checklist, you won’t regret hitting up The Snorkel.

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