Written by Val Guest and Ronald Scott Thorn
Directed by Val Guest
Starring Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis
US Release June 21, 1961
RT 107 min.
Video Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains fundamental plot spoiler.
There are two scenes in Stop Me Before I Kill! demonstrating a visual style distinctive from the rest of the movie. Around the midway point, the camera floats in from a wide view of the building and through the curtains of psychiatrist David Prade (Claude Dauphin) as he treats his patient, Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis). In the first, through a series of alternating close-ups, we see the eyes of each man, Colby’s hand squeezing the arm of the couch, then his hands fidgeting. In the second, we see Alan’s point of view as he lies on the couch, picking points of focus in the room, then jerkily moving his head and eyes to others.
Coupled with the escalating pressure Prade places on Alan to remember the details of an accident that cause him to believe he’s turned into a potential killer, the scenes are not only visually interesting, but also claustrophobic and suspenseful. As Alan is about to crack, Prade becomes louder and speeds his cadence, “What was in your mind before the crash. That is the key. The memory is there, we just have to dig it out. We have to relive that drive, right up until the crash.” He seems more interested in solving this mystery than Alan himself.
There’s a reason for that. I had a feeling about it from the very beginning of the movie, but the script by Val Guest and Robert Scott Thorn, based on the 1959 novel The Full Treatment by Thorn, gives no clues. It’s through the sheer persistence of Prade to convince his wife, Denise (Diane Cilento), to convince Alan to get treatment, that I became suspicious of him. Why should he care if Alan is afraid to make love with Denise because he gets homicidal urges afterwards? There must be some connection for him to insinuate himself into their private lives the way he does.
His motive doesn’t end up being that sinister, but the actions he takes are quite sinister, relying upon tireless planning and anticipated coincidence for them to see fruition. I’m writing about this plot twist up front, but it doesn’t take place until late in the movie. Prior to that, there’s a lot of drama, but not much action or suspense. Alan changes moods suddenly, becoming easily agitated and paranoid. He almost strangles Denise once and torments himself over what else he might do to her. Once the psychological block is removed, there’s a legitimate cause for his mental state. This is when the story shifts.
It takes a long time to get there. I suppose you could say the effort it takes the movie to reach its narrative peak mirrors the effort it takes Prade and Alan to make psychological progress. Along the way, the movie explores some mature material. Prade asks Denise, “Is he different as a lover? Tell me, is he rough?” When treating Alan, Prade forces him to describe how he would kill Denise, if he were indeed to kill her. He’s reluctant and we’re as uncomfortable as he is. Finally, when Prade asks, “How are you going to dispose of the body?” Alan shouts, “Piece by piece!”
It seems there are several cuts of Stop Me Before I Kill! The original running time was 120 minutes and the USA running time was 93 minutes. I believe the version I watched on the “Icons of Suspense” DVD is the “Screen Gems print,” which runs 107 minutes. I can’t imagine it running more than 107 minutes. In fact, that’s pretty long for most movies of the era that cap at 90 minutes. It could have been tighter by removing at least one scene of Alan tormenting himself. I’d say the movie is most notable for the direction of Val Guest, who makes a couple scenes transcendent, but does not sustain it throughout.