William Read Woodfield, an amateur magician and expert plotter who went on to craft intricate scripts for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and COLUMBO, penned THE HYPNOTIC EYE with his wife Gitta Woodfield. In one of cult cinema’s great openings, a sexy blonde in slinky black lingerie walks into her kitchen, rubs shampoo in her hair, turns on the stove, and sets her own hair on fire (the visual effect involves superimposing flames over the actress’ head, and it isn’t bad).
This is the eleventh case of a woman mutilating herself, and police detective Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) wants to get to the bottom of it. He takes his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders) to see a stage hypnotist named Desmond (Jacques Bergerac). Dodie volunteers to be Desmond’s subject, and he makes her levitate. That night, she pours acid into a sinkful of water and burns the skin off her face.
Dave begins to suspect Desmond of planting post-hypnotic suggestions into his subjects that make them harm themselves later. Marcia takes the stage at Desmond’s next show and reveals to Dave and psychiatrist Philip Hecht (Guy Prescott) that Desmond flashes an eye in the palm of his hand to the women he puts into an onstage trance. But what is Desmond’s motive for hypnotizing women into self-mutilation?
Allison Hayes (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN) portrays Justine, Desmond’s stage assistant who plays a major role in the sinister plot. She’s terrific, but she unfortunately outmatches the French-born Bergerac, who doesn’t hold the screen the way a great villain should. Quickie director George Blair, probably best known for the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series, does a pretty good job moving the Woodfields’ story along and presenting the shocking deaths with bursts of gore that were unusual for the time period.
It isn’t just the gruesome makeup effects that contributed to the hoopla. Blair cast “The Great Imposter,” Fred Demara, who was a notable talk-show guest in those days, as well as hipsters Lawrence Lipton and Eric “Big Daddy” Nord in supporting roles. Best of all, Allied Artists released THE HYPNOTIC EYE in “HypnoMagic!” This comes into play in a scene in which Desmond hypnotizes a crowd of people in a theater, but Blair shoots it as though he’s hypnotizing the audience watching the film. You can imagine the kids in the seats having a blast following Desmond’s on-screen instructions.
THE HYPNOTIC EYE is a ludicrous horror film, but, boy, is it entertaining. Woodfield wrote it as THE SCREAMING SLEEP, and Blair directed it in two weeks on a $365,000 budget. The shock scenes are very effective, and the catwalk climax is excitingly rendered by Blair. I sure wish I had one of those HYPNOTIC EYE balloons.