I should point out before we go any further there’s a Raquel Welch connection. Husband Patrick Curtis was a producer and La Welch is down as an assistant producer, at a time when the pair were setting up their own production company Curtwel. Hard to see where Raquel would have fitted in but wouldn’t it have been sensational to have her as the devious mastermind?
The concept is better than the execution. There is an inconvenient truth about science. Successful experiments often require guinea pigs. Brain-washing was one such scientific notion, generally seen as an invention of those dastardly Communists a la The Manchurian Candidate (1962) although The Mind Benders (1963) suggested it was as common in the British halls of academe. As indicated by the title here brain washing could be termed modern-day witchcraft.
But where government scientists could hide behind the greater good, personal advantage is the notion here. And it did make me wonder how many scientists took vicarious pleasure in seeing guinea pigs doing their bidding, enjoying the power to inflict change on the potentially unwilling.
Professor Monserrat (Boris Karloff) and wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) have invented a machine that through hypnotism can alter a subject’s mind in the longer term, make them prone to acts of savagery. Their chosen target is young man-about-town Mike (Ian Ogilvy). Bored with gorgeous girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy) and ripe for adventure he is despatched on an orgy of violence, rape and murder.
What makes this potentially fascinating is that while the Professor draws back from the experiment, Estelle wants to continue. The sadistic female was coming into her own during this decade, Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina as a deadly tag-team in Deadlier than the Male (1967), Suzanna Leigh in Subterfuge (1968), but these were sidekicks, pawns in the control of devious men.
Estelle wins a battle of wills against her husband and his weak opposition fails to deter her from authorizing ever more despicable acts, as if she is unleashing her own pent-up aggression. Not only can she control her husband but she is in command of the virile young Mike. Sensibly, the film stops short of setting her up as a James Bond-style megalomaniac, but there is something more infernal in committing these acts from a small run-down apartment rather than some underground space-age cavern.
Turning Boris Karloff into a bad guy tripped up by conscience is a neat casting trick. But making him prey to his initially subservient wife is a masterstroke. Her violence is gender-neutral, as happy to force Mike into battering a work colleague as attempting to rape a young woman.
And there is also a sense of the old taking revenge on the young. The old have been left behind in a Swinging London awash with discos and barely-existing morals. Why shouldn’t old people tap into base desire, and better still, not have to lift a finger, their victim carrying the can for every deed.
It’s stone cold creepy. And would been a much tighter – and scarier – picture if director Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General, 1968) had not wasted so much time with the dull youngsters, complete with pop groups performing in a nightclub. Ian Ogilvy (Witchfinder General) doesn’t bring much to the party, no more than your standard good-looking young fellow.
Boris Karloff (The Crimson Cult, 1968) is much better value especially when excitement at his new discovery wears off and he realizes he is playing second fiddle to his wife. For once, there’s nothing inherently evil in him. But Catherine Lacey (The Servant, 1963) is easily the pick, delivering a well-judged performance, assisting her husband in his endeavors until the time is right to take over. You might spot Susan George (The Straw Dogs, 1971) and Sally Sheridan, both a Fu Manchu and Bond girl. Tom Baker (Witchfinder General) co-wrote the script with Reeves.
Provides more to ponder than actually appears on the screen.