After a traumatic car accident, a race car driver is plagued by an urge to strangle his wife.
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) January 9, 2021
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960) is not a movie that I was in any way familiar with before I watched it last week. I acquired it as part of a Hammer Films Collection on DVD. I had heard of, if not seen, all of the other films in the five movie set. One of them, Scream of Fear (1961), is among my absolute favourite Hammer Films, and I wrote about it in a previous blog post.
Stop Me Before I Kill! is not a typical Hammer Horror movie. In fact, it is more like an attempt at Alfred Hitchcock style psychological suspense. I couldn’t help but think of Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) as I watched this film. Both films involve a psychiatrist helping an amnesiac to recover his memory. In Hitchcock’s film, the patient is a man accused of murder. In Stop Me Before I Kill! it is a man who has a strange impulse to commit a murder (by strangling his wife). Stop Me Before I Kill! was apparently based on a novel called The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn, which was published in 1959.
The cast of Stop Me Before I Kill! is very good, but not a typical Hammer Films cast. There are no regulars like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. In fact, when I first looked at the title and the names of the stars (Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis), I wondered if this movie really was a Hammer Film – or just something that Hammer had picked up fro distribution (the way Troma picked up Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) for instance). I honestly don’t know what its production history was, but Hammer Film Production is one of the companies listed in the credits.
Stop Me Before I Kill! is a film that seems to fit in among the other black and white horror/thrillers that Hammer made after Psycho (1960) and perhaps Diabolique (1955), This film is partly set in France, and features a French star (Claude Dauphin), so one can’t help but think of Diabolique. Some other examples of Hammer’s foray into the black and white thriller world include: Maniac (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964) and my aforementioned favourite Scream of Fear (1961).
I like these black and white horror/thrillers. In a way, they are like the low budget, more realistic flip-side to the somewhat more lavish monster epics involving Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy. They tend to be short and to the point (80 minutes, 81 minutes, 83 minutes, 86 minutes) – and for the most part, they tend to work.
Stop Me Before I Kill! clocks in at 108 minutes! This is a full 28 minutes longer than Paranoiac and 22 minutes longer than Maniac – the longest of the other examples. This might be understandable if Stop Me Before I Kill! was an epic story of some sort. It’s not, really. Spellbound was 111 minutes, so maybe the makers of Stop Me Before I Kill! were taking their cue from that. In any case, it feels a little too long for the amount of story that it is telling.
This is not to say that Stop Me Before I Kill! is not an entertaining movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The actors are all good. The story is good, although somewhat predictable. It features great black and white cinematography and has some legitimately suspenseful sequences. It takes a little too long to get where it’s going, but if you are in the mood to relax, it could provide a satisfying #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. If, however, you are in a hurry for horror, you might want to choose one of the other fine black and white Hammer thrillers.
Stop Me Before I Kill! looks and feels a bit like a actual classic – like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, for instance. The running time seems to imply that it’s going for a more serious, respectable kind of cinema. Herschell Gordon Lewis admitted that he tried to do it with the 117 minute A Taste of Blood (1967). Schlockmeister William Castle famously produced (but was not allowed to direct) the 137 minute Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Was a bid for more mainstream respectability what Hammer, or director Val Guest, had in mind when they made Stop Me Before I Kill!?
I have no idea. But I think it’s fair to say that Stop Me Before I Kill! failed to achieve the classic status of films like Rosemary’s Baby. So did A Taste of Blood for that matter, but that’s another story. And so Stop Me Before I Kill! will have to settle for a place alongside the many other fine examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that we can all appreciate and treasure for years to come.