The Snorkel (1958) is labelled as a horror film by the IMDb. It was made by Hammer Films, and they are certainly best known for their horror films. I would go so far as to say that most people think of them as a horror film company. Hammer Horror is a well loved phrase and #HammerHorror is a well used hashtag.
The truth is that Hammer also made films that were not horror at all. For example, Hammer made quite a few crime films, such as the ones included in DVD sets like Hammer Noir Collector’s Set #1. In some ways, The Snorkel fits in better with those movies, and the IMDb does also use words such as crime, mystery and thriller to describe it.
Still, The Snorkel isn’t quite film noir, either. It’s more of a suspense film, possibly closer to something that Alfred Hitchcock might have done. In fact, Hammer made several Hitchcock style suspense thrillers in the wake of Psycho (1960). I may have a said a few words on that topic when I wrote about Scream of Fear (1961), which is one my all time favourites. Or maybe it was Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)…? No matter. The point I’m working my way around to, is that The Snorkel came out two years before Psycho so it can’t really be categorized as one of those post Psycho black and white suspense thrillers (but it is black and white).
I suppose horror is as good a label as any to hang on this movie – especially when accompanied with other words like crime, mystery and thriller. Not everyone will agree with me, however. Some people make a really big deal about what is horror, and what is not horror. They say things like “That movie isn’t a horror film. It’s not horrific or scary at all.”
Not horrific? What does that even mean? I watch horror films almost every day of my life and I can’t recall ever saying “That was horrific!” I think of horrific as something that’s really unpleasant, like a brutal industrial accident that tears someone apart. If I try to think of a movie that is horrific, I tend to come up with films like Irreversible (2002), which Roger Ebert described quite accurately as:
“…a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable.The camera looks on unflinchingly as a woman is raped and beaten for several long, unrelenting minutes, and as a man has his face pounded in with a fire extinguisher, in an attack that continues until after he is apparently dead. That the movie has a serious purpose is to its credit but makes it no more bearable. Some of the critics at the screening walked out, but I stayed, sometimes closing my eyes…” — Roger Ebert, from his review.
I watched the movie once, was perhaps impressed by the skill that went into making it and the performances of the actors, but I felt no desire to ever watch it again. I certainly would not have said that I enjoyed it. I might have said that it was horrific. Interestingly enough, the IMDb refers to it as crime, drama, mystery, thriller – not as a horror film.
What I experienced when watching Irreversible is NOT what I am generally looking for when I watch a horror movie. I am more often looking to have fun. Friday the 13th Part (whatever) is fun – and I think that most people would agree that those movies are horror films. They aren’t horrific (n my opinion). They aren’t even really scary (at least not now, after seeing them many times over the years). They might include the odd jump scare, or a few moments that create suspense and/or tension. But I watch them with a smile on my face, not cowering under the covers afraid of what might be coming next. And still I think of them as horror films.
Horror is a broad genre that includes everything from comedies, to period pieces, to children’s stories, to romances – even hard core pornography. Pretty much every other genre you can think of, can also be the setting of a horror film. Why would anyone want to put limits on what can be called horror? Why would anyone want to have a narrow definition of the genre that would leave out many great films? Within the overarching genre of horror, there are also many sub-genres, such as zombie movies and slasher films. These sub-genres CAN have much more specific rules and narrow definitions (although not necessarily, in my opinion). I believe that one of the things that makes horror such a powerful and timeless genre is it’s ability absorb almost anything from other genres and make it its own. If it was too narrow and unbending, it probably would have died out years ago, as times and tastes changed and it did not.
But I digress…
I had never heard of The Snorkel before, and the title certainly didn’t conjure up feelings of fun or horror (at least in me) – but fun it is. It’s the story of a man who commits a murder in a very clever way and gets away with it – except for the fact that his step-daughter immediately suspects he’s guilty and tries to tell anyone who’ll listen. No one believes her, but she vows to prove it. And this, in good Hitchcockian tradition, puts her in peril.
It’s an effective little thriller – not as good as, say, the best of Alfred Hitchcock, but an effective suspense film nonetheless. It includes a great performance by child actress Mandy Miller, and it’s often referred to as her last movie. This is a bit misleading, because she continued to appear on television – including acting in at least one made-for-TV movie – for the next five years or so. She retired from acting at age 18.
The Snorkel (1958) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic – that could have been a real classic if it was just a little better known. Things being what they are, it would make for a perfect addition your next double or triple bill of black and white chillers and thrillers on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.