Dolls, with their lifeless gazes, imprint in our collective phobias and on Robert Bloch’s & Amicus’s narrative — and like clowns, and zombie children– dolls have always given us a dreadful feeling of unease that lingers in our psyche. It’s their dead stare and their cold watchful eyes – like soulless little polymer devils. Cinematographer/ Director Freddie Francis who previously worked at Hammer, makes use of the accursed doppelgänger dolls as macabre iconography. Bloch likely viewed the British-based Amicus as the substantial alternative worth embracing, signing a three-picture deal with Paramount.
Horror filmmakers have explored this causality of jitters for decades. In Amicus’s The Psychopath 1966 – it is the symbology of dolls that gives the film its creepy attraction to what is essentially a crime drama and creative whodunnit with a few unsettling moments while trying to unravel a tale of a homicidal maniac who leaves a unique signature—the very likeness of the victims.
The Psychopath was made midway in the decade, featuring the mellifluous tagline “A New Peak in Shriek,” The film marks Freddie Francis’s foray into colour psycho-thrillers and with its use of vibrant reds, it’s a departure from his previous repertoire of haunting black-and-white psychological horror tales crafted for the illustrious Hammer.
Elisabeth Lutyen’s beautifully carnivalesque score washes over the opening as dismembered doll parts accompany the credits. The film sticks to the classic crime procedural script, but it’s not afraid to paint it with a touch of horror, throwing in the voodoo-like doll motif for that extra dash of macabre flair. It’s your standard crime fare, just with a wicked twist. Bloch’s script presents the crimes using the doll fetish in such a way – that remains formulaic – though it does succeed in having a moody impact by the end.