Stop Me Before I Kill!

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Another “straight” film from Hammer Studios, Stop Me Before I Kill! (exclamation point more or less de rigeur) is a reasonably serious, if hyperbolic, psychological thriller about race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) who is recovering from a nearly fatal accident with the help of his wife Denise (Diane Cilento) and psychiatrist David Prade (Claude Dauphin). While Colby loves Denise deeply and has fully recovered physically, he suffers from a nearly uncontrollable desire to kill his wife. Most of the drama centers on his efforts to deal with that compulsion and to root out the cause of it.

The strange and strained situation is oddly loquacious for an exploitation film. Colby’s profession, for example, which we might expect to motivate heart-pounding action, has just about nothing to do with either his original accident or his neuroses. The cause of his compulsion may have to remain obscure for there to be a story, but each time Alan comes close to wringing Denise’s neck, the impulse seems to come out of nowhere. And while the excessive dialog may be unavoidable in any drama centered on the “talking cure” (the equally pat Freudian explanations in Hitchcock’s Spellbound come to mind), that does not explain why David is a non-stop chatterbox with a superior, knowing attitude that makes him barely bearable.

In fact, like Colby’s profession, just about every detail in the film seems almost arbitrary. The story begins and ends in the south of France, for example, which provides a picturesque backdrop and an unnecessary explanation for Dauphin’s accent, but there is no more justification for the setting than there is for the Colbys’ return to London. A few details, like Colby having a box of surgical tools on hand, or David’s affection for a Siamese cat, are eventually “explained” by their importance in the denouement, but the explanation only underlines how blatantly they were planted in the first place.

Throughout, writer-director Val Guest provides more emphasis than atmosphere. The therapy sessions, for example, include huge close-up details of Colby and Prade’s faces, eyes, lips, etc., looming heavily over us for no reason other than to provide visual variety to otherwise static, talky scenes. And then there are the moments with Alan’s acquaintance Harry (Bernard Braden) which serve only to rehash what we already know while extending the running time.

The bigger problem is that the story logically ends once Alan is cured. That good news could provide a sunny Happy Ending, but it would be fairly anti-climactic compared with the angst that preceded it. Instead, in an effort to limp toward a contrived “dramatic” ending, the story takes a turn which, while predictable in a conventional, exploitation film sort of way, is out of character with the rest of the relatively Realistic drama. Unfortunately, the final flourish feels like a concluding bang that the whimper of the salutary cure could not provide more than a satisfactory close to the action.