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The Spiral Staircase

Too many missteps to be truly gripping.

Rod Lott April 2nd, 2012

Based on a novel by The Lady Vanishes author Ethel Lina White, The Spiral Staircase bears a terrific concept for a psychological thriller, which must account for it being turned into a movie three times. Warner Archives' new manufactured-on-demand disc is the 1975 feature, which falls in the middle of that trilogy, in the sense of both quality and chronology.


The gist is that a serial killer of disabled women (now there's a niche) has found his latest target in Helen (Jacqueline Bisset, who brings nothing to the role but a pretty face), a lovely young woman who's been mute since a tragedy involving her child, her husband and a house in flames; we get at least three more flashbacks to the event than needed.

On the film's dark and stormy night in question, Helen is taking refuge in the spooky mansion of her uncle (Christopher Plummer, sporting a '70s 'stache) and an extended cast of personalities, from a bedridden diabetic matriarch (Mildred Dunnock, The Trouble with Harry) to his sultry secretary (Gayle Hunnicutt, Marlowe). Lightning strikes big and bold, accounting for most of the movie's action.

While director Peter Collinson (The Italian Job) has all the Gothic trappings in place and ready to roll, the script gives the actors nothing to do but talk for the first hour, and then the final 30 minutes are mostly a cat-and-mouse game between Bisset and Exactly Who You'll Suspect. —Rod Lott

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