Shock Corridor - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Shock Corridor Reviews

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June 25, 2013
SHOCK CORRIDOR is certainly an odd movie. I didn't really know too much about it, or its writer/director Sam Fuller prior to purchasing the Criterion BluRay. I wouldn't say I've become a fan, exactly, but the movie does exert a certain weird power.

Filmed on a shoestring budget over just 10 days, SHOCK CORRIDOR tells the story of a print journalist and his strong desire to be committed to an insane asylum so that he can investigate a long-cold murder case. Three patients are known to have witnessed the crime, but none is coherent enough to give any info on the events. Our interpid hero Johnny (Peter Breck, looking like a young James Remarr) coerces his girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) into pretending to be his sister so she can claim to the authorities that her brother has tried to molest her. Johnny is committed to his desired asylum, and begins his investigation.

He enters the asylum as a person who is clearly obsessed with his desire to "get the story" and win a Pulitzer. He feels a little like a nut-job to us right from the start, and it's little surprise that all the insanity around him begins to chip away at his own state of mind.

In one way, Fuller is telling a kind of psychological horror story about one man's struggle against madness and the insanity of those around him. In 1963, this movie must have seemed quite "cutting edge" in its depiction of depravity of all sorts. I found it odd, for example, that Cathy works as a stripper because she's trying to save up money so she and Johnny can have a normal life. Johnny is clearly conflicted about her career, yet perhaps also titilated as well. This domestic situation, coupled with the rather strange story the two decide to concoct really makes us scratch our heads...but it also gave Fuller a chance to stage a number with Cathy performing. I don't know how her routine went over in '63, but today her outfit seems QUITE tame and her bump-and-grind is embarrasingly clumsy. Towers is supposed to exude sex appeal...but fails nearly completely. And the depictions of the behavior of all the mental patients are wildly over the top. In the accompanying booklet for the disc, Fuller talks about how he didn't want subtlety...he wanted to bludgeon his audience. If loud histrionics is what he wanted, he succeeded. At times the film is almost humorous when its clearly intending to be quite serious. But as the film continues, the almost constant lunacy and ridiculous behavior, along with frequent close-ups of starkly lit faces with lots of sweat on them begins to work a sort of spell on the audience. It never feels realistic, exactly, but the very nutso energy of the effort is oddly gripping.

I think the low budget and faced paced filming helped in some way. The film has the aesthetic of a TWILIGHT ZONE episode ("Eye of the Beholder" comes to mind), and feels like a TV show in the quality of its acting. However, this lets us feel that Fuller was COMPELLED to make this film, no matter the artistic sacrifice...and his efforts to take his meager resources and use them to the fullest actually work for him. The walls of the asylum and all the rooms are starkly furnished. The costumes are all the same shade of gray. The lighting (always from just one angle) is theatrical. I admired the look.

The flip side of this story, and the one that Fuller really wanted to convey, was an exploration of American society at the time. The three witnesses to the crime represent 3 aspects of America Fuller wanted to expose and condemn: war, racism & nuclear weaponry/McCarthyism. The power of these metaphorical characters has sadly diminished over time, until the device has become mostly too obvious to work. That being said, the best performance in the film comes from Hari Rhodes, a black college student driven to insanity thanks to the torment he suffered in college as the only student of color. He now believes his is a member of the KKK, and his hate filled speeches contain language of racism that is shocking and powerfully delivered.

On the other hand, the inmates of the "Women's Ward" are all nymphomaniacs, and when poor Johnny stumbles into their room, they circle and attack him like lusty zombies (you'll have to see it) in easily the most poorly executed and laughable scene in the film. The film is no doubt commenting somehow on the sexual revolution that was only beginning to think about emerging, or perhaps man's fear of woman's burgeoning power...but now it's just a head scratcher.

The film is only modestly well acted...Peter Breck tries mightily and sometimes his work is quiety effective and sometimes he reminds me of "evil Kirk" in one of William Shatner's most excruciating performances on STAR TREK. Towers is terribly miscast. Others in the cast are acceptable.

No, where the film suceeds is in its fervor, its passion and its single-minded desire to shock a reaction from the viewer. This is not a film-viewing experience for a casual viewer. It's truly a chance for film afficionadoes to view a tiny slice of film history that is seldom talked about but deserves a place in the discussion of movies of the '60s that began to pave the way for the truly revolutionary work that would come in the '70s. Fuller was a bit ahead of his time. SHOCK CORRIDOR is a fascinating experience.

The extras on this blu ray are only okay, in my opinion. THere is a lengthy but not terribly interesting moder interview with Towers. There is also a feature documentary on Fuller that is worthwhile. Otherwise, virtually nothing. No commentary track, which would actually have been quite welcome. The booklet, however, is excellent with both a nice critical discussion and some good excerpts from Fuller's autobiography. Another solid Criterion effort.
½ June 17, 2013
A little bit hammy, quite a bit predictable in its outcome, but you can't look away. Audiences watching in 1963 were probably freaked out by it. Creepy cinematography adds to its charm. Loved the scene with Trent, the black white supremacist.
May 20, 2013
A reporter seeking a Pulitzer prize goes undercover at a mental hospital to solve a murder. The attacks on his psyche begins to to take its toll and he finds himself falling into a mental breakdown.

This is a fantastic film, full of nightmarish imagery. Some films have beautiful and nice looking imagery, and this movie has the exact opposite. There are close ups with nice shadow, hallucinations, and all sorts of visual aids to show Johnny's descent into madness.

Constance Towers backs him up as his doting wife, but also has a few issues of her own. She has to pretend to be his sister and that he is in love with her, and is also a burlesque dancer who makes a few mistakes when it comes to his treatment at the facility.

Taking its time with the plot and slowly building up to its climax, Shock Corridor is a scary film even though its not a horror movie and it stretches its genre conventions for some excellent imagery and thrills.
½ April 13, 2013
Samuel Fuller is my god of sensationalism...no holds barred movie-making, ladened with what Godard dubbed, "punch cinema" and what Fuller describes here: "Film is a battleground. Love, hate, violence, action, death...In one word... emotion."
Brilliant.
April 6, 2013
It has its merits, yeah, but central plot and portrayal of mental conditions are painfully silly and ignorance-revealing.
April 1, 2013
This is one of Fuller's masterpieces (of which there are many). it was this point in the early sixties where Fuller's raw journalistic realism began to mix with a proto-psychedelic quality of which this film is a great example. The energy of the film is so powerful even after all of this time and he is able to make the film entertaining on a certain level but laden with so much metaphorical layers it requires multiple viewings over time. The photography by Stanley Cortez is pristine (though Fuller himself filmed the color dream sequences in 16mm). As usual Fuller was ahead of his time with this film, which stands as a testament to his unique artistic vision and approach. A true American cinematic masterpiece.
½ March 26, 2013
Fuller was a master at subverting audience expectation and no where is that more evident than in 'Shock Corridor'. What begins as a seemingly by-the-numbers detective thriller slowly evolves into something strange and surreal. An unhinged masterpiece.
March 9, 2013
A suspenseful tale of an ambitious journalist who infiltrates a mental hospital to scoop a story, only to lose his grip on sanity.
February 18, 2013
A classic B-movie plot, but with A-movie lighting, characters, and expertly placed color sequences. "Shock Corridor" was trying so hard to be a B-movie, it ended up being a pretty good A-movie.
½ February 17, 2013
A newspaper reporter creates a plan to get himself committed into a mental institution in order to solve a murder case and win a Pulitzer Prize, but once he gets in he has trouble keeping from going mad himself. It's an interesting old film, with some memorable moments, but it also feels somewhat dated with the way the mental patients act out by screaming or just acting goofy. All in all though, it is a well made feature.
January 6, 2013
I just revisited this. I'm reminded by how CRAZY this movie is. More than that, it features stunning cinematography and fantastic performances. Did I say that this movie is absolutely nuts? I love it.
½ September 27, 2012
It starts out like a typical 60's B-movie, but as the scenes unfold, you realize Fuller is up to something bigger than a murder mystery; while somewhat dated, a fascinating piece of cinema.
½ September 7, 2012
Another great movie from Samuel Fuller. Great theme of sanity and insanity not only play in the story and acting, but with each shot and lighting technique.
½ August 30, 2012
whoa.... i mean WHOA!
August 14, 2012
A brave piece of pulp cinema for its time. A cult classic!
August 3, 2012
I really wanted to enjoy this but felt that it was pretty weak. It happens. It seemed too predictable and campy in a way that turned me off.
July 1, 2012
Over-the-top directing and acting and absurd writing, but some nice ideas and cinematography.
½ June 21, 2012
It's a masterpiece in it's own way. It's very in-your-face and hard to watch at times due to the nature of this movie and the amazing acting performances that are realistic. The direction of Samuel Fuller brings this masterpiece together! It's totally a must-see!
Super Reviewer
June 14, 2012
A gloryhound newspaperman goes undercover at a mental hospital ... and the rest is movie history in Samuel Fuller's 1963 epic of over-the-top, must see, apocalyptic, societal condemning, ravings of a madman. See a stripper portrayed as the most moral person in society, that alone reason to watch, even as Fuller exploits her every chance he gets ...
½ June 9, 2012
Despite its age, the film is still relevant today; this one remains chilling.
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