B&W, 1965, 82m.
Directed by William Castle
Starring Joan Crawford, John Ireland, Leif Erickson, Andi Garrett, Sarah Lane
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Anchor Bay, Universal (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
B&W, 1965, 82m.
Adapted from a tense novel called Out of the Dark by Ursula Curtiss, this early example of the teen horror novel-to-film trend that continued for decades through I Know What You Did Last Summer has gained an almost iconic status as one of gimmicky director William Castle's most memorable achievements in '60s pop culture. Impossible to see for many years outside of trimmed afternoon screenings on TV, I Saw What You Did lingered fondly in many baby boomers' memories and was even remade with surprising punch as a 1988 made for TV movie with Robert Carradine (from Fred Walton, director of When a Stranger Calls, appropriately enough).
The original is fairly mild stuff by Castle standards, at least compared to his wild run at Columbia with titles like The Tingler and Homicidal, but the results are still great fun and unmistakably display the touch of the master. On top of that it's one of the strongest entries in Castle's on-and-off line of thrillers with child protagonists, also including 13 Ghosts, 13 Frightened Girls, and the much more overtly comedic and bizarre Let's Kill Uncle and The Spirit Is Willing.
Kit and Libby (Sarah Lane and Andi Garrett, in their only big screen roles) are two bored teens left alone at home to babysit. To pass the time, they begin making prank phone calls to names chosen randomly from the phone book. At first they pretend to be girlfriends and play harmless pranks, but things turn nasty when they call a man named Steve Marak and utter the line, "I saw what you did, and I know who you are." Unfortunately, Steve has just stabbed his wife to death in the shower, and the girls aren't too swift about covering their tracks. Top-billed Joan Crawford, looking befuddled after her earlier axe-wielding turn in Castle's Strait-jacket, has little to do as Amy, a neighbor with a hopeless crush on the murderous Steve. This quibble aside, Castle handles the production slickly and suspensefully. The shower sequence is one of the more amusing Psycho imitations (and Castle's second after Homicidal); in this case, the victim is fully dressed, outside the shower, and wielding the knife. Figure that one out! The same scnee's pre-Argento glass-shattering also seems strong for a 1965 film aimed at adolescents... and check out that opening scene, which bears an odd aesthetic similarity to a certain beloved 1978 slasher classic.
Anchor Bay's 1999 DVD indicates that Universal did a nice job preserving this film despite their bizarre refusal to release it on video at any point before that in any format. The materials were kept in excellent shape, with a rich, crisp black and white transfer framed nicely at 1.78:1. The limited range of the audio presents no significant problems, with Van Alexander's bubblegum score and each piercing shriek coming through very clearly. Also tossed in are a "World Premiere Announcement" in which Castle offers to bring some lucky participants to Hollywood for a "real live premiere" (plus a plug for the shock-proof seat belts installed in some theaters) as well as the lovable and surprisingly stylish theatrical trailer. Essentially the same thing was ported over for an MOD edition from Universal in 2014 (with an incredibly gaudy cover), but you're far better off going with the Scream Factory release on Blu-ray. The uptick is quality is impressive here with a very clean, clear, satisfying presentation; the only possible downside is that it makes the artificiality of the sets (inside and outside) even more obvious! The foggy climax benefits particularly well with the tremendous increase in resolution making it easier to appreciate the details when the mayhem kicks in. The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds impeccable, and optional English subtitles are provided. Extras include a 3-minute photo gallery with lots of lobby cards, international posters, and fun behind-the-scenes shots, and both the standard trailer and William Castle announcement (both listed as trailers on the menu). Heat up some popcorn and enjoy, preferably with a rotary dial phone sitting nearby.