Experiment in Terror (1962)
Release Date: April 13th, 1962 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Blake Edwards Actors: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers, Roy Poole, Ned Glass, Anita Loo, Ross Martin
sharp, well-crafted noirish thriller, “Experiment in Terror” hasn’t lost any of its suspense over the years. The tagline guarantees it’s “the fastest two hours the screen has ever seen,” which is actually the only area that could have been tightened up. Although the pace is superb, many minutes could have been shaved off to keep the plot thickening at an even more intense speed. What the running time does allow for is exceptional character development for an intriguing heroine, a cool hero, and a fiendishly unique villain. Overall, the set-up is smartly intricate, no time is wasted getting right into the action, and the conclusion is nothing short of spectacular.
Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is attacked one dark and lonely night in her garage by a man with a frighteningly asthmatic voice. What initially looks to be a sexual assault turns into coercion – the mysterious rogue demands that Kelly help him steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. Her motivation is in his careful research: he’s cased her well enough to know her movements, her friends, and her 16-year old sister Toby (Stefanie Powers), whose life may be in danger if she doesn’t cooperate. Before she’s violently warned yet again about her wise participation in the heavy breather’s scheme, Kelly gets out a panicked phone call to FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford), who must discreetly track down the killer before his body count includes the terrified sisters.
Composer Henry Mancini favors uneasy, dissonant tones to assist in the stylishly foreboding atmosphere. The music and the mood crafts anticipation and tension for the many shocks director Blake Edwards has masterfully planned out (this is especially notable since his repertoire is chiefly comedies). His weapon of choice for “Experiment in Terror” is abrupt, jarring, in-your-face transitions from scene to scene, equivalent to the jump-scares so frequently found in contemporary horror films. As the secretive antagonist tries to startle the reluctant bank teller into following his plan, the film uses crafty terror tactics to comparably intimidate the audience.
Refreshingly, the police aren’t shown to be completely incompetent. In a classic cops-and-robbers situation, involving an antagonist who thinks he can outwit law enforcement, it’s nice to see a lead FBI character that never slips up. Carefully tracking down the murderer through informants, research, and a few red herrings is one of the more interesting aspects of the production. Here, when Ripley tells Kelly, “We’ll be close by all the time and everything’s going to be all right,” it’s not completely unbelievable that she puts so much faith into the stereotypically inefficient authorities. With the additional elements of nail-biting gunplay, false leads, unexpected victims, a hostile witness, and an exhilarating amount of suspense, “Experiment in Terror” proudly lives up to its name and aptly grants a satisfyingly original murder-mystery experience.
– Mike Massie