Roger Moore is Quite Beside Himself in Subtle Horror Tale
DIRECTED BY BASIL DEARDEN/1970
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MAY 7, 2019/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
London, 1970. Sir Roger Moore, even at this young, pre-007 age, is sporting every bit the British moniker. A finely-fitted black suit, a bowler hat, and don’t forget the umbrella. Why, he’s the very portrait of Monty Python upper class British twit. Meet Pelham, husband and father of two. And soon enough, one intensely confused man.
In these first moments, though, things seem well enough. Welp, another fine day at the big important upper-class office; it’s fine time for a fellow to be heading home…
But then…. In the space of only an opening credits driving montage, something changes. He changes. While behind the wheel, his demeanor visibly shifts as he hits the freeway, unbuckling his safety belt, and applying considerable pressure to the fuel peddle. Swerving and zagging past his fellow drivers at a frightful velocity, Moore’s face contorts to demented expressions, the type that James Bond would never be caught dead making. With a quick insert shot of one of his speeding hubcaps, one might swear to the sight of lightning churning around in it. And then, via a strange moment of superimposition, he’s driving another car. Not the stiff upper class twit number he initially got into, but a cool car. A really cool car… one undeniably built for speed. One with two headlights per side instead of just one.
Then, he speeds into a junkyard and crashes.
Cut to the hospital. Our protagonist is bleeding something terrible, rushed via wheeled gurney into the operating theatre. Things are happening fast; the technicians must scramble.
Then, he dies. But don’t worry, a little quick medical scramble, and he’s right back with us. Right back with us… but sporting two heartbeats on the EKG…?
From here, The Man Who Haunted Himself mercifully slows down. That is, it slows in terms of major events occurring every few minutes, settling into a general groove of “WTF is going on?”. It seems that Pelham has been making plans, deals, and appearances that he himself is completely unaware of. The activities of his apparent double are increasingly nefarious. Uncharacteristic gambling? Corporate espionage?? An affair with a beautiful woman??? Just what the bloody heck IS happening, anyhow????
Basil Dearden directs this absorbing little thriller with utmost confidence, amping up the visual flair from initially “unremarkable” to “Mario Bava-esque” by the end. One thing he clearly loves is the zoom in on a single car headlight, that bizarre trope that was all too common in these early ‘70’s potboilers, most of which fall far short of this film in terms of overall quality. But, as Pelham’s strange case becomes more apparent, we find that even the headlights bear metaphorical significance. And The Man Who Haunted Himself emerges beyond the level of curio, revealing itself as something great. Much of the credit goes to Roger Moore, who’s full commitment to this role elevates the entirety of the thing, unquestionably. He spoke quite highly of it in his older age.
This recently released Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics boasts a tremendous transfer of this film that never truly got its due stateside. Some of Dearden’s then-innovative visual effects process shots betray their intended trickery, but that was likely the case even when the film was new. This release is billed as a “special edition”, in this case meaning that the commentary track features the film’s star, the late Sir Roger Moore, as well as the film’s uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes. The track is moderated by journalist Jonathan Sothcott. Much of their relaxed conversation is devoted to Moore’s entire career, though it’s clear he adores this film. Additionally, there’s an eighteen-minute appreciation of the film with “Masters of Horror” Joe Dante (director of Gremlins) and Stuart Gordon (director of The Re-animator).
Dante and Gordon make the point that this subtle psychological horror piece is actually quite Hitchcock-ian in nature. Though essentially a non-explicit film, the story’s psychosexual aspect is never far from the forefront. All of it adds up to a rather twisted doppelgänger tale, commenting on class and the male id. It’s a haunting treat to discover The Man Who Haunted Himself on Blu-ray.