Who knows what really happens when we dream? They can take a myriad forms, where the dreamer can imagine themselves flying or dying, and some say in a nightmare if you die, you will die in real life. Each time you fall asleep and enter this realm of slumber, you are technically a "night walker", and woe betide you if you are not sure when you are awake. Take the case of Irene Trent (Barbara Stanwyck), who was married to the almost-blind millionaire Howard Trent (Hayden Rorke) and suffering from his jealous obsession that she was having an affair: she was not, but nothing she said could dissuade him from the idea their lawyer friend Barry Morland (Robert Taylor) was cuckolding him.
After Psycho was released, many filmmakers followed in director Alfred Hitchcock's footsteps, such was the indelible effect the movie had on audiences and the wider culture alike, but none were so keen to generate the same profits Hitch had than William Castle. In the nineteen-fifties, he had been pursuing his own line of horrors and thrillers largely centred around gimmicks which certainly made him a name to be reckoned with at the box office, but he did not have the cognoscenti examining the themes in his work the same way they did with the British director, probably because with Castle everything was on the surface and he didn't really commit to any depth or substance.
Nevertheless, he watched Hitchcock like a hawk, professionally anyway, and come the sixties he was producing a series of Psycho-lite entries, all of which built up to the similar sort of big reveal to catch the audience off guard as that blockbuster had but featured little of the resonance; once a gimmick-maker, always a gimmick-maker. Castle did not make any great claims to art, he was a showman and revelled in that image, yet you do wonder occasionally if he ever wished he could have been taken more seriously than he was, as efforts like Homicidal and Strait-Jacket were very silly at heart, containing not one iota of real life peril as everything was in the service of promoting the twist.
Not the dance The Twist, though Castle's work was as ephemeral as that line in pop culture, and would not make as lasting an impact as anything considered high quality in the annals of cinema, with The Night Walker his other horror movie starring an ageing female celebrity of 1964, the alternative being the aforementioned Strait-Jacket with Stanwyck's old pal Joan Crawford (you like to imagine Joan recommended Castle to her). It received mixed responses, and Stanwyck evidently decided the movies, which had been so good to her, were now best left alone as she concentrated on television, like her hit Western series The Big Valley - she did love her Westerns, and in truth a chiller like this didn't suit her so much when she was often playing tough, no nonsense dames that had made her name.
Here she was asked to look spooked and even scream (not an activity that was a good fit with her famously low, brittle voice), which might have been acceptable for Crawford, but Babs? Not so great, even alongside her ex-husband Taylor, who she was still on friendly terms with. Another problem was the plot, devised by Psycho scribe Robert Bloch with far too few suspects, leading to ponderings if the whole affair was a budget project and all the funds went on securing Stanwyck. Nevertheless, there was evidence Castle was engaged when the nightmare sequences were unfolding, and they were genuinely odd, yet so blatantly staged by forces trying to drive Irene mad that with so few suspects as to the culprit, you would be far ahead of the plot. So much so that someone as savvy as the star's persona would have sussed it within minutes, and no matter how many shop dummies, scarred faces or creepy organ recitals there were, The Night Walker was pretty flimsy. Patches of interest, but in retrospect, it needed more camp, though interesting parallels to the Castle-produced Rosemary's Baby were in the air. Music by Vic Mizzy (which sounds like Food Glorious Food from Oliver!).