Someone has called the police tonight, at five to seven, to report a murder. The lieutenant, Kritzman (Simon Scott), on the line from the homicide department asks for details, but the caller cannot offer them for the crime has not been committed yet. All he will say is that five minutes from now a killing will occur, and before the lieutenant can quiz him any further he hangs up and walks off in search of a random passerby, with ending their life foremost in his mind. He finds what he wants amidst some bystanders watching a toy salesman - at seven, one of them lies in the street, dead.
Robert Bloch once said he'd rather have been known as the man who wrote The Bible rather than the man who wrote Psycho, such was the weight of expectation on his shoulders from the point Alfred Hitchcock made the tale a movie sensation. Mind you, it did his career more good than harm as his brand of horror-themed thrillers both sold well in paperback and were much in demand for a while in other media, often with Bloch called on to pen the scripts himself. The Couch was a serial killer suspenser, though if you were expecting a big twist at some point a la Psycho, you may have been let down at how straightforward it was.
That was to say it played out with far fewer big revelations than you might have anticipated for a movie which was so reluctant to show its main character's face for the opening five minutes, as if we were being led to a mystery or sorts, when the identity of the killer is actually given away right at the start. He is Charles Campbell, played by Incredible Shrinking ManGrant Williams, one of those actors for whom one terrific role in a cult movie defined his career, so that he was never a big star - though his television work later on made him at least recognisable in a "hey, it's that guy" way - but for those who were affected by his one great performance he remained a figure of intrigue when his other appearances were less of a big deal.
Williams was playing against the hero type here, evidently trying to extend his range in a villainous role, though Campbell was more complex than your basic, two-dimensional movie psychopath, given a backstory which oddly anticipated something like Hitchcock's Marnie, only with a male protagonist, and leaving the method in his madness for a flashback at the end. We catch up with him just after his first murder visiting a psychiatrist, Dr Janz (Onslow Stevens) who has arranged to treat him after something we find out about later forced Campbell to see him as part of his therapy and rehabilitation. His appointment is at seven, thus offering him an alilbi, and to complicate matters he has made tentative moves towards romance.
With Janz's secretary Terry Ames (Shirley Knight), which would seem a serious breach in the code of ethics, and the way this develops would render The Couch a cautionary tale for any woman in the same position. Anyway, as the appointments pass by, each time shedding a little more light onto Campbell's psychology, so does he insist in phoning the cops to tell them he's going to murder again, which true to his promise he does. Williams was seeking a sympathetic side to Campbell which Bloch is only half willing to give, which creates an interesting tension as we know this man is despicable but we have to divine some reason to keep watching him, though that turns out to be more concern for those around him, including his landlady and her half-interested daughter. This has a curious atmosphere of fifties police procedural (Frank Perkins' jazzy music only enhances that) and post-Psycho methodology, ending up with a fairly tense sequence in a hospital that makes this worth sticking with; but it is awkward.