Snorkel, The (1958)
Cast: Peter Van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller
Director: Guy Green
Nutshell: A cold blooded killer with an ingenious methodology must kill again as his dark secrets are in danger of being unravelled.
The Snorkel emerged as a script by Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster that was then developed into a murder thriller set on the continent. 1957 had seen Hammer flying high on the success of The Curse of Frankenstein and a new age was dawning on the studio and there direction was mainly to be horror movies and thrillers with The Snorkel being among the initial productions.
The film had no major stars in the cast, modest even by Hammer standards but even then they managed to go above budget due mostly to the location shooting. The film isn’t the usual whodunit murder thriller as the audience gets to see the killer at work from the first shot of the film. The cold hearted killer has devised a brilliant method and has already offed his wife having murdered her husband years ago. Now he has only the orphaned young girl to take care of as with each passing day she grows more and more adamant that he is the killer of her parents.
The police have nothing to go on but a young raving adolescent and soon enough the wife’s murder is shelved as unresolved by the local police. The 13 year old girl doggedly sticks to her claims and remains a thorn in the flesh of the killer and she even takes to taunting him with nonsensical rhymes that actually make a lot of sense. Gradually the film grows to a climax where the killer decides to kill again and goes about his business with chilling precision and similar success until a dreadful turn leaves him with the tables turned on him in devastating style.
Jimmy Sangster wrote the original ending to be different to the one finally used in the film because it was deemed too dark and thus controversial and unpalatable and yet with hindsight the original ending would have left the film with more resonance and power and as Sangster himself mentioned “would have got people talking, which is always a good thing”.
The film is shot in beautiful black and white but lacks a certain visual flair that was such the signature of Hammers more successful gothic productions. The presentation and style of the film is rather pedestrian and reminiscent of 1960’s television more than a feature film shot on the continent and may have offered a lot more in the visual flair department. The acting is difficult to fault given the material and Peter Van Eyck makes a considerable impression as the Killer while Mandy Miller is impressive as the feisty and determined young sleuth. The pre-title sequence is intriguing but there are few other moments when the director could have infused a certain tension or tautness but it doesn’t quite materialize in a way to enhance proceedings.
Certainly one of Hammer’s less celebrated films, The Snorkel has almost been forgotten amidst the flurry of gothic monster hits they scored in glorious colour and films such as The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula and their sequels far more prominent in the Hammer consciousness and their catalogues than a film like The Snorkel which is to a large extent a film that has been forgotten by time until the wonderful people at Indicator decided to restore and release it as an excellent Blu-Ray as part of a four title Hammer set. Though the poster is a rather fetching one, it is equally misleading with the killer seemingly stalking his victim underwater!
The film is beautifully presented and supplemented with a commentary track and other interesting extras that render it a complete and completely satisfying product and essential viewing for anyone with a genuine interest in film history with a focus on the work of the great Hammer Studios over the years. The Snorkel may not rank among their biggest hits nor among their finest moments but it stands up as a perfectly capable and engaging thriller. Maintaining the original ending would have given it something to remember the film by and it wouldn’t have just faded away from memory as it has been doing for the last 50 odd years. Props to Indicator for issuing this obscure little Hammer film, well worth a watch.