The Spiral Staircase
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Set in early 20th century New England, the screenplay by Mel Dinelli is about a serial killer who is murdering disabled young women in the community. His next victim apparently is Helen, a mute girl who works as a live-in companion for wealthy, bedridden Mrs. Warren, who urges her to leave the house, as does Dr. Parry, who knows the reason for Helen's loss of speech and hopes to help her get her voice back. Rounding out the household are Mrs. Warren's son and stepson, her verbally-abused nurse, a secretary, a handyman and his wife, a housekeeper with a taste for brandy. It contains some glorious black and white cinematography from a forgotten master, Nicholas Musuraca. A stunning example comes early in the film as Helen walks home at night in the rain. She rattles a stick against some railings when a flash of lightning illuminates a gleaming silhouette of her stalker in the trees. It has been copied many times, most notably in I Know What You Did Last Summer. It's worth seeing the film for that shot alone. The gloomy, decaying mansion where most of the action takes place is wonderfully realised by production designer Albert S. D'Agostino , who also designed Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons. Despite its dated, vaguely Freudian themes, it remains a highly atmospheric film and a very enjoyable thriller.
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