I pulled this one out of my unwatched pile the other night, knowing very little about it. It's a schizophrenic experience. But in the end I enjoyed it a great deal.
The 2nd half of this film is much better than the first. The first 40 minutes or so play out almost like a bad episode of Karloff's Thriller. Up until that point I was wondering why I'd heard so many good things about this one. Supporting performances are lousy and the music is extremely ham-fisted--even for the era. And the plot is so neutered it seems like a TV movie or a film from a much earlier date.
Maybe that was all intentional since it effectively lulled me to sleep--which made the ensuing gut punch a lot more effective. The plot abruptly shifts gears about halfway through with a very effective shock scene that totally changed my mindset. After 40 minutes of hokey, tired, and tame plotting it really grabbed my attention.
Everything that follows seemed much better to me: the atmospheric black and white photography, some awesome stagebound exteriors swirling with artificial fog, and an exciting climax with some memorable imagery. And as a bonus you get a very gaunt Christopher Lee trying mightily to approximate an American accent. I don't recall seeing him try that anywhere else.
There are some can't-miss similarities to Psycho that would support a whole other discussion--including one plot device that earned Hitchcock a great deal of acclaim. Since the two films were released in approximately the same time frame I wonder if he deserves less credit for it than he got.
If you're a fan of the Universal classics or 60s Bava I think you'd probably enjoy this one. And the VCI DVD goes for less than $8 used at Amazon. Check it out.