“Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare”- Alfred Hitchcock
A decade before the slasher movie became a genre with the John Carpenter classic Halloween, Alfred Hitchcock had already put forth his ideas to sculpt a new style of shocker in the abandoned Kaleidoscope. Hitchcock had already hinted at the genre in his legendary 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Here he presented an evil unlike any creation of Frankenstein or Dracula, one lurking within human nature itself. With the character of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), he showed how even the shyest, well-mannered person could be a monster.
When it came to following the success of Psycho, Hitchcock did it with style three years later with his horror The Birds. But further movies, Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966), were only moderate successes, and many felt the magic that Hitchcock could capture through a lens had all but left him. A new direction was needed, a new submergence into horror and psychological terror. Reaching back to the premise of Psycho, that evil exists in the most unlikely of places, the idea for what became known as Kaleidoscope was born.
Unlike many outings at the time, Kaleidoscope would take its ideas from real life crimes. As it was the mid-60s, the decade of all things permissive, Hitchcock felt the need to push further into the abyss, colliding taste with that appetite for fear. It would be completely from the angle of the serial killer, making the evil the central narrative focus.
Hitchcock had approached Psycho author Robert Bloch in 1964 to write a novel based on his idea, which the director could then adapt for the screen. When Bloch found it too harrowing, however, playwright Benn Levy (Lord Camber’s Ladies) came onboard and wrote a rough script. Had this taboo destroying movie been made, it would have heralded a new age of filmmaking, and a more graphic style of cinematic storytelling, along with giving audiences a clear route into the warped motives of a serial killer.
To nail his vision properly, Alfred Hitchcock took to writing his own draft of a script, the first time he had done so in 20 years. His idea was to set Kaleidoscope in New York. It would follow a handsome, charismatic and spoilt mummy’s boy named Wille Cooper – not unlike the recent Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Cooper was to be a body building enthusiast, driven by a need to have sex with women by water and then murder them. Three key locations pointed to in the script where Cooper committed his heinous acts were a disused warship in a dockyard, an oil refinery and by a waterfall.
One hour’s worth of test footage was shot on location around New York. Available to watch without audio online, it provides a hint of the graphic content planned. Hitchcock then approached executives at MCA/Universal, armed with his script, footage and 450 camera positions which he was developing. His plans were to strip back to using natural light, cast a bunch of unknown actors, and deploy handheld camera angles. All of these ideas were rejected by the powers that be, and he was simply not allowed to make Kaleidoscope. MCA/Universal found it was too much to bring to the screen, a stretch into the realms of horror and sex which would be dismissed upon release.
Hitchcock missed his chance by no fault of his own to prove how essential he still was to cinema. Dismayed, it was two years before his next movie – the quirky, lukewarm episodic thriller Topaz. That said, he found a late period success with 1972’s serial killer thriller Frenzy, which featured similar themes to the unmade Kaleidoscope. Based somewhat on the Christie murders of the early 1950s and the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, it centred on a murderer who frames an ex-RAF serviceman (Jon Finch, Polanski’s Macbeth) for his crimes, causing the latter to go on the run.
Within two years from the release of Frenzy, the world embraced the horror genre with the release of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Everything Hitchcock had hoped to bring stylishly to the screen but couldn’t was now acceptable. Never revisiting his vision for Kaleidoscope, he instead settled into an upbeat, comedic finale to his career with the 1976 hit Family Plot, starring Bruce Dern and Karen Black as “fake” psychics and professional thieves. While solid, it was a far cry from the incendiary fear he could summon on a big screen.
If Kaleidoscope had been made, it could have reignited Hitchcock’s creativity and led to further outings of macabre brilliance. Now, however, we can only speculate 52 years after the planned event.