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Film / Shock Corridor

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"Whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad."
Euripides, 425 B.C.

1963 drama directed by Samuel Fuller.

Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck), an ambitious journalist, is determined to win a Pulitzer Prize by solving a murder committed in a lunatic asylum and witnessed only by three inmates, from whom the police have been unable to extract the information. With the connivance of a psychiatrist, and the reluctant help of his girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers), he succeeds in having himself declared insane and sent to the asylum. There he slowly tracks down and interviews the witnesses - but things are stranger than they seem ...

This film provides examples of:

  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Johnny wanted to solve the mystery of the murder at the asylum and get to the bottom of the case. To do so he enters as a mental patient and finally goes insane for good.
  • Becoming the Mask: Johnny eventually goes from feigning insanity as a cover story to becoming insane for real by the end of the film.
  • Bedlam House: The asylum has this dysfunctional feel to it.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Johnny gradually believed his Brother–Sister Incest cover story was factual and he's really a mental patient.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Downer Ending: Johnny solves the mystery, the murderer is caught, and Johnny gets his Pulitzer. But his obsession leads to him mentally snapping—he is now catatonic, and a patient at the asylum. And there seems to be no hope for Cathy reconciling with him.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Trent, as a self-proclaimed black Klansman.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: A self-inflicted example, as Johnny's prolonged exposure to the asylum's atmosphere caused him to brainwashed himself into thinking he's really insane and believing in his own Brother–Sister Incest cover story.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Johnny fakes desiring and attempting it with his pretend sister to get committed.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Johnny's speaking impairment in critical situations as a result of the electroshock therapy.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Trent is performing one of these.
  • Central Theme: America is a madhouse!
  • Create Your Own Villain: All the inmates in the asylum are driven mad as a result of some failing in American society, whether it's the Red Scare and Confederate Lost Cause, rampant bigotry, nuclear weapons or tabloid journalism and obsession with fame.
  • Driven to Madness: The whole point of it. It's about a journalist has himself declared insane in order to investigate the murder in the mental hospital. But he slowly losing his mind.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: The electroshock treatment Johnny is given only makes him worse.
  • Fanservice: Cathy's song number in a skimpy Vegas show-girl outfit.
  • Fat Best Friend: The gigantic opera singer instantly befriends Johnny.
  • Flipping the Table: This happens during the dispute at the canteen.
  • Genius Ditz: Dr. Boden, a brilliant nuclear scientist, has regressed to the mental level of a six-year old, spending his time drawing crude childish pictures and playing hide-and-go-seek.
  • Go Among Mad People: Johnny.
  • Heroic Breakdown: Johnny undergoes one as he is Becoming the Mask.
  • Hollywood Law: The movie acts like the murderer has been nailed when Johnny beats him into a confession. In reality, that would be inadmissible in court. The only witness is also a delusional mental patient who thinks he's a little boy most of the time. So it's likely the murderer would go free.
  • Inner Monologue: Johnny's thoughts are the main narrative.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Averted in the case of Boden and Stuart and some of the other inmates who are harmless, but it's certainly true of Trent, the nymphomaniacs and Johnny.
  • Internalized Categorism: Trent has experienced so much bigotry that he starts mouthing slurs and even sports a Ku Klux Klan outfit despite being African-American.
  • Iris Out: The movie starts with an Iris-In effect on the long asylum corridor.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Cathy's crazy love for Johnny.
  • Mistaken for Incest: This is a big plot point, where the protagonist is an ambitious journalist that pretends to have an incestuous fixation on his own sister (she is actually his girlfriend) in order to be committed to an asylum where he is pursuing a story. Completely Played for Drama.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Stuart believes that he's American Civil War general J. E. B. Stuart.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: By faking to be insane and vulnerably exposing himself to the mental hospital's environment, Johnny had unintentionally brainwashed himself into believing in his own Brother–Sister Incest cover story and he's actually insane.
  • Orderlies are Creeps: Wilkes anyway.
  • Punctuated Pounding: Who! Killed! Sloan! (Johnny pounding Wilkes' head on the floor)
  • Punishment Box: Johnny is threatened by the warden with having this treatment.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the opening scene, Cathy is giving one of these to Johnny concerning his obsession.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The whole movie, with its over-the-top satire, is filled with this. The Trent episode is especially bold.
  • Room Full of Crazy: A mild version with the drawings in the nympho ward.
  • Sanity Slippage: Johnny's losing it towards the end, becoming a legit inmate of the asylum, thereby Becoming the Mask as it was originally his cover.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Pagliacci views everything as an opera, often imitating the movements of an orchestral conductor around the other inmates. When Johnny screams during a panic attack, Pagliacci mistakes it for a sour note.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Stuart, a Korean War vet traumatized by his brainwashing by the Dirty Communists and disgraced by the American public as a traitor.
  • Shout-Out: John Zorn's album Radio has a track called "Shock Corridor".
  • Society Is to Blame: All the inmates in the asylum are driven mad by certain ugly facets of American society.
  • Splash of Color: While the movie is produced in black and white, the nightmares/visions of the characters are depicted in color. This is actually footage Fuller shot for a planned adventure film in Brazil's Karaja community, that ultimately got cancelled.
  • Talkative Loon: Trent in particular.
  • Where da White Women At?: Trent mentions this twice in his hate speeches.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Johnny, trying to convince the shrink of his sanity.