Classic Horror Review featuring EXCLUSIVE artwork by Mark Satchwill
“Horrors Of The Black Museum”, made in 1959 and directed by Arthur Crabtree (who also directed “Fiend Without A Face”) stars Michael Gough as Edmond Bancroft, a successful crime writer. Bancroft is the bane of Scotland Yard, who are investigating a series of mysterious and cruel murders being perpetrated on women by an unknown assailant. We soon realise that Bancroft himself is involved in the murders, and we also find out that he, with the aid of his assistant, Rick, is building up his own “Black Museum”, a museum of torture implements and murder weapons, similar to the one at Scotland Yard.
The film opens with its most memorable scene as a woman is killed by a pair of binoculars she receives anonymously through the post that have long spikes hidden in the eyepiece (the binoculars are based on an actual case that happened in Germany in the 1930’s). Later, Bancroft’s “girlfriend” Joan (a blonde and brassy June Cunningham) meets a sticky end after dumping him and then going to the pub to dance for the other punters… as you do. Further murders reveal what’s going on and why until things reach a dramatic denouement at Battersea funfair.
It’s a rather strange film, and as it progresses the plot becomes increasingly incredulous, throwing in too many elements. The relationship between Bancroft and his assistant Rick (Graham Curnow) is also rather curious (it’s been argued there is a gay subtext to the film and that the relationship between Bancroft and Rick is a homosexual one, the younger man wanting to break free of the controlling older man). Bancroft certainly seems to have a very misogynistic attitude to women (”I tell you no woman can hold her tongue, they are all a vicious, unreliable breed”). Ricks relationship with Angela (a young and rather wooden Shirley Anne Field) threatens not only Bancrofts secrets but also his hold over Rick. Actually, you feel rather sorry for Rick who seems to be trying to escape one controlling relationship for another as Angela states that “a woman can’t begin training a future husband too soon”. It’s these games of power and secrets that are the at the heart of the film.
The film is considered the first of what is known as the Sadian trilogy, along with Circus Of Horrors and Peeping Tom, films dealing with sadistic murder and psychology as opposed to Hammer’s more gothic and fantastic output of the same period. It’s probably the weakest of the three films, but, that said, it’s still an interesting and enjoyable movie and worth watching. Interestingly the role of Bancroft was intended for Vincent Price, but he proved too expensive. The film was also originally released in “Hypno-vista”, a William Castle style gimmick, and the film began with 15 minutes of psychologist Emile Franchel explaining hypnotism and including a woman having needles inserted through the skin of her arm while under hypnosis. You can find this version of the movie on YouTube.
Review by Mark Satchwill
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