Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)
WRITER: Aben Kandel & Herman Cohen
DIRECTOR: Arthur Crabtree
STARRING: Michael Gough as Edmond Bancroft
June Cunningham as Joan Berkley
Graham Curnow as Rick
Shirley Ann Field as Angela
Geoffrey Keen as Supt. Graham
Gerald Andersen as Dr. Ballan
John Warwick as Inspector Lodge
QUICK CUT: When a series of strange murders using weapons mimicking ones stored in Scotland Yard's Black Museum, crime writer Edmond Bancroft may be the only one who can find the culprit.
Edmond Bancroft - An overly enthusiastic crime writer who likes collecting deadly weapons with his own private Batcave museum, but he has personal issues and trouble connecting with other people thanks to his intelligence.
Rick - Bancroft's devoted assistant who is willing to do anything his boss asks, except reveal the existence of his girlfriend.
Superintedant Graham - The lead investigator of the recent killings, and Bancroft's primary contact within Scotland Yard.
THE GUTS: Okay, this movie. You've heard me complain about pacing before, and I think this movie torpedoes itself before it even begins. Horrors is one of those 'gimmick' movies. Like The Tingler with its electric seats. This one, uses hypnotism. And to set this up, they do a, I shit you not, 13 MINUTE LONG introduction about hypnotism, by a psychologist, Emile Franchel. That...might be a bit excessive, guys.
I'm not going to talk TOO much about the setup here, but there are a few noteworthy parts. Part of me seriously wants to try and go along with the gimmick, but that may interfere with me making notes, so never mind.
Franchel tries to make the audience yawn, by yawning himself. A classic bit of suggestion, probably the easiest to use as an example on a crowd, but I mock your attempts and do not give in! And no, you can try and cover your butt by saying those who didn't yawn still felt the urge, but you would be wrong, good sir!
I cannot even begin to imagine going to a theatre nowadays and getting a 13 minute lecture before the movie.
Telling me I am going to feel things so intimately and want to scream because I've been hypnotised just kinda makes me NOT do that stuff. But then, I am an odd duck. And a jerk.
But enough of this stuff, the movie can actually finally get going now! Things get rolling innocently enough when a young, British woman names Gail receives a package containing a pair of binnoculars. Strange, those usually get used to watch a person from outside their house.
When she goes to look trough them though, she screams, and...is this the part where I was warned I'd want to sscream five minutes later, and I should give in to the movie's manipulations? If so, yeah. Not so much. Pass the popcorn, Franchel!
Gail's friend heads to the police to give her report, but doesn't really have much to add, since Peggy doesn't seem to know squat about her friend's life.
Fortunately, that's when Alfred Pennyworth walks in. I guess he was a crime writer before he became a butler for a guy who likes to dress up in black rubber. I could write a hell of a review on a grown man who dresses like a flying rodent, but I digress...
Anyways, Bancroft is impressed with the death dealing device, and recognises it from Scotland Yard's special Black Museum, a place where they store all the gadgets they've collected from the crazies of Gotham. Unfortunately, the place is not open to the general public, which raises some questions about where the killer got his inspiration.
The commissioner calls his inspectors down for a briefing, so Alfred is shooed off while they tell their boss that they don't know anything, and have no leads. Or as I like to call it, the start to every mystery ever written.
Done setting up that we know nothing, we cut back to Alfred visiting the doctor, and before we can learn he has some fatal, incurable illness that won't be solved for another forty years when he meets Mister Freeze, we learn that he gets stressed out over crimes he's researching, gets too into them, and they raise his blood pressure.
After his checkup, Alfred stops at his favourite junk shop, and buys a dagger for his collection. Which is way more suspicious than it should be, but hey, it's a mystery movie.
Bancroft heads home, and his assistant tells him all about the responses to his latest piece on the murders, and then they head down into the Batcave. Now, I know I'm heaping on the Batjokes, but what else am I gonna say when they walk through a door, head downstairs into a kinda dank cellar and show a room filled with torture devices?
I love how proud he is over his own collection of murderous objects, mocking the Yard's own museum for being too selective. Again, not suspicious at all!
Uh oh, the movie starts slowing down with character development. The doctor expresses concerns over Alfred, while back at his home, he's having a lovely night with his girlfriend, until they get into a fight over money, and we find out how everyone really feels. Now, it's legitimately good character development, and we get to see what a loner Bancroft is, what a broken man he is because of his cane, and his obsession with work, but after 13 minutes of monologue, I'm not sure the movie can afford to slow down like this. If it didn't have that crazy long intro, THEN we can take the time to pause and pad the film.
Joan storms off to have a good time alone, and while at the bar, she laughs in the face of every guy that approaches her. So when she starts walking down the street alone, we have quite a few suspects lined up for what we suspect is going to happen.
A happening that gets annoyingly curtailed when a pair of police officiers escort Joan back to her home. Once inside, she gets changed and climbs into bed...moments before noticing the portable guilliotine and the man who installed it. You would think that's something you notice BEFORE getting into bed. She has just enough time to scream before her head is lopped off.
The scream draws attention from the other tennants, naturally, and the killer runs right out into the hallway past the whole lot of them. They say every killer makes a fatal mistake, and this may be the fatalist of them all.
With the cops there, everyone describes an old man, which is fair enough. He is an odd looking bloke. Could pass for a Two-Face that got a little overzealous with the acid, really.
Later, Alfred is throwing a party for the release of his new book, and one of the inspectors shows up for a chat. I love how, even in the 1950s, there's a scene discussing how his writing might be causing the murders, and they ask why not blame movies, or the television? It's always been an issue, hasn't it, no matter what decade, no matter what century, go blame the media...
The inspector is there to tell Alfred they caught the killer, and he's confessed to all four murders. Yeah, right. Considering there was a cut from Joan's body being carted away to, 'we caught the killer completely off screen!" I am gonna say it's a red herring.
We finally get to meet our supposed killer in his cell, eager to confess even more crimes, like he can't wait to spill the beans on every damning thing he thinks he's ever done.
Once he starts ranting about death rays, they start to become dubious of his claims, but brush it off as just your general craziness you find in all killers.
The only one not believing Rivers at all, is Bancroft. He knows the mind of villains, he trained well under Master Bruce, after all. But he can tell he's spewing too much information, and that Rivers is just off, so Bancroft waits for the real killer to strike again.
Bancroft's assistant goes off to meet his girlfriend in the park, and Angela tries to get him to do some stuff. However, Rick talks about how he tries to have his own will, but always fails, like Alfred has some strange control over him. I smell a plot point...
Rick's boss heads to his favourite shop to get some new toys, and the owner tries to sell him some ice tongs, for oh, about 1200 pounds. Alfred does his best to not laugh in her face, but that's when things get interesting and she reveals she knows she sold him a pair of binnoculars that she can prove were used in our opening murder. Well well.
So, the price is more blackmail than an actual price, since she'd like to tuck away a nest egg for her retirement. She knows she can't go to Scotland Yard, being in things too deeply, but she'd like to live easy the next few years.
But rather than pay, Bancroft uses the tongs to pick the woman's brains up close and personal, solving most of his problems in one fell swoop. That won't look good for him later.
Alfred pays Scotland Yard a visit to try and get an interview with Rivers, since he's pretty confused by all this himself. However, he's too late, and the police have sent their suspect packing into psychiatric care. Oh well. Back to the Batcave!
While playing Tetris on his machine, Bancroft gets a visit from his doctor, who declares he has figured out that his patient is a very sick man. And he has connected Alfred's visits with the timing of the murders, so things continue to look bleak for our butler.
The doctor insists that Alfred must do exactly as he is told. Be careful, Doc. The last person that tried to make demands got a good tong lashing.
Which leads almost instantly to the doctor being killed by Alfred thanks to a handy giant bug zapper the writer just happened to have in his crime dungeon.
Alfred tells Rick to do all the dirty work of cleaning up the body, and tossing him into a giant vat of acid to dispose of...wait. Wait wait wait. Who in their right minds, and yes I realise that 'right minds' is highly questionable here, has a GIANT VAT OF ACID in their basement?? Even if you have a torture museum dungeon, why?? This is not Axis Chemicals, he's not the Joker, whyyyyy!!
I can buy a lot, give movies a lot of passes, but something like that NEEDS an explanation, damnit. "Well, I have a crime dungeon," is insufficient! This is just too much.
So, the doctor gets lowered into the vat of acid that the crime writer just so happens to have in his basement, while his assistant blindly follows his every order and does most of the work in getting his hands dirty. I'm just...wow.
With his little spot of murder out of the way, Alfred casually attends a book signing before returning home to find Rick is nowhere to be seen.
At least, not until Alfred enters the Bancroftcave and finds his guy Friday down there with his girlfriend Angela. Nice place to make out, I guess, if you don't mind the freshly steamed skeleton. And look, Rick is wearing the same coat as the man who killed Joan.
They have a friendly little chat, and Angela says that Rick shares everything with her, like a good boyfriend and future husband should. This worries our murderous writer, and he sends the young lady off to the living room while he and Rick finish up a few things.
Alfred's pretty pissed off at Rick for sharing their little secret, and he goes off on a bit of a sexist rant. But it's less sexist than it is about not wanting ANYone to tell the truth about what goes on down in the Batcave. But he throws in a few specifically misogynistic comments.
Rick asks how he can fix things, and Alfred reveals it's been too long since Rick has had one of his treatments, and gets out a needle, injecting his assistant. With Rick now thoroughly under his master's thrall, Alfred reveals that the serum is powerful stuff, and similar to Hyde's formula, proving man has a dual nature, and it can bring that evil side out.
...Well, things just got weird.
Now that Rick is nicely under his thumb once more, Alfred orders him to take Angela to the fair like they planned, and once Rick's there, he slowly becomes more aggresive as the movie spends the next five minutes becoming your typical Jekyll and Hyde movie, making a jarring shift in plot and tone.
The loving couple take a trip through the tunnel of love, and before it's over, Rick has completed his transformation, and stabs Angela in the chest with that Chekovian dagger from the first act, before running away.
Rick continues the plot's descent into randomness as he runs into a hall of mirrors, then tries to climb up the ferris wheel before the movie cuts away to another scene. This was not the plot I was looking for...
Alfred is hanging out with his cop buddies when they get the call to come to the fun fair. It's a great time for young and old! SEE! our bloody tunnel of love! THRILL! to our monster on the ferris wheel!
Once they arrive, Rickyll sees Alfred and calls out to him, saying he did as he was told, and the writer starts yelling himself, for the cops to kill the menace. Before he reveals the truth about everything...
Rick lunges for revenge, jumping off the ferris wheel like he's a monkey. Despite being shot by the police on the scene, he still manages to plunge his dagger into Alfred's chest, ending everything.
I love that the cops stand over the bodies and INSTANTLY piece everything together in the hastiest wrap up ever so the movie can end abruptly with an, "Of course! It all makes sense now!"
Yeah, except that vat of acid...
Video: Not great, with washed out colours and overly compressed. Bonus points deducted because of a widescreen movie being letterboxed to fit a 4:3 frame. Haaaate.
Audio: A mono track that does the job, and that's it. At least I can udnerstand everyone.
1 - First kill happens 15 minutes in, thanks to a pair of binnoculars armed with eyeball puncturing spikes. I see what you did there.
2 - Joan loses her head before sleep.
3 - The shoplady buys it from a pair of ice tongs at Bancroft's hand.
4 - Bancroft's doctor gets a good electrocutional from his patient.
5 - Angela gets stabbed in the chest by her Jeyklled boyfriend.
6 - Shot in the chest by the police as he plummets, Rick dies as he lands on...
7 - ...Bancroft with a dagger.
Best Corpse: There's a few good, random deaths here, and the Doctor's death is more memorable for what happens AFTER, so I'd go with that if he actually died from the acid, but instead I'll go with the binnoculars of doooom.
Blood Type - C-: There's some good blood here and there, but not much. But then, there IS a skeleton! BUT then there's the bad old age Jekyll makeup on Rick. You take the good, you take the bad, it averages out.
Sex Appeal: You get almost a hint of flesh when Joan gets ready for bed, but enjoy that lone tease.
Movie Review: Well. I'll be nice and ignore those opening 13 minutes. They're not REALLY part of the movie. But let me tell you, that drags the movie down, sharply. Without that, the movie's okay. Or most of it is, until that final act where everything flies off the rails and they throw everything at you. The funny thing is, the movie sets that act up perfectly, until the Jekyll potion enters things out of nowhere. Almost too perfectly, since there's no real twist. You kinda know Bancroft is the killer from the second he enters that shop. You go, "Okay, that's a red herring..." BUT IT ISN'T! The plot is exactly what you think it is! Until they bring in the drugs from up their ass. And the biggest SLAP in the face of that, is that the drugs are the cause of the mind control, NOT hypnosis. Hypnosis never enters into things! Those first 13 minutes have ZERO bearing on the plot! Okay, that pisses me off. Two out of five deadly death dungeon objects.
Entertainment Value: I love the creative kills they pull out for this movie, and it's cool to know, or at least be told, that each item is actually in Scotland Yard's real Black Museum. That's a dubious claim, but it's a nice bit of flavour. Michael Gough is fun to watch, and I love the twist of the movie being SO out of the blue that it brutally blindsides you. If you remove those long 13 opening minutes, this is a fun movie in those respects. Could be better though, so three out of five vats of acid in my basement.