Monday, 13 June 2011

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

In 1959 the British horror boom was getting into full swing and Anglo-Amalgamated was one of many companies only too happy to climb board the bandwagon. Horrors of the Black Museum is however a million miles away from the gothic horrors of Hammer Films that had launched the boom. This is contemporary urban horror, it’s cheap, sleazy and exploitative and far more graphic.

But than I happen to enjoy cheap, sleazy and exploitative horror films so I’m not complaining! This one was quite controversial in its day and was considered to have pushed the envelope as far as graphic violence was concerned.

London has been terrorised by a series of brutal murders of young women. It appears that the murders have been inspired by the Black Museum, Scotland Yard’s infamous collection of memorabilia of murder and crime. To add to their woes the police are being taunted for their failures by crime journalist Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough).

Bancroft has an interest in crime that might be termed unhealthily obsessive. He has his own Black Museum, and it’s bigger than Scotland Yard’s. His museum also includes a computer - his interest in crime is scientific as well as historical. His assistant Rick is slightly worrying as well. He seems a bit too eager to obey Bancroft’s every instruction.

The murders continue, while Bancroft’s doctor has noticed that after every murder Bancroft is in a dangerously excited state.

Michael Gough gives the kind of deliciously over-the-top performance that made him so beloved by cult movie fans. He completely dominates the movie. The other actors are perfectly adequate.

The script is fairly silly although in this kind of movie that’s not a major problem. What matters is that it’s well-paced and it delivers the horror goods. Which it does. Interestingly enough when producer Herman Cohen originally showed the film to the British censor without the music it was passed without comment (to Cohen’s considerable surprise). When the censor saw the final version with Gerard Schurmann’s music he demanded cuts, especially to the notorious murder-by-binoculars scene.

One area in which the movie definitely shows the Hammer influence lies in the fact that it was shot in colour and in Cinemascope.

VCI’s DVD presentation is reasonably good and includes quite a few extras.

A thoroughly enjoyable trashy horror movie.


Hence72 said...

Sounds great

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

A notorious title from the late 1950's, and one of the keynote films used by middlebrow British critics too illustrate that the new wave of horror films were destroying the moral fabric of the country! The trilogy of horror films produced by Anglo-Amalgamated (BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS, PEEPING TOM) were dubbed 'The Sadean Trilogy' by David Pirie, but I've always dubbed them 'The Spectatorship Trilogy', for this is the main thematic preoccupation that unites them. This is a really interesting little film. The limitations you mentioned are spot on though.