Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

Director: Arthur Crabtree

I’m fascinated by films that seem to be precursors of later trends but don’t seem to get acclaimed as such. Arguably, this is one such film; you can see it as a forerunner of the serial killer film, obviously, but, given the slightly… baroque, shall we say, nature of the killings, it also struck me as looking forwards to the giallo. I mean, binoculars that have six-inch spikes concealed in them so that when you hold them up to your eyes, they stab you through to your brain. That’s a hell of a beginning for a film, and in its relative explicitness it’s genuinely stunning for something made in 1959; outside of Hammer, was anyone doing anything as overt as that in films then? (The reference to the head of the second victim going missing is kind of startling too.) This is the year before Peeping Tom, too (and Eyes Without a Face as well, although that film was a bit nastier with that surgery business. It was in b/w, though, unlike Horrors). Mind you, it’s hard to call the film particularly good as such, because in so many ways it’s not; some of the acting is ropey at best and there are a few loose threads even I picked up on (what DID happen to that missing head? Why does the killer’s face go that way? Why does the woman who runs the antique shop think she can get away with blackmailing Bancroft after, you know, giving him that “weapon” as if she thought he wouldn’t use it on her? And what is he doing with some of that gear just lying there in his “black museum”… did he keep that vat full of acid in case it might come in handy one day?). It’s all kind of preposterous, but Michael Gough in the lead role—which was originally slated for Vincent Price—certainly does his best to rise to the occasion, leaving teeth marks all over the scenery in the process. Utterly and unrepentantly B-film in every way, actually a substantial hit in 1959 too; it probably needs a fairly open mind now, and a willingness to overlook certain things, but taken for what it is, it’s kind of fun. And the final kill, executed while jumping off a fairground ferris wheel, is indeed inspired.

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