Horrors of the Black Museum

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 00:00
Posted in Cult Movies on DVD
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Horrors of the Black Museum - restored on DVDMichael Gough takes centre stage in this British 1959 horror feature. A box-office gem, shot at Merton Park studios in the relatively new CinemaScope format (plus 'Hypno-Vista'!), “Horrors of the Black Museum” was the first in what has been dubbed Anglo-Amalgamated’s ‘Sadian trilogy” (with “Circus of Horrors” and “Peeping Tom”), in which the keynote is sensationalistic, sexually charged violence. And now Network have issued a restored print in its original aspect ratio.

While a series of grisly, macabre and seemingly motiveless murders leaves Scotland Yard baffled, leading crime writer and journalist Edmond Bancroft (Gough), hampered by having to walk with a cane, is following events with particular interest. The victims are always young women with no ties. When it is discovered that a young man, Rick (Graham Curnow), who works for Bancroft, seems to be somehow tied up in the killings, it becomes clear that his mentor is delighting in the Yard's embarrassment.

One of the early scenes will lead you to be suspicious of using binoculars ever again, which becomes the fourth in the bizarre executions – the first three we don’t see on screen. All of this concerns Bancroft’s Doctor Ballan (Gerald Andersen), when Bancroft has a routine examination, as it is doing the journalist's blood pressure no good at all. Bancroft scoffs when Ballan suggests psychiatric treatment to try and bring things under control.

Bancroft has a fascination for macabre bric-a-brac, which is supplied to him by antique shop owner Aggie (Beatrice Varley). Initially she has the demeanour of a sweet, dotty veteran, but there is a dark side to her where extortion isn’t outside her skills set, but she will regret trying to charge Bancroft £1,200 for a set of ice tongues.

A blonde in a red dress then crosses Bancroft’s path. Joan Berkley (June Cunningham) is very much designed to be a British Marilyn Monroe, with the figure and breathless dialogue to match. Given this film was released in the same year as “Some Like It Hot” this was obviously no accidental piece of casting. Joan is a nasty piece of work, even trying to bribe Bancroft, and you just know that means things won’t end well. A scene where she dances provocatively in front of a jukebox within a pub as good as seals her fate – every conceivable stereotypical male surrounds her, looking on.

Also getting in the firing line is a very young Shirley Ann Field as Rick’s love interest Angela Banks. Bancroft is enraged that Rick brings Angela into the inner sanctum of his own private Black Museum of ingenious but outrageous criminal gadgets, a few of which would not feel out of place in “Carry on Screaming”.

Bancroft makes matters clear to Rick: “No woman can hold her tongue. They are all a vicious, unreliable breed”. Bancroft further nails his colours to the mast when he says:  “It was no accident that Satan was able to tempt Even before Adam”. We also learn that Rick is due to inherit all of Bancroft’s estate, which Bancroft hopes will be a suitable payoff for Rick’s years of loyalty.

Geoffrey Keen as Supt Graham sets the type that would dominate the roles that he would be cast in for the rest of his career (Sir Frederick Gray in the Roger Moore/Timothy Dalton Bond movies, Det Supt Harvey in Dixon of Dock Green, Brian Stead in Mogul). Alongside him on the side of the law is John Warwick as Inspector Lodge. Warwick would shortly afterwards go on to play Inspector Landon in Police Surgeon, the 1960 series created by Sydney Newman which would eventually undergo a metamorphosis to become The Avengers.

We discover that Bancroft has a drug which creates absolute compliance in anyone who imbibes it. Channelling the Jekyll and Hyde mythology, it has the ability to tap into the dual personalities within us all (shades of MK Ultra immediately spring to mind here), while also changing the physical form for the time it has kicked in.

The ‘Tunnel of Love’ at a funfair is the scene for another twist in the tale, and the park is the location for the grand finale where those involved in the reign of terror meet their comeuppance.

Special features on this DVD include:

  • Original theatrical trailers (Two English and One German)
  •  “Introducing Hypno-Vista” – with Emile Franchel describing the ‘science’ behind this ‘filming technique’ which literally switches on your fears (!);
  • US titles (Emile Franchel with an abridged intro to the film and ‘Hypno-Vista); and
  • Image Gallery.


This movie will surprise many with its graphic visualisation of some of the gruesome crimes, and stands up well as any entrant in the horror genre. So, be warned, this isn’t your usual 1950s hokum, even today it has the ability to shock.

“HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM” is out now from Network Distributing. It has a running time of 90 minutes approx, a ‘15’ certificate, and a RRP of £9.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com


Last modified on Friday, 05 July 2013 12:03

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