Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

... aka: Crimes in the Black Museum

Directed by:
Arthur Crabtree

During the memorably nasty opening sequence, a woman receives an anonymous package with a pair of binoculars inside, tries them out and then gets her eyeballs poked out by retractable blades hidden inside. It's the third brutal murder of a London female in just two weeks. Sensationalist writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) finds it all "fiendishly clever." Bancroft, who "eats, drinks and sleeps crime," taunts the Scotland Yard detectives handling the case and hobbles around on a cane chain-smoking Tibetan cigars, seems eager to write it all up. While he makes a ton of money dishing out the sordid details to the public, the murders are oddly enough having a strange physical effect on him that even his physician Dr. Ballan (Gerald Andersen) doesn't quite understand. After each killing, Edmond goes into a deep, though temporary, state of shock. Because his patient "manifests a high state of unnatural excitement" discussing death, Dr. Ballan believes he should be committed to a nuthouse... and he is, of course, correct in his assumption.

In the cellar of Bancroft's home is a large museum dedicated to murder and the macabre; one so elaborate he thinks it even makes a mockery of Scotland Yard's famed "Black Museum." In Edmond's personal collection are mannequins acting out various bloody death and torture scenes, tons of antique murder weapons adorning the walls and even a huge computer system. Edmond wants to demonstrate to the world that his "weapons can be used again and again... and that the murderer will never be caught," so he's been sending out his young assistant Rick (Graham Curnow), who has what Edmond refers to as "the gift of obedience,"  to murder women.

In between orchestrating his killings, Edmond's been keeping a drunken blonde trollop, Joan (June Cunningham), cooped up in an apartment he pays for. When sugar daddy refuses to give her extra spending money, the two get into a hilarious fight where he comments on her lack of "service polish" and she calls him an "ugly cripple." After getting drunk and dancing to a Rockola jukebox for a bar full of leering men, Joan returns home and hops into bed, only to quickly a little too late that Rick has turned her headboard into a makeshift guillotine.

Right as Edmond is about to make another kind of killing with his new true crime book "Terror After Dark," an unhinged man attempts to steal his thunder by erroneously confessing to the crimes. To remedy the situation, Edmond kills an antique store owner (Beatrice Varley) who's trying to blackmail him with a giant pair of ice tongs (!) and then electrocutes his shrink and dissolves the body in a vat of acid. He usually leaves the dirty work up to poor Rick, who's certainly not the brightest bulb in the shed and sits back and allows Edmond to give him a "treatment" (injection of green gunk) that turns him into a lumpy face killer. Rick's secretly dating Angela (Shirley Ann Field) but when Edmond finds out about it, he tells Rick that women are "a vicious, unreliable breed" and then instructs him to kill her on the Tunnel of Love ride at the Funfair.

So this is not a good movie. Much of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, the story line is all over the place, several of the supporting performances are flagrantly awful and it was filmed in early Cinemascope color (by Desmond Dickinson), so the whole thing has this really ugly, murky, muted look. Thankfully, Gough (who headlined KONGA [1961] and BLACK ZOO [1963] for the same production company) is around and steers this dreary little number right into camp territory by going hilariously over-the-top throughout. I love this guy. He's always great playing heartless, hateful and extremely smug sociopaths and here he cranks his performance up to a 20 when it really requires about a 7. Sometimes chewing the scenery is the way to go, and Gough knew when and when not to do it. And boy was it needed here. He's about the only thing to breath any life into this one.

Geoffrey Keen and John Warwick co-star as the detectives, Herman Cohen co-wrote and was the executive producer and future director Jim O'Connolly (who made the amusing Joan Crawford vehicle BERSERK! [1967]; which also featured Gough) was the production manager.

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