Wednesday, June 8, 2005

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

Herman Cohen was the exploitation genius behind American International Pictures "teenage monster" hits, such as I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (also 1957). After unleashing those minor masterpieces on the drive-in crowd, he moved to England, where he produced the delightfully macabre HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959).

Directed by Arthur Crabtree and starring the startlingly sinister Michael Gough ("Alfred" in the Burton and Schumacher BATMAN films), this low-key thriller may be light on gore, but it's heavy on subtle black humor and macabre chills. It also features a great performance by Gough, who plays a pompous author and amateur criminologist named Edmond Bancroft (a role originally intended for Vincent Price, whose shoes Gough very ably fills).

Bancroft is obsessed with violent crime, writing popular books and articles on the subject, as well as a newspaper column which routinely criticizes Scotland Yard's handling of London's murders. He's so obsessed that he's built a "Black Museum" of weapons and wax tableaus depicting violent murders in his basement. And, when London's crime scene gives him little to write about, he's not adverse to committing (or sending his young assistant to commit) a gruesome murder or two.

Modern audiences may find HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM slow going, but fans of classic horror will enjoy VCI's presentation. The widescreen transfer is good, although not perfect, with soft, slightly shifting colors – but it's the uncut European version, which has never before been available in the U.S., and that more than makes up for any minor problems in the transfer. The disc is loaded with extras, including the famed "Hypno-Vista" opening sequence with real-life hypnotist Emil Franchel, which was attached to the front of the feature during its original theatrical run.

The disc also includes a video tribute to producer Herman Cohen, English and French language tracks, the original U.S. and European theatrical trailers, a commentary by Cohen pieced together from archival recordings, a commentary by musical composer Gerard Schurmann and film historian David De Valle, a photo gallery, biographies, a small reproduction of the film's poster and trailers for other VCI horror releases.

Highly recommended for fans of classic 50's horror.

BUY: Horrors of the Black Museum