Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959)

England in the 50′s was a pretty grim place, awash with various shades of grey and littered with dark, foreboding alleyways. Full of stiff upper lips and starched collars, the London of this movie is no different. A long distance killer is knocking off a seemingly random assortment of folk, using strange devices to shuffle strangers off of their mortal coil. The investigation is leading nowhere for the local plod, so up pops wormy, sensationalist murder based reporter Edmond Bancroft to air his superiority and guffaw at the police’s inability to capture this sick puppy.

Although I’m sure it was fresh the time, the plot moves forward as if on train tracks. It chugs towards its logical, and predictable, end stopping only to satiate primitive gore hounds who like their blood that little bit too crimson. Horrors Of The Black Museum stars future bat-butler Michael Gough, clearly standing in for Vincent Price, as Bancroft. Gough has the acting chops and the sense of humour to tackle the role of arrogant-crime-writer-with-hidden-agenda head on, with a wry smile and a wink at the audience. The Black Museum in question is a gallery of pre-Saw death devices used to maim and murder, featuring such diverse exhibits as killer binoculars and a portable guillotine. The gore was pretty good for its time, with some truly excellent set pieces involving items from within the museum. There are other great sequences too, such as Bancroft’s lady friend dancing like a thunderbird directly into the camera and the Welsh mentalist who may or may not be the killer. Apparently Horrors Of The Black Museum was filmed in Hypnovision which is a William Castle style gimmick that doesn’t appear to add anything to proceedings other than to offer an insight into the final twenty minutes, thus ruining any would-be twists.

While not exactly subtle, the plot starts off compelling enough and continues to be so, even after you have guessed what is coming. The characters are bright and breezy, contrasting nicely with the external shots. The likeability of Bancroft is helped in no small part by a script which is so full of barbed remarks that it rarely fails to raise a smirk. As the story comes towards its inevitable conclusion you may find yourself checking the clock once or twice, as the plot starts to sag more than the wallpaper at the Hotel Earle.

Don’t get me wrong, it is loads of fun up until that point and the good points certainly do outweigh the bad, Black Museum’s direction-by-numbers and poor third act betray what should really be a true classic of British horror cinema.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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