Horrors of the Black Museum/Review

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< Horrors of the Black Museum
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Just three minutes into Horrors of the Black Museum a woman receives a package: it’s a pair of binoculars from an unknown admirer. She goes to the window, places the binoculars up to her eyes and lets out a bloody scream: blood pours from her eyes and she drops to the floor. Beside her are the binoculars: they contained two retractable projectiles in the lens openings.


Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) who has a limp and walks with a cane, is a popular journalist and crime novel writer who is obsessed with a series of grisly murders taking place in London. Bancroft’s interest in the macabre is best illustrated by his “Black Museum,” a collection of life size wax figurines modelling the torture instruments found at crime scenes. Rick (Graham Curnow) is Bancroft’s obedient young manservant; an admiring helpmate privy to Bancroft’s many secrets.

One of his secrets is blonde, bosomy, ballsy Joan (June Cunningham), a dame-for-hire that he keeps hidden away because, as he puts it, she “hasn’t an ounce of surface polish.” Maybe not be she can call a spade a spade. When Bancroft reneges on their weekly payment agreement, Joan doesn’t hesitate to tell him what she really thinks of him. “Without your cane your only half a man,” she hisses, “and without your money you’d be no man at all!” To that Bancroft grabs his cane, throws it at him, and kicks him out!


Meanwhile the bodies keep stacking up. One lovely woman is murdered with a giant pair of vintage ice tongs: squash! Another wakes up in bed to find a guillotine assembled above her head: sever! Yet another victim is first electrocuted and then dumped into a vat of acid: sizzle!

But who exactly is committing these gruesome murders? Is it Bancroft; a man who taunts the police and is the recent author of the best-seller “Terror After Dark?” Or is it quiet-voiced Rick; witnesses saw someone who they think looked like him fleeing the scene of a crime. Perhaps it’s Aggie (Beatrice Barley) a curio shop owner who seems to know a little too many details about both the murders and the instruments used.


Part Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, part Jack the Ripper, Horrors of the Black Museum is good predictable fun: amplified, as it is, with a jaunty soundtrack and a series of vignettes expressly written for 1959 teenage audiences: young lovers necking on a park bench, a “Rock & Roll” jukebox dance number at an after-hours joint; and a visit to a fairground Amusement Park.

One of very few horror films released in Cinemascope, Horrors of the Black Museum directed by Arthur Crabtree, was co-producer American International Pictures’ very first color film. Look for the stupefying twelve-minute preamble explanation of “HypnoVista,” a dubious film enhancing process. The fifties certainly had no shortage of gimmicks!

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including the seminal Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and The Village Voice. A veteran of more than 100 radio broadcasts he is a regular contributor to Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014-15 made regular appearances on TV One’s award-winning documentary series Unsung. Visit his Official Website.
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