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Horrors of the Black Museum/Review

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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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