Almost everyone has had writer’s block, and it is frustrating, but is it so maddening you could just kill someone? For Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) it is; he is a writer of true crime books and a journalist, but evidently there aren’t enough murders to keep him as busy as he would like to be, so he kills people and then writes about the murders as though he is merely a highbrow death hag. Business is great for awhile, and he sells a lot of books, but eventually people close to him start to figure out what’s going on…
Horrors of the Black Museum was no doubt shocking for its time, with several inventive and brutal scenes. The museum in the title refers to a secret room Bancroft has in his basement which is filled with various weapons, a death ray, and a huge vat of acid. Naturally he doesn’t actually let anyone tour his museum save for his assistant, Rick (Graham Curnow). When Rick brings his new girlfriend (Shirley Anne Field) to the museum while Bancroft is out, but Bancroft returns unexpectedly, then we find out that Rick is not just an accomplice to the murders. There’s a reason this was billed as being “released in Hypnovision!”
Horrors of the Black Museum is a 50s B movie, and therefore somewhat melodramatically acted; however, it is more well-put-together than many of its brethren. The last film of Arthur Crabtree, who also directed the excellent Fiend Without a Face, Horrors is also the first film of an unofficial trilogy put out by Anglo Amalgamated; it is followed by Circus of Horrors and Peeping Tom.
If you know Michael Gough mostly as the butler from the 90s cycle of Batman movies you will appreciate him in a new way after you see him here. Bancroft is one of the great horror villains of all time. He elevates this movie from a fun way to pass 78 minutes to a real horror essential. Gough starts off simply preening and snide but gets gradually nastier and more crazy until we finally see his character’s real personality when he loses his shit at the film’s climax. I just love Michael Gough, and I think his name needs to be mentioned right alongside Cushing and Lee. Monday I plan to feature another great villainous performance of his in Crucible of Horror.
And while this is one of those old films that throws up a big “The End” the second after the main conflict is resolved, keep watching as Crabtree keeps the camera rolling on the people who had been watching the final public confrontation, which is beautifully shot in a carnival at night. The spectators simply disperse and forget immediately all about what they have just crowded together to watch, as if they were not the same sheeple who just spent the movie clamoring to buy newspapers and books about the murders. It’s a great comment on the public’s attention span and the role of the media in society. Social criticism plus gruesome killings? This must be an exploitation film!