BluRay/DVD Reviews

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

By • Apr 29th, 2003 •

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(VCI) 1959
94 mins / Color / Aspect Ratio 2.35:1, enhanced for 16X9 monitors

The ideal double bill second feature here, if only it were as entertaining as this one, would be Herzog’s HEART OF GLASS (from Anchor Bay), wherein all the actors save one were hypnotized into their performances. The director of that film had intended to come out in a prologue and hypnotize those in the audience who wanted to experience the film properly, then at the end return and slowly reawaken them. But, Herzog’s film, a fascinating experiment to be sure, is for so few tastes that to double-bill it with Herman Cohen’s spritely little horror would just not work. THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI might be the better choice of a companion piece for the German film. And sadly, the commentary track co-host never asks Herzog if he’d seen HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM; the director would have been the right age.

On VCI’s DVD, the original Hypnovista intro, now included as an extra, is still moderately convincing, despite shrink Emile Franchel’s speech defect. It made me aware of the subliminal effects of color design in art direction when I was fourteen, for which I’m thankful. Apparently due to reluctance on the part of the hypnotherapist, still alive and contacted about his sequence, it was no longer allowed to be attached to the body of the film.

HORROR OF THE BLACK MUSEUM offers the enticing promise of a grisly whodunit, but little by little we are robbed of this scenario as, after the first act, we know who done it, and after the second act, we realize we will never understand why he did it. And what, pray tell, are those hokey scientific constructs doing in Michael Gough’s ‘black museum’? What silliness inspired them? They certainly don’t serve a meaningful narrative purpose.

Gough is (unduly) angrily convincing, and his sense of superiority and menace give the film energy. The cops remain clueless throughout. Shirley Anne Field is a stridently pushy career girl who we don’t feel sympathetic towards as she mistakenly bullies the wrong men. However she does come off sweetly in one scene, her last, beaming widely in the tunnel of love as she listens to the occupants of a neighboring boat.

The colors on the print are satisfyingly, garishly rich. But it’s from an old master, and probably an inadequate PAL transfer at that. There is evident ghosting throughout. Yet in balance it’s a rewarding presentation. There are two commentaries. One, guided valiantly by our beloved columnist and noted genre historian David Del Valle, is an odd audio labor. As always, Del Valle is the reliable, informed interviewer, but here he finds himself up against it, prodding composer Gerard Schurmann into remembering facts that are no longer among the contents in the man’s memory bank. Also the sound quality of the interview session is tinny and off-putting. At about sixty minutes in, there is a dropoff in the interview for a few minutes, curiously atypical of Del Valle’s chatty style. Apparently VCI chose to delete some discussion of Herman’s Cohen’s alleged homosexuality as it manifested itself in the subtext of the film. Too bad.

The second commentary track, featuring Cohen himself, was recorded years ago for the LaserDisc (fortunately , since the producer has since passed on) It is informative, and paints a picture of the caricatured, cigar-chomping, loud, opinionated exec who nonetheless did his job effectively.


Special Features include a Video tribute to Producer Herman Cohen by Tom Weaver and Cohen’s friend and Associate Didier Chatelain; the Hypnovista prologue originally accompanying the film in its theatrical release; Commentary by Herman Cohen, and second commentary featuring Composer Gerard Schurmann and FIR ‘Camp David’ columnist David Del Valle; a phone interview/video featurette with Herman Cohen by Scarlet Street Publisher Richard Valley; fold-out reproduction of the film’s French theatrical release poster inside DVD case.


Credits:
Produced by Herman Cohen.
Directed by Arthur Crabtree.
Written by Aben Kandel & Herman Cohen.
Cinematography by Desmond Dickinson.
Art Direction by Wildred Arnold. Music
Composed by Gerard Schurmann.

Cast:
Michael Gough, June Cunningham, Graham Curnow, Shirley Ann Field.

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