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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Horrors Of The Black Museum (VCI DVD)

Horrors Of The Black Museum


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: B     Film: C+



If you are interested in seeing a good old-fashioned Horror film, Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959) is one to see.  This film was issued by the British distribution firm Anglo Amalgamated, who in a few short months would be embroiled in more controversy than their usual exploitation releases would allow when they distributed Michael Powell’s brilliant Peeping Tom in 1960.  Though this is not the classic that film is, it is still a remarkable little chiller, and both would co-star Shirley Ann Field.


Producer Herman Cohen co-wrote the film with Aben Kandel about a series of gruesome murders carried out by deadly devices, some of which are innocently packaged as harmless.  A crime novelist (the great Michael Gough in a winning performance) lets the police know that he might be able to help them, led by an unhappy main inspector (Geoffrey Keen, later ‘M’ in the James Bond films of the 1980s).  However, writer Edmond Bancroft knows more than he lets on, and the battle of wits gets as interesting as the methods of murder.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is from a print supplied by Studio Canal for this VCI release.  The sides are slightly missing, but the picture averages out.  For one thing, it looks like some of the footage is analog, while the color has issues here and there.  The film is credited as being processed in EastmanColor or EastmanColour, as the cooler look of the British labs give the film, but the color turns on and off between scenes.  This indicates a possible dye-transfer print, though not with the vibrancy of Technicolor.  This makes for an interesting and creepy presentation, along with mixed-but-good definition.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also passably good for its age.  The only other thing that can be said about the picture is that the distortions inherent in the older CinemaScope anamorphic double-lens system will be there, even if this were a 35mm print or High Definition playback format.  Cinematographer Desmond Dickerson, B.S.C., does his best with the early widescreen scope process.


Then there are the many extras on this special edition.  The film runs about 94 minutes, but was originally longer with its silly Hypno-Vista introduction, included here in its full 4:47 length.  There are two commentaries, the new one being composer Gerard Schurmann and critic/scholar David Del Valle, but there is also a repeating of the commentary Cohen did on LaserDisc for the film, so fans do not have to do without that detailed piece of work.  A phone interview with Cohen and Scarlet Street Magazine editor Richard Valley runs over 10 minutes, but is very hard to hear.  When you listen long enough, you should be able to adjust to the distortion and really enjoy what is said.  A nice 3:23 photo gallery, US trailer, UK trailer, informative biographies, paper poster foldout, and seven other Horror trailers for VCI DVDs are also here.  Those trailers are Ruby, The Headless Ghost, Blood & Black Lace, City Of The Dead, Whip & The Body, Target Earth, and Bird With The Crystal Plumage.


The final extra to discuss runs 19:49, and is the big surprise of the DVD.  It is a video tribute to Herman Cohen narrated from the first person by Didler Chatelain, who worked for Cohen for the last few decades of Cohen’s career.  It is a remarkable program that captures the heart and soul of one of the greatest independent producers of all time.  We learn about the man in actions, deeds, and how he realized his dreams, all of which is a true inspiration and the American Dream realized.  This could be the basis for a serious feature-length work on Cohen, but is stunning all on its own.  All filmmakers and film-lovers should buy this DVD just for this extra, but the film itself is so much fun to see.


As for Gough, films like this made him a smash in Horror genre films, and he would later do some classic turns in TV as well in episodes of TV’s The Avengers.  He was Dr. Armstrong, who created the killers in The Cybernauts, then tried to take over the world in The Correct Way To Kill, both on DVD in A&E boxed sets.  Of course, he also appeared in The Horse’s Mouth (out from Criterion DVD) and is the latest live-action Alfred the Butler in the four Batman films since 1989.  However, he really gets to chew up the scenery in this film and it makes a fun addition to any collection.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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