Cast & Crew
In London, Gail Dunlip is brutally murdered when she opens a mysterious package containing an altered pair of binoculars that drive spikes through her eyes. Scotland Yard's Superintendent Graham and Inspector Lodge question Gail's roommate Peggy, but remain mystified by the gruesome attack, the third unsolved murder of a single, attractive woman within two weeks. Later Graham and Lodge receive a visit from crime journalist Edmond Bancroft, who accuses the police of incompetence. Upon inspecting the binoculars, Bancroft points out that they are similar to those found in Scotland's Yard's "Black Museum," which houses unusual devices used in various murder cases. The inspectors then meet with Police Commissioner Wayne, who insists that they must get results from their investigation, as the public has grown alarmed by the grisly murders. Meanwhile, Bancroft visits his physician, Dr. Ballan, who cautions him against overwork. Ballan notes that Bancroft's obsession with the details of each murder have resulted in the writer suffering a number of stress attacks, but Bancroft dismisses the advice. Later the doctor records his conclusion in Bancroft's medical charts that the patient is in need of psychiatric care. On the way home, Bancroft stops at a small antique store run by an elderly woman, Aggie, from whom he regularly purchases unusual weapons for his own private "black museum." Aggie offers Bancroft a peculiar curved knife and asks about the publication of his latest crime book. Bancroft returns home to his assistant Rick, who is at Bancroft's bidding, unaware that Bancroft uses a combination of hypnosis and drugs to keep him under control. That evening Bancroft visits with his hired companion, Joan Berkley. When Bancroft admits that he cannot give Joan her usual allowance, she grows insulting and mocks Bancroft's limp and intellectual pretensions. Declaring that she will no longer live in seclusion waiting for his visits, Joan leaves the apartment and spends the evening dancing at a nearby bar. Upon returning home, Joan prepares for bed and as she lies down, a bizarre figure standing behind her headboard sets off a miniature guillotine that beheads Joan. The man, whose face is distorted and strange-looking, packs the guillotine and head and flees from the building, witnessed by several of Joan's neighbors alerted by her death scream. The next day, Graham attends Bancroft's reception for the publication of his latest book. When the writer again accuses Scotland Yard of ineptitude, Graham surprises the author with his revelation that they have arrested the killer. Later at the jail, Graham and Lodge question the accused man, Tom Rivers, who corroborates numerous details of each killing, but whose strange eagerness makes Graham doubtful. Upon receiving Rivers' medical record, which reveals he has spent long periods in mental institutions, Graham confides in Lodge that he suspects that Rivers knows about the murder details through Bancroft's columns and is not guilty, only delusional. Graham orders that Rivers be held until he can be quietly transferred to a mental facility. That evening, after Bancroft departs his home, Rick hurries to the park to meet his girl friend, Angela Banks, who pleads to know when they can be open about their engagement. Bancroft returns to Aggie's shop where she offers him a large pair of ice tongs, then demands an exorbitant fee. When Bancroft expresses surprise, Aggie presents him with a newspaper photo of the murder binoculars, which bear her private marking. Aggie points out that she sold him the binoculars and insists that as she unwittingly collaborated in his crimes, she should share in the wealth he has amassed writing about them. Bancroft agrees but when Aggie turns her back, attacks her with the ice tongs. The following day, Bancroft and Rick are working on Bancroft's experiments with electricity when Ballan visits. The physician admits his suspicions that Bancroft is involved in the murders because of his extreme physical response to each crime and asks the writer to give himself up. Offering to consider the doctor's advice, Bancroft maneuvers Ballan between two large electrodes, then electrocutes him. Bancroft then orders Rick to dump the body in a vat of acid. That evening Bancroft conducts a book signing and returns home early to surprise Rick and Angela in the museum. After asking Angela to wait in another room, Bancroft rebukes his assistant for violating their privacy and secret world. When Rick hesitates and appears uncomfortable, Bancroft gives him another round of drugs, reminding the younger man that through him he has proven that the myth of the dual natures of good and evil in people is true. Telling Rick that he hopes to allow him to explore the darkest part of the human soul, Bancroft then directs Rick on how to deal with Angela. Rick takes Angela to an amusement park and agrees with her suggestion that they ride through the tunnel of love. Upon exiting the ride, however, Rick has transformed into the distorted and strange figure from the drugs and, acting upon Bancroft's command, stabs Angela, then flees through the park. Meanwhile, Bancroft is at Scotland Yard presenting his latest article on the unsolved murders to Graham, when word reaches them of the park murder and that the killer is trapped on the ferris wheel. Bancroft insists on accompanying the investigators. At the park a crowd has gathered under Rick, who clings to the ferris wheel. Upon spotting Bancroft, Rick calls to him that he has fulfilled the writer's orders. Bancroft screams at the police to shoot Rick, but the younger man throws himself down upon Bancroft, stabbing him before dying.
Dr. Emile Franchel
Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
Horrors of the Black Museum
In this regard, Horrors of the Black Museum succeeds quite well. One minute you've got a blonde floozie (June Cunningham) performing a lascivious jukebox dance in a seedy pub (though most of the bar patrons hardly seem to notice) and the next scene she's getting decapitated by a fiend in her bedroom. So it goes for most of the females on display here. The film is certainly guilty of misogyny; all of the women in this bleak universe are either prostitutes, blackmailers (like the antiques shop dealer), dim-witted, suffocating or a combination thereof. The men don't come off any better though, from Michael Gough's impotent killer to his weak-willed assistant to the bumbling Scotland Yard investigators. The relentlessly misanthropic tone can get to you after awhile but it does make for a fascinating viewing experience (college professors and film theorists could have a field day with the conservative, anti-sex attitudes expressed throughout the film via specific characters and dialogue). And there ARE some guilty pleasures to be had along the way, particularly Gough's vitriolic, scene-chewing performance and some of his cod dialogue. Sample: When he brags about his private chamber of horrors to his assistant, he says, "You know, Rick, the Black Museum at Scotland Yard is not very selective - a great deal of clutter....but mine is ALIVE."
With the release of Horrors of the Black Museum in 1959, British horror films entered a new phase, one in which more explicit violence and gore were allowed on the screen. Herman Cohen's British company, Anglo Amalgamated, which released Horrors, quickly captured the audience for exploitation films with this film and two others, Circus of Horrors (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960). While Horrors of the Black Museum and Circus of Horrors were geared for hardcore horror genre fans and nobody else, Peeping Tom was actually a stunningly directed psychological thriller which was completely misunderstood at the time of its release. Though it's considered a masterpiece now, most critics savaged it in print in 1960 and its poor reception officially ended Michael Powell's directorial career for years.
But back to Horrors of the Black Museum, which has been eagerly awaited on DVD by the horror film community for years. VCI's disk, which is being presented as part of the "Herman Cohen Collection," is shown in the 16X9 enhanced Anamorphic 2.35:1 ratio and comes with a huge assortment of extras. One of the most entertaining is the original Hypno-Vista opening segment, hosted by registered psychologist and hypnotist Emile Franchel, which was shown at the beginning of the film during its American engagements. Franchel, who speaks haltingly as he is indeed hypnotized also appears to have the "Barbara Walters" syndrome; he can't say his Rs. He also looks a bit like comedian Steve Allen so it's hard to take him seriously on any level, particularly when his opening remark is "Originally I came from London, England, but now I'm living in Hollywood, California." The disk also features a video tribute to the late Herman Cohen by film journalist Tom Weaver and Cohen's associate, Didier Chatelain, commentaries by Cohen, music composer Gerard Schurmann and film critic David Del Valle, English and French language options, a photo gallery, the original European theatrical trailer and much more. You have to admit it's a pretty handsome package for a film that has little artistic merit. But in terms of sadism, sleaze and a certain camp quality, Horrors of the Black Museum deserves its infamous reputation.
One last point of interest: When Cohen was interviewed by Tom Weaver for his book, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Interviews with 20 Genre Giants, he said, "Every instrument of murder in Black Museum was from an actual murder and is in Scotland Yard's Black Museum. The murder with the binoculars happened in the thirties, in Kent, which is outside of London. A young stable boy who was very much in love with his master's daughter was fired for having sex with her in the stables. And she would have nothing to do with him after that. When the Royal Ascot meet started the following year, she received through the mail a pair of binoculars, mailed from the Paddington Post Office. She took them to the window, she focused them, and the needles penetrated through her eyes and killed her. The stable boy was found, was tried and was hung. And those binoculars are in the Black Museum in Scotland Yard. The ice tongs, the portable guillotine [the other murder implements in Black Museum] - people don't realize it, but these were actual murders in England."
For more information about Horrors of the Black Museum, visit VCI Entertainment. To order Horrors of the Black Museum, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
Horrors of the Black Museum
The following written and voice-over narration appears after the onscreen credits: "Presenting Emile Franchel Registered Psychologist of the State of California. Will any member of the audience who has ever been hypnotized by Emile Franchel hypnotist, kindly wait in the lobby for the next thirteen minutes." The film opens with a monologue by Dr. Franchel, explaining that the ability of the mind to accept hypnosis rests in the power of suggestion. Franchel presents several examples of how suggestion affects the brain and how the film will bring together the use of color and suggestion to heighten the sensation of terror inherent in the story. An onscreen credit and a review refer to this prologue as "Hypno-Vista." Although "Hypno-Vista" was not used in any other films, a 1960 Allied Artists release, The Hypnotic Eye (see below) did, however, include an audience "participation" sequence that was referred to as "HypnoVision." A May 1959 Variety item notes that this introduction was for the U. S. release and not included in the British release, which, according to Daily Cinema, ran for 82 minutes. According to the Variety review of the British version, the running time was 80 minutes. According to a June 1958 Daily Variety item, the film was to be shot in Superama, but the film's credits state that it was shot in CinemaScope. Horrors of the Black Museum was shot on location in London.
Released in United States 1959
Film was originally released with a gimmick called "Hypnovision" in which the audience sat through 13 minute prologue on hypnosis before the movie began.
Released in United States 1959