Horrors of the Black Museum Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by VCI Entertainment

Directed by Arthur Crabtree
Written by Aben Kandel and Herman Cohen
1959, 82 minutes, Not Rated
Released on December 12th, 2023

Starring:
Michael Gough as Edmond Bancroft
June Cunningham as Joan Berkley
Graham Curnow as Rick
Shirley Ann Field as Angela Banks
Geoffrey Keen as Supt. Graham
Gerald Andersen as Dr. Ballan
John Warwick as Insp. Lodge

Review:

A criminal mastermind responsible for a series of murders has London on edge. Police have no suspects and the victims appear to be chosen randomly. Criminologist Edmond Bancroft takes great pleasure in being a thorn in Scotland Yard’s side, pointing out their shortcomings in his articles. Bancroft is a particularly loathsome individual who not only mocks the authorities but finds women insufferable. The only person he really tolerates is his assistant Rick, who aids him in his Black Museum, a chamber of horrors filled with prominent criminal figures. Rick does as he is told, but may be too attached to that girlfriend of his. Will Bancroft identify the murderer before the police and how long will this reign of terror last?

American Independent Pictures (AIP) was a leading distributor of low-budget horror and exploitation titles of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. They scored hits with producer Herman Cohen and his teen-driven films I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (both 1957), so it was an obvious match for his follow-up Horrors of the Black Museum (1959). Unlike his previous efforts, Horrors would be shot in color and Cinemascope, which provides higher production values. The success of this picture paved the way for Roger Corman’s series of widescreen Poe pictures starring Vincent Price.

Directed by Arthur Crabtree (Fiend without a Face), working from a script he co-wrote with Aben Kandel (Konga), the story carries a mean-spirited tone with its infamous opening murder. A woman receives binoculars in the mail, but when she places them to her eyes, daggers pop out, killing her! This is the most famous kill in a string of creative murders that are particularly impressive given the era of filming. Critics lambasted the picture for its cynical tone, but audiences proved more enthusiastic.

Michael Gough (The Phantom of the Opera, 1962), best known to contemporary audiences as Alfred, the butler in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, steps away from his nice guy image to play the devilish wretch Edmond Bancroft with scene-chewing relish. Gough played his share of bastards, but Bancroft is particularly despicable and he is absolutely wonderful! June Cunningham (Strange Affection) gives as good as she gets from Bancroft as his sort-of girlfriend, Joan, who is using him for his money. There are a pair of familiar faces in the cast, most notably Geoffrey Keen (Taste the Blood of Dracula) as Supt. Graham. Keen appeared in six James Bond films as the Minister of Defense. Shirley Ann Field (Peeping Tom) appears as Angela Banks, the woman who pushes her way into Bancroft’s affairs.

Horrors of the Black Museum has one of the worst marketing campaigns I have ever seen. Despite the film concealing the killer’s identity for an hour, the trailer tells us almost immediately. This pattern continues to the plot synopsis on the back of this Blu-ray release, which spills the beans in the second sentence! To give this film a fair shake, DO NOT watch the trailer or read the back of the disc before watching.

Horrors of the Black Museum is an enjoyable B-movie that revels in its bleak message of the public’s fascination with death. It has enjoyed a cult following for many years and remains an engaging picture, which will likely please today’s more sophisticated audiences.

Video and Audio:

I couldn’t find anything about the restoration of any specific film elements, but picture quality is rather strong. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image is rich with color and there is plenty of small-object detail.

An LPCM 2.0 mono track gets the job done with clean, understandable dialogue and well-balanced music and effects cues. The track is free from any hiss, pops or other distortion. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

Special Features:

An audio commentary with writer/producer Herman Cohen starts off strong with great stories about his intro to producing. He details the inspiration for this film following a trip to Scotland Yard’s Black Museum. Other topics include the push to shoot in widescreen color and casting. He talks about how all of the murders are based on actual crimes, including the binocular daggers! He also tells a fun story about Martin Scorsese being a fan of the picture.

A second audio commentary with film historian Robert Kelly shares a lot of the film’s production history, also providing information on the cast, crew, censored scenes and shooting locations. He pokes fun at some of the script’s more outlandish moments and shares his thoughts on the characters. Her also casts doubt on Cohen’s claim of the accuracy of the murders.

Hypno Vista (12 minutes) is a short film intro with psychologist Emile Franchel, who discusses the power of suggestion using techniques targeting sight, sound, color, touch and optical illusions.

The tribute video Herman Cohen: Cohen My Way by Didier Chatelain and Tom Weaver is a thoughtful career retrospective of the legendary producer.

An archival phone interview with Herman Cohen (undated, 11 minutes) suffers substantial audio limitations, but thankfully contains optional English subtitles. He reflects on the creation of this picture and the formula of many of his films. Additional comments from an unidentified film historian are also included.

In an archival phone interview with Michael Gough (1995, 3 minutes) recorded on a scratchy line, the actor reflects on his early career in horror films. The conversation plays under a selection of publicity stills.

In an archival interview with actress Shirley Anne Field (2018, 22 minutes), we learn some of her background as a cover model before becoming an actress. She touches briefly on Black Museum, but her stories about crossing paths with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier and Albert Finney are far more entertaining.

Both U.S. and European theatrical trailers are included.

A photo gallery slideshow (4 minutes) contains promotional images, international posters and lobby cards.

Grades:

Movie: Cover
Video:
Audio:
Features:
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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