London in good ol' 50s Britain: land of double-decker buses, reliable bobbies on the beat and a cheerful, flat-capped working class who know their place! And, in the lurid Eastman colour Cinemascope version of writers & producers Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel, also the hunting ground of a sadistic loon who is going around town dispatching bad bit-part actresses in convoluted but incredibly gruesome fashion! "Horrors Of The Black Museum" was the final film of director Arthur Crabtree ("The Fiend Without A Face") and a typical slice of trash-horror from the American producers of "I Was A Teenage Werewolf "; crammed-full of ham acting, silly plot manoeuvres and corny excess from beginning to end, this ridiculous nonsense remains utterly compelling and enormously entertaining. Appearing just before Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom", it is obviously not in the same league, but does possess that same classic British feel of many films from the period -- which is probably why "Peeping Tom" was also dismissed as lurid b-movie trash at the time. Both films also feature early (terrible) performances from Shirley Anne Field who still seems to be working in British television to this day!
Our story starts as young London lass, Gail Dunlap (Dorinda Stevens) receives a surprise package. She and her French roommate, Peggy (Malou Pantera) speculate about which of Gail's admirers it could be from. The package contains a handsome pair of binoculars ("worth at least £20!" exclaims Peggy) and the excitable Gail defers further speculation as to their origin in order to indulge in a bit of snooping out of the window of her flat. Unfortunately, no sooner has Gail begun enjoying her new bins, than she lets out a piercing, bloodcurdling scream! Peggy rushes into the room to find her now, not-so-chirpy roommate, lying dead on the floor clutching her eyes ... those flash binoculars turned out to be booby trapped! A hidden button releases two spring loaded spikes which shoot out of the eyepieces, through the eyes of the unlucky recipient, and into their brain... Ouch!
It's yet another murder (the third) of London's latest serial killer. The well-spoken patricians of Scotland Yard, Commissioner Wayne (Austin Trevor), Supt. Graham (Geoffrey Keen) and Inspector Lodge (John Warwick) are baffled, and can find no motive for the killings. The only thing that seems obvious is that each of the murders has been committed using a weapon inspired by the collection kept in what is known as The Black Museum -- held by Scotland Yard itself. "We're dealing with a brilliant maniac!" proclaims Graham!
Someone who isn't too sympathetic to the Yard's plight soon makes their entrance: popular crime writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough). A rather camp old gent with a pronounced limp, Bancroft writes a weekly column in-which, as well as describing many horrible crimes in lurid detail, he regularly mocks the police for their bumbling inability to find and capture their quarry; he is also just about to publish a book, "Terror After Dark", in which he indulges in more of the same ill-spirited rambling. Apart from regularly turning up at Scotland Yard for no other reason than to gloat -- in suitably camp fashion -- at Supt. Graham and co's lack of progress, Bancroft also keeps his own "Black Museum" ... much better than the Yard's own -- at least according to Bancroft himself! When he's not prowling around this dingy basement full of waxworks dummies, torture instruments and an incongruous vat of acid over in the corner (you never know when one will come in handy after all!), Bancroft also pays regular visits to his doctor who seems concerned about the fact that he seems to show signs of extreme stress every time a new murder is committed in the city! After a "lady friend" (June Cunningham) of Bancroft mocks his lack of manliness in an argument, she is decapitated in her bedroom by a sliver-faced monster man in a red jersey! The monster bears an uncanny resemblance to Bancroft's assistant Rick (Graham Curnow) who seems to be under the spell of his employer. It seems Bancroft is deliberately organising killings in order to have something to write about in his books and newspaper columns by turning young Rick into a murdering monster whenever the fancy takes him! Will Scotland Yard's finest ever be able to figure out the ludicrous solution to this appalling crime spree?
Michael Gough is often derided for his completely over-the-top camp performance in this movie but in fact he completely encapsulates the whole tone of the film and is mainly responsible for holding the whole silly enterprise together. Gough is given some wonderfully choice misogynistic dialogue ("Women ... a vicious and unreliable breed!") and his character's hatred of women -- driven by his impotence and unattractiveness to the female sex -- is the obvious motive for his killings, despite the fact that he hides behind a load of pretentious tosh about getting in touch with man's inner blackness of heart etc! Gough acts out the b-movie plot line as if his life depended on it and along with the colourful set design, outrageously sadistic but comical murder scenes and very, very fleeting nudity from Marilyn Monroe wannabe, June Cunningham, he ensures that "Horrors Of The Black Museum" remains a fabulously essential piece of hokum!
The UK disc from Cinema Club sports a surprisingly pleasing anamorphic transfer which brings the film's vivid Eastman colour schemes to life (although there is slight variation in colour balance on occasion) and preserves the Cinemascope framing of the original very well. The only extra feature is a trailer which blanks out the outré murder scenes with a giant "X" and a voice-over which proclaims that because the trailer is rated PG the scene cannot be presented as they appear in the movie!
Utter rubbish, but great fun!