'The Horrors of the Black Museum'
It starts innocently enough. A young woman receives a surprise package in the mail. No doubt a gift from an admirer, or a belated birthday present. She opens it, inside is a pair black binoculars. An odd gift, for sure, but well-intentioned, no doubt. She examines them, then goes to a window, where she puts the binoculars to her eyes. Two spring-loaded spikes are instantly fired into her eyes, blinding and killing her.
So begins Horrors of the Black Museum, the most gory, gruesome and shocking film made in the 1950s. Co-written and produced by Herman Cohen, the American producer best known for I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Horrors of the Black Museum announced a new and distinct genre in movie-making - Exploitation, with its focus on sadistic cruelty and violence. Released in 1959, it is incredible now how this film was ever made, let alone given a certificate.
Filmed in “the most fantastic advance in motion pictures,” Hypno-Vista, “a psychological technique” where the audience in the cinema auditorium “actually become part of the action…on the screen,” Horrors of the Black Museum didn’t need gimmicks to snare its audience. It may be Cohen’s masterpiece, but it is the central performance from Michael Gough that makes the film so bloody marvelous.
Born in Kuala-Lumpur in 1916, Gough started his film career in 1947, and has appeared in over one hundred films since. Now best known for his appearance as Alfred Pennyworth in the first four Batman movies, Gough is the uncrowned King of Horror, starring in some of the most interesting (The Skull, The Curse of the Crimson Altar), shocking (Black Zoo, The Corpse, Horror Hospital) and influential (Dracula, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors), horror films of the of the 1950s-80s.
Gough may devour the scenery in Horrors of the Black Museum, but it is just what is needed to carry off such a bizarre and absurd story-line, as he stars as deranged writer, Edmond Bancroft, playing a murderous game of cat-and-mouse with the Scotland Yard Police. Cohen and Gough made five films together, but nothing matched the shock and awe of this beauty. In an interview with Cinefantastique Gough gave a tantalizing snippet of what making the film was like:
“I made five films for Herman Cohen as he seemed to like the way I played his characters or perhaps I should say character because the first three were cut from the same cloth. Cohen was a showman first, last, and always; his manner was always overbearing and his opinions sacrosanct. During the filming of Horrors of the Black Museum, he would show up unannounced onset and tell our director Arthur Crabtree how to direct a scene and the actors as well. I mean this just was not on, and as a result Arthur began to loath Cohen on sight. He demanded all the walls of the set be painted a violent shade of blue or green; Herman Cohen was the boss on all that he produced – and not in a positive way either.”
Grim and gory, Horrors of the Black Museum is definitely one to rent for this Halloween.