Friday, October 27, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Horrors of the Black Museum

Film: Horrors of the Black Museum
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes, I genuinely don’t know what to make of the movies that are put on the lists that I am following. Horrors of the Black Museum is a case in point. This film holds a respectable place in the mid-500s on the They Shoot Zombies list, and I can’t understand why. According to the list’s website (and the fact that I’m going to the write-up for information indicates my desperation here) is that this is the first of a trilogy of movies that are based on ideas of the Marquis de Sade, the so-called Sadeian Trilogy that includes Circus of Horrors and Peeping Tom. The write-up suggests that this is the least of the three movies, and yet Circus of Horrors is not in the list of 1000 greatest horror movies and this one is. Go figure.

We’re going to open with the brutal and shocking murder of a young woman. She receives a pair of binoculars as a gift, but when she uses them, Needles shoot out of the eyepieces into her brain. It's grisly and a true highpoint of the film. The police are naturally baffled, and they are further harassed by crime writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough, best known as Batman’s butler on the Batman television show), whose books and newspaper columns frequently mock the police.

We soon find out that Bancroft has his own version of Scotland Yard’s Black Museum in his basement. This is essentially a museum of crime that he shares with his assistant Rick (Graham Curnow). It soon becomes evident that Bancroft is buying items from a shop owner (Beatrice Varley) that end up in murders. In fact, she tells him that she’s going to start charging him more, because she recognizes the binoculars used in the first killing of the film as ones that she sold him. It is also evident that Bancroft has someone working for him—he quarrels with his girlfriend who becomes the next murder victim.

The biggest issue with Horrors of the Black Museum--but far from the only problem with it—is that it doesn’t really make sense. There is a desire to make this a sort of Jekyll and Hyde story with a lot of the killing happening by a sort of crazed man whose face is somehow altered and oddly discolored. Why is this? Well, we’re not really going to find out until the end, and even then it’s not explained in any sufficient way. It’s there evidently to make things scary in one way or another, and it doesn’t really work.

From what I can understand, Horrors of the Black Museum is designed to be as shocking as possible. As the audience, we’re supposed to feel like the depravity that we are seeing is shocking and startling. And it is, but it’s also nonsensical. There’s no rhyme or reason to what is happening. I’ll spoil this in the next few paragraphs, so consider what comes next under a spoiler tag. This movie doesn’t deserve me not to do this.

Ultimately, what we’re led to believe is that Bancroft has some hypnotic power over people and causes them (particularly Rick) to do his dirty work. Some of this is his own perverse desires, keeping in them with this being part of a loose trilogy of films that have the moral compass of the Marquis de Sade. Some of it also is that it keeps him in business. He writes about crime, and having a series of bizarre and prurient murders keeps the general public reading his columns and his books. There’s a sort of sense to it, but ultimately, there’s not that much sense to any of this.

There’s a lot here that’s just cruelty for the sake of cruelty, again in keeping with the general source of the film’s philosophy. I always object to that, and I object to it here because it all feels so nihilistic and pointless. I find that kind of bleak philosophy depressing and unentertaining, and horror movies are supposed to be fun as much as they are anything else. This is just kind of weird and depressing and nonsensical.

And, frankly, the name is a bait and switch. When Rick brings his girlfriend Angela (Shirley Anne Field) into their museum, Bancroft acts like it was some kind of breach of security. And it’s never clear why. It’s just…a set up for another murder.

Why to watch Horrors of the Black Museum: You get to see Alfred Pennyworth as a psycho.
Why not to watch: It’s pretty dumb.