Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) – Film Review


Director: Arthur Crabtree
Cast: Michael Gough, June Cunningham, Graham Curnow
Certificate: 12

By Sarah Morgan

Hammer Films tend to dominate whenever British horror films of the 1950s are mentioned, but there were plenty of other exponents out there.

Their biggest homegrown rivals, Amicus and Tigon, came later, but on realising how much money could be made from Technicolor terror, Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, run by Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy, were keen to get in on the act. Having already collaborated with the US’s AIP on the black and white chiller Cat Girl in 1957, the two companies joined forces for the far more salacious Horrors of the Black Museum.

Horror-Of-The-Black-MuseumIt was released in 1959 between two of Anglo’s biggest hits – Carry On Nurse and Carry On Teacher. Although the three films would appear at first glance to have little in common, they are overwhelmingly British in tone and sensibility, cheaply made, feature casts packed full of solid thespians and are about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

“Obsessed with real-life murder”

Michael Gough rolls his eyes more times than Vincent Price (who was first choice for the lead) ever did as Edmond Bancroft, a forerunner of true-crime podcasters, albeit one with a deadly secret. He’s obsessed with real-life murder and makes a living writing books and newspaper columns about it, something that’s made him unpopular with the police force – its members feel he often paints them in an unfavourable light.

What nobody other than his gullible assistant Rick and a wily old antiques dealer know is that Bancroft also has a black museum, a sort of cross between the one at Scotland Yard and Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, in his basement. It contains various grisly artefacts, and he’s always looking to add to his collection – the more hideous the item, the better.

Bancroft is also interested in a spate of murders which have involved the violent deaths of various women in London, and with good reason – he’s behind them, with help from Rick, who seems unaware of his own involvement. We never learn why Bancroft has got such a hold over the otherwise pleasant young man, but injecting him with some kind of serum changes him, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde-like, into a psychopath.

More deaths occur, and despite the police being mystified, matters eventually come to a head during an eye-catching climax at a funfair.


“Enjoyable nonsense”

Hammer’s productions at the time, despite their tight budgets, tended to be classy affairs thanks to their excellent production design and cultured casts (Gough had appeared in Dracula for the studio the year before, but is the worst thing about the entire film).

Anglo, however, opted to look to America for inspiration; Horrors of the Black Museum has clearly been influenced by the likes of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and How to Make a Monster, both of which had been produced by Herman Cohen, the co-writer of Black Museum.

Gough is pretty terrible again here, but his overblown performance fits in better with the film’s tone than it did in Dracula. There are some decent actors among the supporting cast, however, including Shirley Anne Field, who would pop up a year later in the classier but similarly lurid Peeping Tom.

This is not a classic by any means, and yet it’s still enjoyable nonsense. Hearing Kim Newman give it some context in an informative chat that’s also included in the disc is a must. It appears alongside a short entitled Hypnovista Introduction, which has to be seen to be believed – a little like the film itself.

  • BRAND NEW Interview with novelist and critic Kim Newman
  • BRAND NEW Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and writer/editor Steve Jones
  • Hypno-Vista Introduction
  • Original Trailer
  • B&W Lobby Cards Gallery
Horrors of the Black Museum is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital

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