Blu-ray Review: Horrors of the Black Museum

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What is The Black Museum? Turns out it is a real exhibition space. This display has been a part of Scotland Yard since at least 1875. The museum features murder weapons and the property of those convicted of crimes. It’s not a public museum since the idea is that law enforcement agents can study the weapons to get a clue about future killers. You can’t check it out after a tour of the other museums around London. There are select outsiders allowed to see the horrific tools, but you have to have serious connections such being a world-renowned crime writer. Horrors of the Black Museum deals with a sadistic killer eager to add more exhibits to the collection.

Gail and her flatmate Peggy are getting ready for the evening when a package arrives. Gail is excited to open up a box and find a pair of binoculars. When she holds them up to her eyes, she receives an extremely nasty surprise. Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Graham (The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Geoffrey Keen) and Inspector Lodge (The Square Peg’s John Warwick) interview Peggy only to get no clues about the binoculars. After she leaves, Edmond Bancroft (Batman’s Micheal Gough) barges into the office to check out the creative new weapon. Bancroft is a successful crime writer. He annoys Graham with his entitled attitude but has proven useful in the past. Bancroft questions if there’s something in the Yard’s Black Museum similar to the binoculars. They admit to having no real leads. Bancroft drops by a secondhand shop to buy a dagger from Aggie (The Wicked Lady‘s Beatrice Varley) for his own Black Museum. He’s built an atrocity exhibition in the basement of his estate. Wax dummies show off the devices. He believes his is much fancier than the hoarders’ version at Scotland Yard. He organizes the place with his youthful assistant Rick (Graham Curnow). As much as Rick enjoys working with Bancroft, he confesses to his girlfriend Angela (The Rachel Papers‘ Shirley Anne Field) that he can never say no to his boss. The writer has an unnatural control over him. We get a sense of Bancroft’s control when he visits his kept woman Joan (June Cunningham). She wants a few pounds from the guy and he’s not down for it. She rebels by going out that night and dancing very seductively. When she comes home and lays down on the bed, she becomes the victim of a mini guillotine. Who is the disfigured killer that escapes from her apartment? Will Bancroft write a book about his dead girlfriend?

This is the uncut version of Horrors of the Black Museum. While it wasn’t the most graphic and horrifying of films, there were people that got faint headed seeing red dripping from the binoculars in 1959. Micheal Gough had quickly become a name in horror since the previous year he was part of Hammer’s Horror of Dracula. Most of us remember him for playing the Butler Alfred in the Batman films of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. In a weird way, this movie has him playing a variation of Batman since the Caped Crusader also had a Black Museum in his Batcave. They were weapons used by archvillains for their major crimes. Both characters have close bonds with the police who have no clue about his secret identity. Plus they both have Boy Wonders doing their dirty work while wearing disguises. Maybe Alfred was up to more than we suspected at Wayne Manor.

When the film originally came out in America, producer Herman Cohen created an opening piece in which Emil Franchel puts the audience into an hypnotic state. This was called Hypno-Vista. This weirdness rivals anything that William Castle did to spice up his films during. If you spend Saturday nights at home watching Svengoolie on MeTV, you owe it to take in this scary tale of a crime writer who is his best subject. Just be prepared to be hypnotized.

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The Video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the color and detail of late ’50s London before it swung. The Audio is LPCM 2.0 Mono of the original mix. The voices are crisp and clear. The movie is subtitled in English.

Audio Commentary by writer-producer of Herman Cohen is archival (he passed away in 2002). He gets into how he got into the film because he’d subscribe to various magazines. He learned that Scotland Yard had its own Black Museum. The devices in the film were from the place. He explains the story behind the real killer binoculars.

Audio Commentary by film historian Robert Kelly gets into the background of the actors and crew.

Introducing Hypno-Vista (11:48) is the introduction that puts the audience into a trance with the help of Emil Franchel. He wants the audience to get caught up into the action on the screen. They need to do this more often before films.

Archival Phone Interview with Herman Cohen (11:18) has the legendary producer discuss his career. He gets into how he went from making I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein for AIP to making movies in England.

Archival Phone Interview with Michael Gough (2:39) was conducted when he was promoting his role of Alfred in Tim Burton’s Batman. He talks about working against the clock while making Horrors of the Black Museum. He jokes about his reputation being damaged while working in horror films.

A 2018 Interview with Shirley Anne Field (22:00) deals with how she went from a model to acting in films. She talks about her childhood having to grow up in a children’s home. She got into acting thanks to Val Guest seeing her in a magazine. Richard Burton helped her out during her early times. She lights up when talking about Michael Gough. She later describes her date with Frank Sinatra. There’s plenty of photos from her early career in modeling and film.

Original European Theatrical Trailer (2:54) will take you down to the Black Museum. The film was given an X certificate at the time. They keep reminding us they can’t show scenes. This is a perfect lure to get you into the theater.

Original US Theatrical Trailer (3:15) opens with a bit of hypnotism and a needle.

Video Tribute to Herman Cohen (19:50) has us get a sense of the King of Teen Horror. We get a sense of his work in exploitation cinema. Herman grew up in Detroit and worked in a movie theater as an assistant to the janitor. At 13, he was determined to have a career in cinema. After World War II, he worked for Columbia as the regional promoter in Michigan. He eventually went out to Hollywood, he worked at Columbia. He then got involved in making low budget flicks. He was friends with James Nicholson of American International Pictures fame. He could have been a partner at AIP, but had to do movies for United Artists including one with Abbott and Costello. He spent 10 weeks roaming the country and checking out movie theaters. He discovered that teenagers were most of the audience. He focused on this group for his film and created I Was A Teenage Werewolf.

Photo Gallery (3:48) has posters, lobbycards, press photos that were used around the world.

VCI Entertainment presents Horrors of the Black Museum. Directed by Arthur Crabtree Screenplay by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel. Starring Michael Gough, June Cunningham, Graham Curnow, Shirley Anne Field, Geoffrey Keen, Gerald Andersen, John Warwick and Beatrice Varley. Running Time: 82 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: December 12, 2023.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.