There were hushed whispers around the schoolyard. Some kid's older brother saw a movie where a woman looked into a pair of binoculars and spikes ejected from the lenses and pierced her eyes. It almost sounded too good to be true. How I wanted to see it.

I never heard the name of the movie in question, but now I know it as Horrors of the Black Museum, a British shocker from 1959. It's always been in the back of my mind, and now, all these many years later, I've managed to see the movie.

Horrors of the Black Museum is a lurid, colorful picture that stars Michael Gough as a creepy crime writer with too keen an interest in a series of gruesome murders. The killings are based upon items in the Black Museum, which isn't open to the public. It has to be some kind of inside job.

This is a good-looking movie, shot in CinemaScope and dripping with melodrama. Despite the murder scenes, which include a death by ice prongs, electrocution, a beheading, and of course the loaded binoculars, it's all a rather stodgy affair. The deaths are mostly offscreen. I wasn't expecting Savini-style effects, but I was hoping for a little more.

Of course in 1959 this was shocking stuff. This was before Peeping Tom and long before Herschell Gordon Lewis splashed the screen red with his colorful Blood Trilogy. I can picture people hiding their eyes during the death scenes and filling in the blanks with their imaginations.

Gough is excellent as the intense crime writer with obvious secrets. The rest of the cast is a little dry. There are some light attempts at wit, but it's largely a stagey and rote affair. I have little doubt Horrors of the Black Museum was heavily influential to the Giallo movie wave, which started up a few years after the movie was released.

Hypnotism plays a minor role in Horrors of the Black Museum, and there's a William Castle-style gimmick minifeature before the movie with a phony doctor explaining the process. The ballyhoo proclaimed that YOU will be in the action. All that's kind of cool, but it isn't as cool as House on Haunted Hill or The Tingler.

I grew a little bored by the final parts of Horrors of the Black Museum, but a rousing finale in a carnival helped me make it to the finish line.

This is a minor milestone in the history of horror movies, and I'm glad I finally watched it. The recent VCI home video release looks and sounds great, the Hypno-introduction is lovingly included, and there are some juicy extras. Despite all that, I have a hard time giving Horrors of the Black Museum an enthusiastic recommendation. Vincent Price in House of Wax is a lot more fun.

Written by Mark Sieber

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