Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) is a British-American horror film starring Michael Gough and directed by Arthur Crabtree.
It was the first film in what film critic David Pirie dubbed Anglo-Amalgamated's "Sadian trilogy" (the other two being Circus of Horrors and Peeping Tom), with an emphasis on sadism, cruelty and violence (with sexual undertones), in contrast to the supernatural horror of the Hammer films of the same era.
Frustrated thriller writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) owns a private "black museum" of torture instruments. He hypnotises his assistant Rick (Graham Curnow) to commit increasingly horrific crimes for Bancroft to write about.Michael Gough as Edmond Bancroft
June Cunningham as Joan Berkley
Graham Curnow as Rick
Shirley Anne Field as Angela Banks
Geoffrey Keen as Superintendent Graham
Gerald Anderson as Dr. Ballan
John Warwick as Inspector Lodge
Beatrice Varley as Aggie
Austin Trevor as Commissioner Wayne
Malou Pantera as Peggy
Howard Greene as Tom Rivers
Dorinda Stevens as Gail Dunlap
Stuart Saunders as Strength-Test Barker
Hilda Barry as Woman in Hall
Nora Gordon as Woman in Hall
Vanda Godsell as Miss Ashton
Gerald Case as Bookshop Manager
Geoffrey Denton as Sergeant at Jail
William Abney as Patrol Constable No. 1
Howard Pays as Patrol Constable No. 2
Frank Henderson as Medical Examiner
Garard Green as Fingerprint Expert
Sydney Bromley as Neighbour
John Harvey as Man in Bookshop
Marianne Stone as Neighbour
Producer Herman Cohen said he got the idea for the film after reading a series of newspaper articles about Scotland Yard's Black Museum. He arranged through a contact to visit the museum, then wrote a treatment and later collaborated with Aben Kandel on the screenplay. Cohen says the use of binoculars as murder weapons, and all the other instruments of death in the film, were based on real-life murder cases.
Half the money for the budget was provided by Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy of Anglo-Amalgamated in the UK, the other half from American International Pictures. It was the first movie from AIP in CinemaScope and colour.
The credited producer was Jack Greenwood, but Herman Cohen says this came about to ensure the film qualified for the Eady levy, and in fact, Greenwood was more of an associate producer assisting Cohen.
Cohen wanted to hire Vincent Price for the lead and also considered Orson Welles, but Anglo-Amalgamated pushed for a British actor in the lead, as it would be cheaper, so they decided to use Michael Gough. Arthur Crabtree was hired on the basis of his work on Fiend Without a Face."The price was right, and the old guy needed a job and I hired him," recalled Cohen. "And he was exactly what I wanted and needed as a good craftsman."
A thirteen-minute prologue featuring hypnotist Emile Franchele and HypnoVista was added for the US release by James H. Nicholson of AIP, who felt the movie needed another gimmick. "We tested it in a few theaters, and the audience went for it like crazy...hokey as it was," recalled Cohen. "It helped make the picture a success, I guess, 'cause people were looking for gimmicks at that time."
The film was given a wide release in the US on a double bill with The Headless Ghost. It was very popular and earned over $1 million in profits. Cohen estimated 72% of the audience for this sort of film was aged between 12 and 26.
Cohen says when the movie was released on television they had to take off the hypnotism prologue "because it does hypnotize some people."
The film was later inducted into the Museum of Modern Art at the behest of Martin Scorsese.