Each month, as regular as a werewolf howling at a full moon, I emerge from the subterranean bowels of London’s Russell Square tube station to join London horror fans gathering in Bloomsbury’s Herbrand Street. At the opposite end to the sparkling white Art Deco splendour of the Daimler Hire Company building, on the corner of a narrow mews known as the Colonnade stands our destination the Horse Hospital.Excited chatter breaks the silence as we wait in eager anticipation for the door to open and be beckoned us down into the depths of the only unspoilt example of a purpose built 18th century stable accessible to the public. Now part of a multi-discipline arts centre, our basement cinema retains the channels etched into its floor to carry away the blood from the veterinary surgeon’s knife.
Since August 2010 this has been the venue of CUT!. As our host, Mr Billy Chainsaw of Bizarre magazine explained ‘We’ve made it our mission to screen EXCLUSIVE ADVANCE PREVIEWS of some of the most horrific, arty, and downright weird movies around.’
He’s not wrong either; tonight’s show is the restored print of Horrors of the Black Museum. Sadly there are no special guests to introduce tonight’s show, which is hardly surprising with a 54-year-old title, but as per usual we all get a free beer to settle back with as the lights go down.
Originally released in 1959, the film caused an almighty stink with the British Board of Film Censors who were already reeling at the full colour blood and gore of Hammer’s rebooted Frankenstein and Dracula. Unlike Hammer’s supernatural costume dramas Horrors’ shocks are derived from violence and sadism as crime writer Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) embarks on a killing spree inspired by the contents of his personal museum of murder weapons.
Although tame by today’s standards, the opening sequence still has the power to shock. A parcel is delivered to an attractive blond woman. Tearing the packaging open she finds a pair of binoculars. The camera pans to her flatmate as she puts them to her eyes, the flatmate screams and the camera cuts back to the blood trickling between the fingers of the blonde’s hands covering her eyes, the binoculars discarded on the carpet, a pair of bloody spikes projecting from each eyepiece.
Spring loaded binoculars aside, just about every horror cliché gets thrown into the mix: a Jekyll and Hyde potion, mind controlling hypnotism, an underground laboratory complete with death ray and acid bath and a fun fair (Aren’t they just the creepiest places?) climax that is remarkably redolent of King Kong.
Shot in gloriously lurid Eastman colour the film often groans with unintentionally funny dialogue and rubbish special effects but it is tremendous fun, Gough’s performance is a masterclass in contained fury and there is a lovely little drunken dance number by a smouldering June Cunningham in a tight red dress.
Horrors of the Black Museum is released on DVD by Network Distributing as part of their British Film collection.
Screenings at the CUT! include one free drink plus entry into a free draw to win all kinds of strange promotional stuff. Entry is free, but strictly limited. To get on the guest list e:mail email@example.com.
Feature by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.