Tim Burton favourite Michael Gough stars as trashy tabloid crime writer who is obsessed with a series of gruesome murders currently plaguing London. He's also loudly offering negative opinions on the bungling efforts of Scotland Yard (represented by Geoffrey Keen) in solving the case. He also somehow manages to obtain certain gruesome artefacts from each of the murders for display in his 'Black Museum' devoted to true crime. Graham Curnow plays Gough's young assistant, whilst Beatrice Varley plays a shop owner who specialises in gruesome artefacts and weapons.
A poor man's Hammer horror movie crossed with a poor man's Vincent Price movie (think 'House of Wax' or 'The Abominable Dr. Phibes'), this 1959 flick from director Arthur Crabtree ('Fiend Without a Face') downplays the horror element to no good result. It plays as more of a macabre psycho-thriller/mystery, with Michael Gough in the role that would normally go to Vincent Price. Long-serving character actor Gough is obviously no Price, but he's still largely the whole show here. He's good but not quite good enough to make the film worthwhile, and perhaps that's why he's been mostly used over the years as a supporting player instead of the lead. Instead of being the saviour of the film, he's merely a stop-gap, helping to make sure it's not even worse than it already is. If you can't get a Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, or Christopher Lee for your horror movie, a contemptuous Michael Gough is a perfectly decent alternative. Beatrice Varley is pretty good too in a character part, but veteran character actor Geoffrey Keen puts in more effort than his functionary role really deserves.
This is run-of-the-mill stuff made on the cheap, crudely and unstylishly done by Crabtree, whose last cinematic effort this was. Even the gruesome murders (the main horror element in the film) aren't enjoyable because the film is less focussed on that kind of thing. It's more interested in dialogue and plot, to its great detriment. As scripted by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel (who both wrote 'I Was a Teenage Werewolf' and something called 'The Headless Ghost'), if you can't work out who the culprit is here, all I can say is that I hope you enjoy your first movie experience. Hell, it's so transparent that most reviewers outright tell you who it is in their plot synopsis. Watching the film, you really only get told who it is after quite a while, so I do think it's meant to be somewhat of a mystery, at least for longer than it takes the audience to work it out. As such, I won't spoil things, trust me you'll spoil it for yourself anyway. So yes, it's meant to be a mystery. A botched one, of course but a mystery in intent nonetheless. The terrible makeup certainly doesn't help (nor make a damn bit of sense), but here's one whodunit that really shouldn't have been a whodunit, it certainly isn't necessary. Speaking of terrible, the overly bombastic music score from composer Gerard Schurmann ('The Bedford Incident') and conducted by the normally terrific Muir Mathieson ('Circus of Horrors', 'Damn the Defiant!', 'The Hellfire Club') is ridiculously loud and overstated.
Solid performances from Beatrice Varley and especially Michael Gough aren't enough to salvage this. It's a poor man's "House of Wax" where all of the horror elements have been unfortunately downplayed in favour of too much talk and an entirely transparent mystery at the centre. Neither Hammer nor Price, and although Michael Gough looks to be having a high ol' time, boredom ensues.