OF A MADMAN
Diary of a Madman was an attempt
to emulate the success of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films
of the early 1960s. It was made on a low budget, shot almost entirely
on soundstages, is based on the works of a 19th Century writer
and headlined by the great Vincent Price. It even climaxes with
a raging inferno consuming a manor house. All that seems to be
missing is Roger Corman at the helm.
that and almost any sense of directorial style or imagination...
plot is loosely derived from an 1887 short story by Guy de Maupassant.
Magistrate Simon Cordier (Price) is a highly respected judge renowned
for his intellect and fairness. Ever since his wife’s suicide
more than a decade earlier he has devoted himself entirely to
his judicial duties. Consequently he has become a rather lonely
man. Apart from his faithful household servants and a pet parakeet,
Cordier lives entirely alone in his mansion in the Paris suburbs.
condemned murderer, over whose trial Cordier presided, requests
an audience with the magistrate a few days before his date with
the guillotine. Cordier agrees, hoping that the prisoner will
finally confess to his heinous crimes. But the man sticks to the
fantastical story he told in court: that he didn't actually
commit the four murders of which he was convicted, but that a
malevolent, invisible being possessed his mind and body, forcing
him to kill. This creature, the condemned man explains, feeds
on evil, growing stronger with each atrocity. Disappointed, Cordier
moves to terminate the interview but the prisoner flies into a
sudden rage and attacks. During the ensuing struggle, before the
guards can intervene, Cordier accidentally kills him when his
head strikes the stone wall of his cell. The kindhearted judge
is distraught. A much easier way to die than the guillotine, the
police captain sanguinely observes.
after this incident Cordier begins to doubt his own sanity.
A photograph of his late wife, locked away for years in a trunk
in the attic, is found hanging on his study wall; he has no
memory of retrieving it and his trustworthy butler (Ian Wolfe)
denies having touched the photo. Returning it to the attic,
he sees mysterious writing scrawled in the dust there, writing
that only moments later completely vanishes. Next morning, the
trial transcript of the prisoner he accidentally killed is found
on Cordier's desk, even though he's positive he did not leave
it there and his clerk last saw it properly filed away. Then
Cordier is addressed by a disembodied voice in a haughty, mocking
tone. The invisible speaker calls him by name, taunting him.
In a sort of hypnotic trance, Cordier crushes his beloved pet
bird. Is the judge losing his mind? With nowhere else to turn,
the worried Cordier consults an "alienist" (psychiatrist)
about these strange events. The shrink assures him that it is
his prolonged, self-imposed loneliness that has disturbed his
psyche, and that turning over a new leaf in life can restore
his mental health. Cordier eagerly takes this advice, deciding
to reawaken his dormant artistic nature. (As a younger man he
had been a talented amateur sculptor, giving up the hobby upon
the death of his wife.) He meets a beautiful, vivacious model
named Odette (Nancy Kovack) who, taking him for an artiste,
lobbies for a job. Charmed and inspired, Cordier hires her on
the spot. She's to come to his house that evening for preliminary
sketches, the beginning of his work on a bust of "The Laughing
a brief time Cordier is happy, experiencing joy in his art and
finding himself falling in love with Odette (who seems to reciprocate
his feelings). Then, out of the blue, the invisible entity speaks
to him again. The creature refers to itself as one of the "Horla"
— beings that have existed alongside mankind throughout the ages,
using humans as their slaves. Cordier believes he's having a relapse
but the Horla conclusively demonstrates that it is real, that
it exists, that it is not an hallucination. It mockingly
informs Cordier that Odette doesn't really love him, that she's
really just a scheming gold-digger after his money. Not that it
matters one way or the other. The Horla commands that Odette must
of a Madman
is a decidedly old-fashioned thriller, probably much too talky
and leisurely paced for anyone who’s not already a fan of Vincent
Price or 'classic' (i.e., old) horror films. It was directed
by Reginald Le Borg, best known for helming The
Mummy's Ghost and some of the Inner Sanctum programmers
for Universal in the 1940s as well as Voodoo
Island and The Black Sleep
in the '50s. He certainly didn't bring anything of note to this
picture. Visually it's quite pedestrian, completely conventional,
and could easily have been made ten or even twenty years earlier.
Although some of the sets are nicely dressed, there's a distinct
air of cheapness to the production as a whole, which has an unfortunate
stage-bound, made-for-TV feel about it.*
(Roger Corman dispelled this effect in his Poe films by using
the intrinsically cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio.) This extends
to the special effects, which are anything but special. Nevertheless
the movie still works, chiefly because of the inimitable Price.
He's the glue that holds the film together and the engine that
makes it go.
is very, very good in this, delivering a relatively restrained
performance. Much of the time he’s reacting and speaking to nothing
(since the Horla cannot be seen), yet is always believable. His
magistrate is an admirable character whose horrible misdeeds are
purely the result of an outside influence. When forced to commit
evil acts he's more a zombified, black-clad giallo killer
than some hammy, scenery-chewing pulp villain. Because of Price
we feel sorrow and empathy for Cordier — much more so than his
victims, actually — and root for him to ultimately defeat his
nemesis is voiced by veteran character actor Joseph Ruskin. I
hadn't seen the film since I was a kid and yet I vividly recalled
the Horla — despite it being an invisible monster. This is entirely
due to Ruskin. Purely through speech he conjures the wickedest
of bullies: sly and sadistic, like a child who enjoys pulling
the wings off of insects just to watch them flail about helplessly.
As played by Ruskin the Horla sounds very much how one might imagine
Lucifer would sound, only this 'devil' — reveling in the powerlessness
of its victims — never tempts, only torments and destroys.
Check out the 'grass' when Price kneels to bury a severed head
in the garden... It rolls up beneath his
shoe like a cheap rug! (No time for a second take?)
jumps onto the MOD (made on demand) bandwagon with its new line
of "Limited Edition" DVD-Rs. The transfer is 1.66 anamorphic,
and while there's a small degree of dirt and print damage in evidence
the colors look quite good. (NOTE: For roughly ten seconds or
at 16:01 —
image is very jittery, stabilizing thereafter for the remainder
of the film.) The mono audio track is sometimes plagued by low-level
hiss and static but dialog and music aren't negatively impacted.
A surprisingly long, spoiler-filled theatrical trailer is included
as an extra.
As with titles in Warner's Archive MOD
line, I deducted a point from my DVD Rating due to disc's cost.
In my opinion the big studios
shouldn't be charging more than $13 for these DVD-Rs. 2/04/11