Friday, July 31, 2015

300th Review: Dairy of a Madman (1963)

It's my 300th review, everyone!...And I had totally forgotten, and thus hadn't planned anything out to review ahead of time. Whoops. Thankfully the movie I'm looking at for my 300th review (which was an immutable one for reasons explained here), stars Vincent Price, which is makes it a worthy pick for this milestone, I suppose...

Simon Cordier is a magistrate in 1800's era France, and has just arranged for a man convicted of numerous murders to be executed. Just before dying, though, the man pleads wth Cordier to believe that he was being controlled by a malevolent being. Cordier is disbelieving, but soon finds himself being haunted by an unexplainable presence. Chalking it up to stress, Cordier decides with the help of a doctor that he needs to break away from his lonely and secluded lifestyle, and so he takes back up his old hobby of sculpting, even finding a beautiful model in a woman named Odette. Soon, however, the evil presence known as the Horla takes control of Cordier, compelling him to kill...

Adapted from Guy de Maupaussant's short story The Horla, a progenitor for the Cthulhu Mythos, Diary of a Madman is watchable, but not very good.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it doesn't live up to its potential in any way! It could have told a really interesting story, with Lovecraftian themes, but instead, there's very little plot concerning the Horla, and are large stretches where he doesn't even appear!

The film is pretty inconsistent too, concerning its antagonist. For a start, is the Horla a physical being or not? If he's just invisible, but has a corporeal presence, why doesn't Cordier just sock him one? Secondly, the Horla speaks accusingly to Cordier about him being evil, and how he must pay for his crime, yet makes him commit vicious murders, and other acts of evil.

None of the characters in this movie are all that likable. Simon is, but can't help but be controlled by the Horla and murder people, while Odette is a cheating goldigger, and her husband Paul is a dick.

I've never read the short story this is based on, but apparently Diary of a Madman isn't regarded as a very good adaptation. It's tolerable enough for the most part, but then comes the last 20 minutes, which show that the power of a cross is enough to break the Horla's spell. Cosmic Horror fans as well as Guy de Maupassant himself can't be very happy at this development, given that it's entirely contrary to the idea in this genre of fiction that humanity is powerless against vast cosmic forces beyond its control.

The look of this movie is pretty stiff. It's almost entirely set indoors, in dull drawing rooms, and the scenes outside are almost always really obviously on indoor sets. It's annoying! Could they not have actually filmed in a cemetery? They could've at least built a small fake one outdoors, to at least get the sky looking convincing!

There's barely any violence here, and what there is is pretty lame, especially given how a newspaper describes the murder in the following scene! The head hidden in clay looks good though, and is a nice reveal.

The acting in Diary of a Madman is passable. Vincent Price is obviously good as the protagonist, but he doesn't get much to work with (until the climax, that is), while the rest of the cast are decent. The guy voicing the Horla is ok, but he's not particularly intimidating, and the performance seemingly isn't as good as it could have been. Originally, the director Reginald Le Borg wanted the Horla's voice to be distorted, but producer Edward Small instead wanted the voice to sound normal. That's a shame, as this antagonist would feel so much more alien and Lovecraftian had the voice been distorted. One final thing to note is how amusingly American France is in this movie.

To finish, Diary of a Madman is an ok movie, but nothing great, and I don't recommend it...

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