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DIARY OF A MADMAN(director/writer: Reginald Le Borg; screenwriters: from a short story The Horla by Guy de Maupassant/Robert E. Kent; cinematographer: Ellis W. Carter; editor: Grant Whytock; music: Richard LaSalle; cast: Vincent Price (Simon Cordier), Nancy Kovack (Odette Mallotte DuClasse), Chris Warfield (Paul DuClasse), Elaine Devry (Jeanne D’Arville), Ian Wolfe (Pierre), Stephen Roberts (Captain Robert Rennedon), Lewis Martin (Fr. Raymonde), Mary Adams (Louise), Edward Colmans (Andre D’Arville), Joseph Ruskin (The Voice of the Horla), Nelson Olmsted (Dr. Borman), Harvey Stephens (Louis Girot); Runtime: 96; MGM; 1963)
“Lacked humor and genuine horror.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

This is a tepid, routine period piece horror story set in 19th century France. Reginald Le Borg (Destiny (1944)/The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)/Jungle Woman (1944)) directs in a plodding way a Guy de Maupassant’s story. It lacked humor and genuine horror.

The mourners at the funeral of the respected and wealthy magistrate, Simon Cordier (Vincent Price), gather in the art gallery of Andre D’Arville (Colmans) as they honor Simon’s last request to open the chest they now possess. Andre has the chest and a letter of instructions written by the magistrate the night before he died in a house fire. These items were given to him by his daughter Jeanne (Devry) and the local priest, Father Raymonde (Martin), as Simon frantically met with them that evening and insisted his instructions be followed to the letter upon his death. The others in the room are the loyal servants of Simon’s, Pierre (Wolfe) and Louise (Adams), and the police chief, Captain Robert Rennedon (Roberts). Inside the chest is Simon’s diary. The story goes into flashback as the diary is read in whole.

It tells of how an evil spirit called the Horla possessed Simon and made him its slave. It first began when the compassionate and just magistrate visited a convicted serial killer, Louis Girot, in his cell three days before his scheduled guillotine execution. The magistrate was curious to know what made him randomly kill four people he didn’t rob or have a motive for killing, and why all the time he admitted killing them but still maintained that he was innocent. Girot tries to explain that he was possessed by an evil spirit and suddenly his eyes glow in green as he turns into a madman and tries to kill the magistrate, who strikes back and kills Girot while defending himself. But the evil spirit is passed on to him, as his eyes will also glow green when murder is in his heart.

When back at his elegant estate, Simon notices a number of strange things. The picture of his deceased wife and young boy is hanging on the wall in the main room, even though it was locked in the trunk in the attic and no one removed it. He soon finds himself conversing with the invisible evil spirit, who says he will now order Simon to do things for him that go against his will — including murder. To prove his powers, he has Simon murder his beloved pet canary. This drives Simon to see a shrink, who tells him he’s having a nervous breakdown from living such a withdrawn life after his wife died 12 years ago. His prescription is that Simon return to his hobby of sculpture, meet a lot of people, live it up, and take a leave of absence from the bench.

Following the doctor’s prescription, Simon is on holiday admiring a portrait of a beautiful woman posing as a ballerina hanging in the D’Arville art gallery. When the model herself appears and she gets him to pay an exorbitant amount of money to pose for him, a happiness returns to him and he stops having nightmares. Her name is Odette Mallotte (Nancy Kovack) and she’s married to the impoverished struggling artist who did that painting, Paul DuClasse (Warfield). But she doesn’t tell the magistrate she’s a married woman, as he makes a head sculpture of her as the laughing woman — a theme taken from a Heinrich Heine poem about an ideal woman.

When Horla sees that Simon is not putting a move on her and only sees the goodness in her, he tells him she’s an evil woman who will leave her nice guy hubby because she’s impressed with his wealth and status. Horla orders him to make her leave her husband, and do it even if he doesn’t love her. Simon asks why is he making him do such a terrible thing. Horla responds by saying you took away my other slave and I needed another, also you already had evil in your heart when you never forgave your wife for the boy’s death and you drove her to suicide.

In the most gruesome scene in the movie, Simon carves off the head of his eloping would-be bride Odette and Paul gets convicted of the brutal murder. Simon not only doesn’t come to the aid of the innocent artist but denies even knowing him or her and seems powerless to save him, that is, until he figures out how to get Horla in a showdown.

The diary is read in time to save Paul from the guillotine, and for him to find the one who truly loves him, Jeanne.

The corniest scene is when Price is prevented from killing Jeanne, on orders from Horla, because he sees the reflection of the cross — which proves to be more powerful than the evil spirit. I wonder if a Jewish star would have worked!

The film ends with a voiceover saying: “Evil possesses man whenever evil exists in the heart of man.” I needed to know that like I needed sand kicked in my face at the beach.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”