Oct 051963
two reels

Simon Cordier (Vincent Price), a magistrate and amateur sculptor, is possessed by a demonic Horla. Thinking the voices may just be symptoms of mental illness, Simon reduces his workload and returns to sculpting as therapy.  He meets the beautiful Odette (Nancy Kovack), who becomes his model. He believes she’s single and romantically interested in him, when actually she’s  a gold-digger married to a naive painter. As far as Simon can see, all is going well, until the Horla makes itself known again, and forces him into evil acts.

Based on the Guy de Maupassant story, Le Horla, Diary of a Madman lacks the kick to be interesting and the scares to make it horror. In the 1880s, Le Horla may have been considered pretty frightening stuff, but times have changed. And even if they haven’t, it was a short story. Drug out to feature-length, anything that might have had a touch of tension has been diluted.

The big question the film presents is: does the Horla exist or has Simon gone insane? But the picture tips its hand early with external, and very primitive, special effects (the actors hold perfectly still while green light is shown on their eyes to indicate the presence of the Horla). Sure, it might still all be in his head, but that’s not the position of the filmmakers. Either way you take it, it doesn’t give you anything to think about, and it doesn’t change anything.

What the movie does have is Vincent Price. Price, with his easy, often jovial manner and mellifluous voice, always elevated the material he was given. In this case, he takes nothing and makes it worth sitting through. He is marvelous, dominating every scene he’s in, which is almost all of them. It could be retiled An Evening with Vincent Price—A Nearly One Man Show. The other actors supply reasonable support for their brief appearances onscreen. The best is Nancy Kovack who has an easy, G-rated kind of sex appeal. She has surprising chemistry with Price, and their long conversations are more enjoyable then they have any right to be.

Unfortunately, the Horla occasionally chimes in, sounding like a chatty, over-blown, reject from a dinner theater.  He’s not an ominous monster, but an annoying one, and his dialog doesn’t help.

There are plenty of worse ’60s horror films, and many of those aren’t scary either. You’ll have to decide if that excuses those faults in Diary of a Madman. It doesn’t for me. Still, if you happen to stumble upon it, it wouldn’t hurt to check out Price’s craftsmanship.

Other Foster on Film reviews of Vincent Price films: The Invisible Man Returns (1940), Laura (1944), The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959), House On Haunted Hill (1958), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971).

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