DIARY OF A MADMAN. (1963) DIRECTED BY REGINALD LE BORG. BASED ON STORIES BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT. STARRING VINCENT PRICE, NANCY KOVACK AND IAN WOLFE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This isn’t one of the Roger Corman-Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that horror legend Vincent Price made for American International Pictures, but it’s every bit as mysterious, atmospheric and luxurious as those gorgeous films, even if it doesn’t have a crumbling old mist-wreathed castle by the sea for a setting.
Vincent Price stars as Simon Cordier, a rich, well-respected French magistrate living in Paris. He has all the trappings of wealth, but the pain of the death twelve years ago of his wife and baby is his constant bedfellow. Which just goes to show us that money can’t always bring you happiness, even if it can bring you all the snazzy new material stuff you could ever wish for. (Which, of course, is nice…!)
Simon visits a condemned prisoner called Louis Girot in prison on the eve of his execution. Girot, who has requested the meeting, has apparently murdered several people without motive, for which he’s going to get an all-expenses paid trip to Madame La Guillotine. He’s hoping to convince the magistrate of his innocence, by explaining how he wasn’t at all in his right mind when he carried out the killings. He wasn’t really even himself, if you get me.
He tells a sceptical Simon that he was possessed by an evil spirit when he did the murders, a spirit that can order him to kill at any time. When Simon leaves the man’s cell, this murderous curse no longer inhabits Girot’s doomed carcass, but Simon’s vibrant living one…
To soothe his troubled mind, which by the way has started imagining things and hearing voices, Simon takes up sculpting, a subject in which he has always had an interest. He meets a stunning young(ish) artist’s model called Odette Mallotte who, unknown to Simon, is married to a struggling artist called Paul Duclasse and is desperate to claw her way out of the poverty trap in which she is currently enmeshed.
The unscrupulous, materialistic Odette sees Simon as her meal ticket out of the slums. While he is sculpting her perfect head and shoulders, he falls in love with her sunny demeanour and her ability to laugh at life and all its follies. Which was precisely what she was hoping would happen and what she was trying to manipulate into happening…
To Odette’s delight, Simon, who is blissfully unaware of her marital status, proposes marriage. She’s not going to let a little thing like her living husband, Paul Duclasse, stand in the way of her advancement. Surely he can be easily brushed aside?
In the meantime, poor Simon is convinced that he is possessed by the evil spirit that transferred itself to him from the convicted prisoner Louis Girot. The spirit is an invisible entity called the Horla, who speaks to Simon when he is alone.
It has telekinetic powers and can move furniture about and throw things and smash things just like a poltergeist can. Poor Simon can’t decide whether he’s going mad or whether there really is a race of evil spirits known as the Horla, who can inhabit the bodies of men while manipulating their minds into committing the most heinous murders. When the Horla orders him to carry out a killing so dreadful it makes his blood run cold to think of it, he finds out first-hand what’s real and what’s not…
The titular diary is the journal kept by Simon Cordier from the moment he suspects he is going insane. He leaves it ‘to be opened in the event of my death’ and, in it, he hopes to convince the reader- and, by extension, the world- of the existence of the heretofore unknown Horla, and of the very real menace they represent to mankind.
You’ll know if you’ve been possessed by the Horla because a greenish glowing rectangle will appear across both your eyes and you’ll get a sudden uncontrollable urge to go all Norman Bates on someone with a fair-sized carving knife. There’s a definite PSYCHO moment in DIARY OF A MADMAN, complete with metaphorical shower curtains breaking free of their loopy things one by one as a desperate victim clutches at them for support. Very enjoyable stuff, lol.
Ian Wolfe you might recognise. Here, he plays Pierre, Simon Cordier’s devoted old retainer. He’s appeared in a few of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies of the ‘Forties, in at least one case playing- you guessed it!- a faithful old retainer, this time to the cold fish of a toff whose wife was found in the deserted church ringing feebly on the bell to attract attention. To the fact that she’d had her throat torn out by the same fiend who’d torn out the throats of various poor sheep in the area… Anyway, it’s lovely to see Ian Wolfe here in this gorgeous, sumptuously-coloured gothic horror movie. Any friend of Holmes’s is a friend of ours, right?
DIARY OF A MADMAN is as good a horror film as any of Vincent Price’s other works. Nancy Kovack is deliciously seductive as she takes the pins out of her hat and settles herself down on the model’s stool to loosen her long dark hair and pull down the front of her dress to bare her shoulders for Simon’s sculpting chisel to get to work on.
Remember her as Medea, the sexy, dark-haired priestess of the temple at Colchis whom Jason fishes out of the sea in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? Covered in gold paint and nearly nude, the foxy wench does her frenzied dance with pure abandon in the temple, much to the delight of the watching males. She’s a real hottie, but dames like that ain’t nuthin’ but trouble. Just ask Simon Cordier…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: