Scriptwriter Christopher Wicking and director Gordon Hessler collaborate a number of times in a span of only a few years time and, even though none of their joint ventures can truly be considered as a pure genre classic, they nevertheless always delivered very entertaining and versatile horror efforts, like the atmospheric "The Oblong Box", the rather perverted "Cry of the Banshee" and the (slightly over-)ambitious "Scream and Scream Again". The title of this film makes believe it's their interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's legendary tale, but the set-up is in fact a bit more creative than that. "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is set at a theater in Paris, where the respectable top artist Cesar Charron and his ensemble depict Poe's oeuvre on stage, but the actual plot of the movie simultaneously borrows elements from that other great and legendary story by Gaston Leroux; "The Phantom of the Opera". Charron's young and beautiful wife Madeleine suffers from recurring nightmares featuring an axe murderer, a falling rope and an old dark house. Meanwhile a masked maniac is brutally killing off Charron's friends and old co-actors with acid. What's the mysterious link between this vengeful killing spree and Madeleine's nightmare? Only Cesar Charron knows This version of "Murders in the Rue Morge", the second one I watch after the 30's version starring Bela Lugosi, contains a number of horror elements that I absolutely worship, so don't expect an overly critical analysis from my side! First and foremost, the era as well as the setting is sublime. Presumably taking place in the early 1900's, (though the original story was published in 1841) the recreation of Paris around that time is magical. The theater, although exclusively performing harrowing and extremely violent plays, is always sold out entirely and outside on the streets there are non-stop carnivals going on, full of weird people and prostitutes. What a blast of a period and place to live! Furthermore the film benefices from marvelous period decors, costumes and scenery, and there are a number of righteously cast eccentric supportive characters, like a truly eerie dwarf, a bombastic carnival artist specializing in the "art" of faking his own death and an archetypal French police inspector. The murders and the make-up effects are fantastically "Grand Guignol" to boot! Acid - more specifically Vitriol has a horrible effect on human skin and director Hessler doesn't leave any opportunity unused to show burning faces and mutilated corpses. The plot is engaging and fairly suspenseful, albeit predictable and rather obvious as soon as you gradually get to know the main characters and their personalities. The undeniable highlight of "Murders in the Rue Morgue" are Madeleine's vividly illustrated dreams, as they're hauntingly surreal, colorful and guided by ominous music. It's during these sequences especially that I thought a couple of times that Gordon Hessler and Christopher Wicking are quite underrated names in a horror era primarily dominated by the British Hammer, Tigon and Amicus studios. Jason Robards appears a bit uncomfortable in the horror surrounding, but he nonetheless remains a brilliant actor of course, while Herbert Lom shines in another for him familiar role of masked anti-heroic avenger.
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