The Mad Magician (1954)

Vincent Price’s little seen 3D follow-up to “House of Wax” makes its debut on Twilight Times’ limited edition Blu-ray in 3D and 2D!

Legendary horror icon, Vincent Price, gave his breakthrough performance as a horror star in 1953’s “House of Wax” during Hollywood’s first 3D craze in the early 1950’s. The film was Warner Brothers’ biggest box-office hit of the year and Columbia Pictures quickly jumped on the bandwagon to capitalize on this newly anointed silver screen boogeyman with “The Mad Magician,” employing the same screenwriter and gimmickry.

Almost every fan of classic horror has seen “House of Wax,” but very few (including myself) have seen “The Mad Magician.” It has rarely screened on television since the 1970’s and has only recently seen any kind of release on home video. For those interested in the standard DVD release, “The Mad Magician” was released earlier last year in a generic budget DVD set from Mill Creek Entertainment called “Classic Horror 4 Movie Collection” that also includes “Five,” “The Man Who Turned to Stone” and “The Terror of the Tongs.” Now fans of obscure classic horror can catch Price’s turn as master magician-cum-murderous psycho in widescreen, 1080p remastered glory in both its original 3D format or in 2D with Twilight Time’s limited 3,000 edition (http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/mad-magician-the-3d-blu-ray/).

Because I don’t own a 3D Blu-ray player and the accompanying special glasses, this review will only concentrate on the 2D print and the quality of the film itself.

Price plays master illusionist Don Gallico, who has spent the majority of his career designing and building spectacular magical props that have helped propel other magicians to fame and fortune. Now he intends to debut his latest magical device, the Deadly Buzz Saw, in his own act under the pseudonym of Gallico the Great. Unfortunately, Gallico has signed some unexpectedly shady contracts with his employer, Ross Ormond, allowing his unscrupulous boss to take ownership of anything and everything he has created during his employ.

Ormond has also stolen Gallico’s gold digging wife played by Eva Gabor, and poor Gallico snaps under the cruel treatment of his oppressive employer, ultimately showing him just how the Deadly Buzz Saw illusion works without the proper safety steps taken.

Gallico must now cover up the murder by using his skills with make-up and masks to disguise himself as his former boss until he can get rid of the body and properly conjure up a believable reason for his sudden disappearance. Covering his tracks leads from justified homicide to committing further murders whenever anyone gets close to the truth as Gallico continues to disguise himself as his most recent victims. His madness grows as he proceeds to work on his latest illusion masterpiece, the fiery Crematorium.

Directed by John Brahm (“The Undying Monster,” “The Lodger”), the plot follows the general formula set down by “House of Wax,” with Price playing a master magician whose sanity disappears instead of a wax artist in mental meltdown. There are several occasions of 3D “stooging” including a yo-yo artist flinging his tools at the camera, Price spraying water at the screen from his magic wand and numerous sharp objects poking at the audience’s eyeballs.

The Mad Magician” is never less than a workmanlike production, but it never reaches the level of histrionics provided by its predecessor, “House of Wax.” It never delivers anything as exciting as the scene in that revered classic where a disfigured Price in a dark cloak and hat pursues the leading lady through the fogbound turn-of-the century, cobblestone streets.

Having said that, “The Mad Magician” does work itself up to a punchy, fiery climax that feels satisfying on its own level, and Price delivers exactly the sympathetic and charismatic performance necessary to make his journey into madness both tragic and frightening. Having seen pretty much every other horror film featuring this unforgettable icon, I consider this release of “The Mad Magician” to be a considerable treat for classic horror fans everywhere.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray also includes an informative documentary about the film’s director, “Master of Fright: Conjuring the Mad Magician,” by the very talented genre documentary filmmaker Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. It also includes both Three Stooges 3D Columbia Pictures shorts, “Spooks!” and “Pardon My Backfire.” Horror fans will especially enjoy “Spooks!” which finds Moe, Larry and Shemp playing detectives hired to find a missing girl in a mad scientist’s haunted house. Much literal “stooging” in 3D ensues!

The Phantom of The Ville

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