After Father Raymonde (Lewis Martin) presides over the funeral of French Magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price) a small group gathers as part of Simon’s final wishes. Around the table at the D’Arville Art Gallery are Andre D’Arville (Edward Colmans), his daughter Jeanne D’Arville (Elaine Devry), Father Raymonde, Simon’s servants Pierre (Ian Wolfe) and Louise (Mary Adams) and Police Captain Robert Rennedon (Stephen Roberts). In front of Andre are a small chest and a letter given to Jeanne the night he died. The letter says that if he died that night then the chest was not to be opened until after his funeral. Andre opens the chest. Inside is a personal diary written by Simon. Andre reads the diary.
Simon explains that three days before the scheduled execution of a murderer named Louis Girot (Harvey Stephens) the condemned man asks to see Simon. Since Simon is interested in the criminal mind he agrees to meet with Girot. Girot tells Simon that when he killed he was possessed by an evil entity that took over his mind. He doesn’t even remember killing anyone. As they are talking a strange green light appears over Girot’s eyes. He then tries to strangle Simon. When Simon pushes him away Girot hits his head on the stone wall and dies. The green light fades from his eyes.
After that Simon begins to hear the voice of an evil entity that calls itself a horla. The horla begins to take over Simon’s mind. Believing he may be going insane he seeks the advice of an alienist, Dr. Borman (Nelson Olmstead). When Borman suggests that he relax by taking up a hobby Simon decides to go back to sculpting. Outside the D’Arville Art Gallery he meets Odette Mallotte (Nancy Kovack). He hires Odette to pose for him. Odette is married to an artist, Paul Duclasse (Chris Warfield) but is always on the prowl for someone richer. She gets her hooks into Simon.
In a fugue state the horla compels Simon to kill Odette, cut off her head and stuff it inside the clay bust Simon created of her. Then he has Simon bury the bust and destroy all signs of Odette from the house. When the police investigate Odette’s death her husband Paul is arrested for her murder. With the horla trying to compel him to murder again Simon knows he needs to take drastic measures to rid himself of the evil haunting him.
“Diary of a Madman” was released in 1963 and was directed by Reginald Le Borg. It is an American horror film. The movie is based on two short stories written by French writer Guy de Maupassant called “Le Horla” written in 1887 and “Un fou” written 1885.
When you have a prolific writer of stories like Maupassant matched with Vincent Price, the Master of Horror, you would think the product of such a union would be a really good horror movie. Unfortunately something went wrong. There were moments that were good, like Odette’s eye looking out from the sculpture, but for the most part the movie wasn’t all that interesting or engaging. Price does his best but even his theatrics fall a little flat.
I blame the script. If you have a glorious ham like Price as the lead you need to give him something he can sink his teeth into. The man actually started on the stage. Nancy Kovack as the sneaky bitch Odette is believable and Price did a good job as a refined letch when they first meet but after that there didn’t seem to be much spark between them.
Reportedly director Reginald Le Borg wanted the voice of the horla to come out distorted. Producer Edward Small wanted it to sound clear. Le Borg thought that was a mistake and I agree with him. The film would have been creepier and the horla much more sinister if its voice was less refined and more earthy. The film was average at best but for Vincent Price fans it may be more appealing.
One thing I did notice is that there is fire involved in this film so I'm beginning to think that when Vincent Price is in a film, even odds there will be fire somewhere in it.