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I Was in the Mood for a Fiend

I think any movie with Vincent Price is worth a watch. Of course, you never know what you may be in for. I’ve seen him in the cheesy William Castle flick House on Haunted Hill and the stylish noir Laura, to name two of my favorites. When I saw something called Diary of a Madman on TCM, I reached for the DVR button on the remote.

Diary of a Madman (1963) is based on a story by Guy de Maupassant. I’ll have to read the story sometime so I can compare/contrast. However, I thought I would write this blog post before I did any such thing.

The movie opens on a funeral — always a good start for a horror flick. A “good man” is dead — at least, that’s what the eulogy says. One lady emphatically does not buy into that description. Several people meet, at the behest of the dead man, for the reading of his diary. That’s right, not the will, the diary. Didn’t you see the title of the picture?

Flashback to Vincent Price as a highly respected magistrate, going to see a condemned killer before his execution. The killer protests his innocence: it’s not him, it’s the demon that possesses him. Then he tries to kill Price. Well, I guess the demon tries to. Price kills the murderer first, so what do you suppose will happen to the demon?

That much we read in the description of the movie on the guide channel. To continue a plot summary would, I think, call for a spoiler alert. I don’t intend to exactly recount the plot, but just to be on the safe side, consider yourself alerted for possible spoilers.

The demon, it seems, does not so much possess Price as follow him around, taunting him and occasionally making him do things. And to my mind, not nearly enough things. Come on, the first guy the demon possessed — and this is just backstory — killed four people without motive. It takes forever for Price to start murdering!

When he finally does kill someone, he is not nearly as fiendish as we like our Vincent to be. There is a rather satisfyingly macabre bit involving a sculpture of somebody we don’t like much anyways, so that helps. Price was an excellent actor. He could play the tormented sufferer who wants to do right and it is a fine performance. I was just in the mood for a fiend.

The ending has a definite “Waaait a minute!” quality, but then, movies using a diary as a framing device often do. I mean, people are very rarely able to describe their own death in a diary before it actually happens (I didn’t spoil anything; remember? it opened on his funeral).

Perhaps they could have overcome the difficulty with a voice-over narration, something along the lines of, “This is what I plan to do. If you’re reading this, you’ll know it worked.” But they made no use of voice-over narration. Kind of silly of them, since Vincent Price had such a nice voice. Astute readers may remember my saying that I don’t like voice-over narration. True, it’s not my favorite. In this case, however, it may have enabled them to skip over a bunch of the boring parts before he gets around to killing somebody. Then they could have fit in a few more murders.

I guess it’s not the job of a reviewer to tell the movie makers how to fix the movie. I can see the director now huffing, “Fine! You go make a movie!” I guess they have a point. Reviewers ought to review the movie they saw, not the movie they wished they would have seen. Well, leaving aside the fact that I rarely do what I ought to (and brag about it), I’m not a real reviewer! I write a silly blog! Where do these movie makers get off, talking to me like I’m Leonard Maltin? They should just go make another movie. Maybe I’ll write about it next week.

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