Tame then and tame now, they nonetheless primed me for the cathartic thrills of the genre.
Up until its recent DVD debut, 1963's "Diary Of A Madman" eluded me. Like the excellent series of Edgar Allan Poe films Price churned out under producer Roger Corman, this chiller, too, takes its inspiration from another classic author (whose stories predate copyright laws, thereby making it financially prudent), Guy de Maupassant.
Price plays magistrate-cum-sculptor Simon Cordier, who asks the rather fetching brunette Odette (Nancy Kovack) to model for him. He works over her bust with his hands. (He's a sculptor, pervs, remember?) He falls hard for her, and Odette, being a conniving gold digger, is certainly happy to lead him along.
So what's scary about that, beyond the potential for bank account damage? Earlier, Simon visits prisoner (Harvey Stephens) shortly before he is to be executed. The poor chap claims he's innocent, that he's possessed, that the devil made him do it, so to speak. He's got the superimposed glowing green eyes to prove it. One execution later, Simon starts seeing weird, poltergeist-esque things around his pad, quickly pushing him to become the madman of the title.
Price is Price: awesome. "Diary" is not "the most terrifying motion picture ever created," as its poster claimed, yet such hyperbole contributes to the enduring charms of this type of clean-scrubbed, Victorian-era horror. Technically, director Reginald Le Borg's film isn't an AIP production as many of Price's classics were, but it sure looks like it: pastel colors, pristine sets, decent effects. In short, good-ol'-fashioned fun. —Rod Lott