Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Study In Terror!

As can be seen by the offbeat poster A Study in Terror opened during to crowds in that extravagant moment when Bat-mania was seizing control of the world. How else do you rationalize such a weird poster dotted with sound effects. That said, the movie, despite such exploitation, has little to do with DC's Dynamic Duo.

The "Dynamic Duo" in question here are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as portrayed by John Neville and Donald Houston respectively. This outing of the pair is a lurid low-budget effort which has quite a bit of verve and a decent enough mystery. They are battling no less than Jack the Ripper himself who terrifies the whores of London as Holmes tries to ride to their defense.

I knew this movie was going to be a special experience when I saw Bernard Cohen's name in the credits as producer, the notorious low-budget maven of such fare as Konga and Trog, two of my favorite low-budget movies. Now I have a third of his efforts to add to the short list. The murders, often shown from the viewpoint of the Ripper offer up a classic blend of violence and sex, but within the borders of what passed for decency at the time.

As a dour Holmes and a naive Watson prowl the weirdly fake streets of Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper slinks about killing girls with relative aplomb. It takes a while for Holmes and Watson to get into the act, and once there they seem to take their time solving the crime, giving the Ripper time to complete his infamous list of victims. This is not a documentary about the Ripper, so the crimes are somewhat different, but certainly maintain the flavor of the classic murders.

The solution seems oddly contrived, but then it's almost by definition going to have to be. I was also more than a bit taken aback by how clumsily Holmes manages the finale, but it is certainly rousing with action.

This movie inspired a novelization, a offbeat one with a strange frame story starring Ellery Queen. It was published in 1966 by Lancer and has stumbled around in various forms for years.  For more on the book and the movie's origins check out this article.

I've been wanting to see this movie ever since I read it inspired Wade Manly Wellman and his son to write one of my favorite Holmes pastiches Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds. Full of robust color and ample textures, this movie is one that does indeed linger in the memory.

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  1. I quite enjoyed the movie. Nicely done, I thought. That first poster 'though, is awful.

    1. It is of a moment in history for sure and memorable, if not necessarily in a good way.

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