Friday Fright: The Maze (1953)

Written by Daniel B. Ullman
Based on the novel by Maurice Sandoz
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
Starring Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery
Released July 26, 1953
RT 80 min.
Home Video Kino Classics (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

untitled

Do you ever read something about a movie, add it to your “watch list,” but then not remember why?  I probably need a new system, because it happens to me all too frequently.  Consequently, I find myself in situations like last summer, when I was at Monster Bash, and found a copy of The Maze on DVD.  Unable to find it anywhere else, I quickly bought a copy.  Almost a year later (you know how that is), I finally popped it into the ol’ DVD player to watch, and then asked myself, “Now why was this on my list?”

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a bad movie at all.  I just found nothing distinctive about it to make it such a sought-after commodity.  It’s dripping with atmosphere and offers a solid, if a bit talky, mystery.  However, the big reveal at the end is disappointing.  It’s not really a twist; we know that some type of creature or monster is being kept hidden in the halls of Craven Castle.  It is, though, a case of what you don’t see being much more frightening than what you do see.  And the movie is better served through a dark and murky bootleg DVD than through…

…the perfect clarity of the new Kino Classics Blu-ray that was released earlier this week.  I pre-ordered it because I wanted to better examine the creature in high definition… I thought perhaps I missed something when watching the DVD.  I’m glad I did this, because although it does enhance a silly looking monster, it also enhances the mood and atmosphere, making everything that happens before the monster appears a better viewing experience.  The clarity also emphasizes what a treat it would have been to see The Maze in its original 3D format.

The-Maze

On the eve of his marriage to the lovely Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst), Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) is summoned to Craven Castle in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands.  Although he hasn’t been there in 15 years, and hardly knew him, he inherits the estate when his uncle dies.  He also inherits the grave responsibility of protecting the family secret.  When he doesn’t return, Kitty refuses to believe that he doesn’t intend to see her again, even when, six weeks later, her aunt, Edith Murray (Katherine Emery), gets a letter stating as much.

Kitty’s a plucky heroine and decides to take Aunt Edith with her to Craven Castle to learn what the heck is going on.  When a driver leaves them outside the gate of the foggy grounds, Edith feels like they’ve “stepped into another world.”  Kitty agrees, “It’s sinister, all right.”  There, she discovers that Gerald has aged.  He insists that they leave the next morning, but allows them to stay overnight… locked in their bedroom with windows covered by bricks.  (Being locked in their rooms at night is “one of the rules.”)

maze6

Meanwhile, the cleaning woman dies mysteriously.  The death certificate will say, “Heart failure,” but Gerald and his servants, William (Michael Pate) and Robert (Stanley Fraser), know the truth.  “It’s not our fault,” one of them says, “We told her not to go into the maze.”  Ah, the maze… the forbidden maze with the locked gates… the maze that the monster visits each night via the rubber-lined hallways and platform-wide steps of the grand staircase.

Kitty and Edith turn tail and head home the next morning, right?  Of course not!  Instead, Kitty invites all their friends for a visit so they can evaluate Gerald’s state of mind.  The convergence of characters sets the scene for the climax, during which Kitty and Edith get lost and separated in the maze.  It’s a suspenseful scene, and we soon learn the meaning of the book Kitty discovered earlier: Teratology: The Study of Monstrosities, Serious Malformations or Deviations from the Normal Structure in Man.

I enjoyed The Maze, written by Daniel B. Ullman (based on the novel by Maurice Sandoz) and directed by William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).  It becomes even more interesting when you learn that it’s somewhat based on a legend of the castle in which Queen Elizabeth spent some time while she was a child.  It’s a quality production lessened only by a monster better imagined than seen.  Then again, we all love silly-looking monsters.  Since when have we ever let that ruin a movie for us?

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