Diary of a Madman

In today’s blog I’m going to look at one of my favourite horror films. This dates back to 1963. The film is called ‘Diary of a Madman’ and stars Vincent Price in the leading role. He plays the magistrate Simon Cordier, who is haunted by an evil entity known as the Horla.

The action takes place in France and is based on a short story by the 19th century author Guy de Maupassant. The story’s title was actually ‘The Horla.’ It explains what can happen if a person is taken over by an evil entity to such an extent that he loses his reason. The Horla thrives on people who suffer from bad consciences and uses them against its victims.

At the start of the film a convicted man is facing the guillotine for killing four people in cold-blooded fashion. His only defence was that he was taken over by an unseen force who took possession of his mind and made him kill. His thoughts and actions, he maintained, were not his own throughout the execution of these awful crimes. Of course, this testimony was thrown out. But the murderer requests to see Cordier in his cell as he is awaiting his execution. The magistrate agrees to see him thinking he will finally come up with a true confession for what he did.

However, instead of this he finds the prisoner insisting that his former testimony was true, that this entity known as The Horla had taken full possession of him and caused him to kill his victims. Cordier dismisses this claim at which point the convicted man attacks him, driven on by The Horla which appears to Cordier as a strange patch of light in the prisoner’s eyes. In the act of defending himself, Cordier kills the man.

Following this incident The Horla transfers his influence from the prisoner and onto the magistrate. From then on strange happenings keep occurring in his home which lead him to doubt his reason. He goes to see a doctor about these occurrences and is advised to occupy himself with something which will take his mind off what is going on all around him. He tells the doctor in his younger years he enjoyed sculpting. The doctor suggests he should return to this as it will help him recover from his troubles.

At first, Cordier thinks the doctor’s advice is working. He employs a young female model to come to his home to pose for him as he returns to his sculpting work. He feels more alive than he has for years, enjoying his work and finding he has struck up a close friendship with his young model. However, The Horla is always lurking in the background. He has already had interactions with this being but thought the voices he heard were in his own head, brought on by sad thoughts of his wife who had died tragically some years before.

However, it is not long until he realizes the horrible truth. The convicted man in his cell had been spot on with everything he had told him. The Horla was real and now he was going to face a struggle for his own existence let alone his sanity. There follow a series of exhibitions of the Horla’s strength which explains to Cordier the terrible danger he is facing. But this is nothing as opposed to what the Horla wants him to do. He wishes to use the magistrate for his own evil ends.

As Cordier draws closer to the young model and they fall in love the Horla comes to the magistrate and tells him he must kill her. He is horrified by this suggestion but is told she is not at all as she seems to him. Her love for him is a mere facade. Her intention is to bleed him dry. Her only interest in him is his money. Cordier tells the Horla that it sees evil in everything to which the entity replies “only where it exists, magistrate: only where it exists.” This brings in a whole new side to the equation. The Horla sees the evil in people and embellishes it to the point where drastic measures are called for. But this is merely the stance it takes to justify its actions.

At the film’s end Cordier believes he has found a way to strike back at the Horla, a way to bring an end to its sinister practices. In so doing he will have to put his own life at risk but he believes this is a chance worth taking. Otherwise the Horla will continue to torment its victims moving from one person to the next as it had passed from the convicted man to himself.

Throughout his troubles, the magistrate has kept a diary of everything that has happened to him since the Horla came into his life. He knows if he is to die the diary will remain as his testimony of his dealings with the evil entity. it will prove the existence of the Horla and will act as a warning to mankind that evil exists everywhere.

This film is a classic in my opinion. It certainly helps to have Vincent Price in the leading role. He is perfectly suited to the character of Simon Cordier. You can tell how haunted he is becoming by the effect this Horla is having on his life. You cannot help but sympathise with his plight as he faces up to seemingly insuperable odds. It is the story of a man who is battling for his sanity at first, before he faces up to an even bigger battle: for his own existence. It is a battle which at times it looks like he can never win. But who knows what the human spirit is capable of when going up against the power of evil?

Categories:Horror Films and TV Shows

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