Release Date(s)1954 (January 11, 2017)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Often overlooked and forgotten in Vincent Price’s long career as a horror icon, The Mad Magician was released in 1954 in 3D and was directed by John Brahm, who also made the great Hangover Square and The Undying Monster. Telling the story of an insane magician who attempts to impersonate the people he kills with make-up, The Mad Magician was Columbia Pictures’ way of cashing in on the success of House of Wax. Despite a really awful final scene, however, the movie still manages to retain some charm with both macabre and tongue-in-cheek moments.
In many ways, The Mad Magician is a typical revenge thriller. But whereas most films in this vein attempt to keep the identity of the killer a secret, there is no subterfuge here. We spend time with Price’s character as he does his dirty deeds, wondering when and where he’s going to be caught. At the same time, we sympathize with him, as he’s often put-upon and not well-treated by the people around him, even some of his peers. Besides Price, the cast includes a small but pivotal role with a fledgling Eva Gabor. There’s also a married couple, the wife of which is a Jessica Fletcher-type character, who figure out the details of the plot before anybody else does, including the police. That’s a little silly and it leads to the film’s final scene which, after the dark demise of one of the main characters, attempts to give the audience a good laugh to go out on. However, in a movie of this tone, a good laugh seems completely out of place.
Still, there’s fun to be had with The Mad Magician. As it happens, this was the last 3D film that Columbia Pictures produced during the period, though the 3D experience is average at best, focusing more on image depth than gimmickry. But even though The Mad Magician has managed to slip through the cracks for many years, due to the overwhelming popularity of Vincent Price’s other films, it’s a brisk and enjoyable 72 minutes with plenty of genre value.
Sony’s Blu-ray restoration of the title sports a lovely widescreen transfer. Depending on your setup, it will automatically play the 2D or 3D version of the film. As far as image quality is concerned, it holds up well. Grain levels are good but with a touch of softness to the overall picture. Depth is solid, while texturing and fine object detail are plentiful. Black and white delineation is also quite good. Overall brightness and contrast is pleasing and there appears to be no major leftover dirt or debris, nor are there any signs of digital enhancements, such as artificial sharpening. For the audio portion, there’s an English mono 2.0 DTS-HD track that supports the visuals quite well. Dialogue is always clear and discernible. Despite some dated sound effects and score, everything comes through well with no distortions or dropouts. Subtitles are available in English SDH. This a fine presentation for a title that, for too long, has been available only in less than savory forms.
Twilight Time has put together a fine set of bonus materials that are just as entertaining as the film. There’s an isolated score audio track (also in 2.0 DTS-HD), an audio commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros, a great 20-minute featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures entitled Master of Fright!: Conjuring The Mad Magician, the film’s original theatrical trailer, a scroll-through of the Twilight Time catalogue, and an 8-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo. Also included is the option to watch two Three Stooges shorts in either 2D or 3D: Pardon My Backfire and Spooks!. Their inclusion is very welcome as they are the only shorts that Columbia Pictures ever produced in the 3D format.
While many might find The Mad Magician a bit boring compared to House of Wax, it still has plenty to offer, particularly from Vincent Price who seems to be having an enjoyable time with it. Sony’s restoration of the film itself, along with Twilight Time’s awesome package and extras, make this a must-own title for fans of 3D and Price alike.
- Tim Salmons