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The title of this film might lead one to believe it was based on the Nicolai Gogol story (adapted to film in 1990). Actually, it has nothing to do with that work but was taken instead from several Guy de Maupassant stories, primarily "The Horla." Vincent Price plays a 19th-century law enforcement officer who kills a vicious murderer in self-defense. As a result, he becomes possessed by an evil spirit, a "horla," that plagued the dead man. The spirit turns him into a murderer, too, although there is a suggestion that the superstition has merely given Price license to let loose the evil buried inside him. After several gruesome killings, the possessed man discovers the spirit can only be conquered by fire and sets about to destroy the "horla" in the only way he can.
Master of the arched eyebrow and sardonic smile, Price actually had a long and varied career on stage and screen before he began his successful association with producer Roger Corman in 1960. After a string of hits based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Price was established as the cinema's top horror star, joining the ranks of screen-chiller legends Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. In real life, he was an erudite and witty man, a published author, noted gourmet, and art connoisseur.
Nancy Kovack recalled in Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver that Price "was very respectful and I found that unusual. I knew that I wasn't known, and yet he was very respectful of me and kindly - he didn't have to be....I remember that just before the scene where he kills me with the knife, Vincent Price was tickling me and I was laughing, and I couldn't stop after that!"
Diary of a Madman was directed by Reginald Le Borg, and with a name like that it seemed only natural he would be destined for fame as a purveyor of screen horror. Educated at the University of Vienna, the Sorbonne in Paris, and New York's Columbia University, Le Borg began his directing career in 1943, working in just about every genre from musicals to Westerns to light comedies. While no one would mistake Le Borg as an "auteur" director, he nevertheless had a facility for establishing a sense of place and character motivation, which served him well in two horror pictures, The Black Sleep (1956), starring Basil Rathbone, and Voodoo Island (1957), with Karloff. His last work was So Evil, My Sister (1972), a trashy psychological thriller starring Susan Strasberg and Faith Domergue. Regarding Diary of a Madman, Le Borg later said in an interview with writer Tom Weaver that he felt the picture "came out very well - except for the voice of the Horla, which I wanted to distort quite a bit. We made a test of the voice, the way I wanted it, and (producer) Eddie Small said, 'I can't understand a word!' He wanted the Horla to speak normally, which was wrong."
Despite the low budget, one of the most appealing aspects of Diary of a Madman is Daniel Haller's set design and art direction. Haller had been Corman's chief art director and production designer since the mid-50s, providing the look of Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Raven (1963). He turned director with Die, Monster, Die! (1965) and later worked mostly in television.
Producer: Robert E. Kent, Edward Small
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Screenplay: Robert E. Kent, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Editing: Grant Whytock
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Vincent Price (Simon Cordier), Nancy Kovack (Odette), Chris Warfield (Paul DuClasse), Elaine Devry (Jeanne D'Arville), Ian Wolfe (Pierre), Stephen Roberts (Captain Robert Rennedon).
by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford