December 07, 2008
Not On DVD: THE MAZE (1953) - a missing 3D thriller
What about getting the 3D films of the 1950's on DVD?
Many of the fantasy movies from the 1950's 3D boom are out on DVD (House of Wax, Creature From The Black Lagoon, It Came From Outer Space...), but none are viewable in 3D as yet. Here's a movie, with many of the same elements as those classics, that hasn't been available on home video for many years.
A man inherits a scottish castle and then severs his ties with friends and his new fiance. As they come to visit him, expressly against his wishes, they discover a changed man, newly greyed hair, bearing a heavy burden - a family secret involving a forbidden room in the castle and a large maze outside in the castle grounds...
One midnight in the late 1970s, I’d been prompted by a chapter in William K Everson’s Classics of the Horror Film, to stay up late to see The Maze. Of course i wasn't going to see it in the original 3-D, but some of the scenes made more sense knowing it had been filmed that way. Sure there are shock effects thrown at the camera, like the nightclub dancers being hurled around, but I still think 3-D works best when the eye can get it's bearings. Long slow moves along deeply-focussed sets use 3-D to the best effect. Luckily, years after first seeing it on tv, I had a chance to see it in 3D at London’s BFI cinema.
Director William Cameron Menzies excelled at production design, integrating sets with story and atmosphere. This is most evident in the huge castle interiors that dwarf the guests, and the maze itself is perfect for 3-D. This was released the same year as Menzie’s better known sci-fi nightmare classic Invaders From Mars which also had off-beat compositional framing and exaggerated perspectives, as well as being an early sci-fi in colour.
Leading man Richard Carlson was a recurrent 3-D star in the 1950s - he also heads Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came from Outer Space (1953). Making it more of a mystery why this has never been on home video - it should be on DVD.
Trivia-fans take note that the creepy butler is played by Michael Pate (with the white hair in the Radio Times clipping), the late Australian actor-turned-director, who cast a young Mel Gibson in an early starring role as Tim (1979) opposite Piper Laurie.
The climactic secret of the house doesn’t fully explain all the bizarre and secretive behaviour. But the ending is certainly unique, and another opportunity for 3-D effects. Though the tragedy of the scenario can easily lapse into laughter with a cinema audience.
This isn’t essential viewing for horror fans, but is good for 3-D fans and friends of the fifties. It's pace is slow-moving compared to today, but I've always thought that a slower editing pace and steady tracking shots are the best use of 3D. The slow tracking shots moving slowly around the maze are extremely effective. I'd love to see a modern Japanese horror film in 3D. Note that the BBC (in a 1970s review above) possessed a "left-eye and a right-eye print".
Here's the trailer on YouTube...
Here's the trailer in 3D (needs red and green glasses), pointed out by a member of The Classic Horror Film forum...