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Diary of a Madman: Neglected Price Classic, and Paranormal Connection

diaryOver the last week two areas of interest came together to make for an interesting tale here at TheoFantastique.

On Halloween, like many horror and Halloween fans, I spent a good portion of my day enjoying various horror films on television. I had several options to choose from, but one station did a better job than others for my personal tastes in providing a series of worthy options, and that was Turner Classic Movies. Over the course of the day TCM played a number of interesting pieces, including one I remember seeing as a child that I always enjoyed but which receives little air time or critical recognition, Diary of a Madman, starring Vincent Price. Although the film’s host for TCM provided less than flattering commentary for the film, I hope to elevate the film with a little additional commentary, as well as an interesting piece of folkloric and paranormal connection.

Diary of a Madman debuted in 1963 and it tells the story Simon Cordier, a magistrate, played by Price, who has recently condemned a man to death for the senseless murder of several human beings. The man is scheduled to be executed, but prior to his death he askes to see Cordier to whom he tells again, as he did during his trial, that he was innocent of his crimes because some type of invisible entity took him over and forced him to kill. Cordier finds the claims ridiculous, as he did during the man’s trial, and suddenly the prisoner lunges out at the magistrate who fights back in defense, only to accidentally kill the prisoner. This sets the stage for a series of strange occurences for Cordier, who soon encounters an invisible creature called a Horla, the same entity that had possessed the prisoner who now controls the magistrate and causes him to commit murder.

As stated above, this film receives little replay on television these days, and little critical mention by horror fans or writers. While it may not rise to the level of some of Price’s other works, in this reviewer’s estimation it is a solid and entertaining piece of horror some forty six years later.

I discovered another item over the last week that connects to this film and another area of research interest for me. On Halloween, along with Gordon Melton, author of  The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, I was a guest on The Drew Marshall Show, Canada’s largest spiritual radio talk show, with the subject matter of the paranormal. Over the course of the program I was asked if I had ever had an experience that really scared me, and I told of my fears of what I believed to be an entity in my grandmother’s closet which would appear at night and render me unable to move or call out. My research into coming to grips with my childhood experiences as an adult overlaps with the writer who provided the inspiration for Diary of a Madman.

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Diary of a Madman is based upon the novel Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant. Today I discovered de Maupassant’s own description of an experience similar to my own:

I sleep – for a while – two or three hours – then a dream – no – a nightmare seizes me in its grip, I know full well that I am lying down and that I am asleep… I sense it and I know it… and I am also aware that somebody is coming up to me, looking at me, running his fingers over me, climbing on to my bed, kneeling on my chest, taking me by the throat and squeezing… squeezing… with all its might, trying to strangle me. I struggle, but I am tied down by that dreadful feeling of helplessness which paralyzes us in our dreams. I want to cry out – but I can’t. I want to move – I can’t do it. I try, making terrible, strenuous efforts, gasping for breath, to turn on my side, to throw off this creature who is crushing me and choking me – but I can’t! Then, suddenly, I wake up, panic-stricken, covered in sweat. I light a candle. I am alone.

The experience of de Maupassant, which has been shared by innumerable people across cultures, and which may have formed the basis for Le Horla, and later Diary of a Madman, is often interpreted in light of the paranormal folklore of differing cultures. This phenomenon, known as sleep paralysis and sometimes called the “Old Hag” syndrome or phenomenon, may account for paranormal experiences across the centuries such as the incubus and succubus, some reports of spirit or demonic sexual attacks, and contemporary UFO abduction narratives. In terms of the latter, Paul Meehan, interviewed here previously on UFOs and psychic phenomenon in cinema, will write a guest review here on The Fourth Kind next week wherein sleep paralysis may play a factor in the analysis and explanation of this film.

So when my experiences and research efforts over the last week come together, it may be that a neglected piece of Vincent Price’s horror film work finds its origins in a physiological and psychological experience that we explain with reference to the paranormal.

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