The Maze

February 13, 2011 at 5:53 am (9 Heads, Maze, The) (, , , )

The Maze – 1953 – United States

Born in Haiti’s labyrinthine subterranean underworld, my maze obsession is intrinsic. I’ll like any maze-related flick (i.e. 1994’s Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur) especially compounded with spooky castles, family curses, and deformed monsters. Fulfilling all those criteria and not including a killer ape, The Maze gets minimum of 7 Shrunken Heads by default.

Receiving a mysterious letter from his ancestral castle, a man breaks his engagement and disappears. His irrepressible fiancé and her stern aunt journey to ruined Castle Craven to bring him back, but as usual, all isn’t as it seems. The once young man, now worn and haggard, tersely tells his fiancé off, but the sly women wheedle their way into the castle. As night falls, they are disturbed to discover they are locked in their rooms and an inhuman something stalks the halls. Then there are the strange footprints and nocturnal lights in the castle maze. Genre fans know something horrible is up, but The Maze’s cards stay hidden until its unique climax, complete with a chilling chase amid the maze’s terrifying geometry.

Throughout, the thrilling atmosphere never lets up, enhanced by clever suspense writing. The castle’s secrets are hinted at obviously (monstrous footprints, a book on teratology) and family curses are beyond clichéd, so it’s expected a foul abomination will present itself. But The Maze keeps a key twist until the very end—i.e. who/what the monster actually is. Of course, any critter suit pales to the horrific conjurations of the imagination, so like most mysteries, the climax underwhelms. The monster is pretty lame, but kudos for its hilariously unexpected appearance. I actually gasped/guffawed in shock.

Bad rubber monsters aside, The Maze is very well made. The acting is good, despite an American cast faking cultured English accents. The sound is great, especially the unusual diagetic sound effects such as the monster’s elephant-like screams. And the photography is some of the best. Despite being shot in 3D, the “gee-whiz” moments are almost nonexistent with a focus on elegant compositions instead. The decrepit castle is beautifully rendered with shadowy and dimensional lighting. The stark sets have no shortage of classic tropes: rolling fog, gnarled trees, flickering candelabras, et al. Complimenting the gothic ambiance are the castle’s two grim old servants, contrasted by the fearlessly determined fiancé and aunt. In genre flicks of this era, strong yet feminine women are a rarity, especially with no male protagonist.

Like all stories heavily utilizing mystery/suspense, The Maze loses punch after the first viewing, but monster moviemakers can learn plenty by critical study. The Maze is truly obscure (sadly absent from John Stanley’s Creature Features movie guide) and as a semi-classic, it deserves better.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Only 1 rating point of tilt should be attributed to my love of mazes. The 8 others are all legitimate.

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