Judge Daryl Loomis can't swallow swords. Heck, he can barely brush his teeth.
A person doesn't die when he should, but when he can.
An Italian sideshow theater has been running smoothly for years under the management of their dwarven emcee, Marcel (Fabiano Lioi, Eaters), but things start to change as soon as a beautiful named Salome (Valentina Mio) shows up to perform on his stage. She captivates him and, as soon as he reveals his recent inheritance to her, she starts to insert her claws. The troupe tolerates her until they discover her secret flings with strongman Sansone (Francesco Venditti, Quartetto) and a plot to poison Marcel, where they finally decide to exact an appropriate punishment onto Salome.
If you've seen Tod Browning's Freaks, then the above synopsis should sound awfully familiar. Director Domiziano Christopharo (House of Flesh Mannequins) uses what amounts to the same story to deliver a sort-of remake of Browning's outré classic that has style to burn and doesn't make any sense. For the people who want to see The Museum of Wonders, though, that fact won't really matter much. It's nutty, ridiculous, and lurid, all of which counts for plenty.
Tod Browning grew up around the carnival and was close friends with the so-called freaks who appeared in his film. It was a very different time, though, and his type of carnival attraction doesn't really exist anymore. In this less exploitative modern world, Christopharo uses what he can, but his cast carries little of the shock value I'm sure he would have wanted. Sword-swallowers, bearded ladies, and heavy tattoos are prevalent, but that stuff simply doesn't carry the kind of weight it once did. Thus, the movie has to hinge on other things, and it does, but only barely, based on its weird and giddy tone.
The movie is artsy and pretentious, but The Museum of Wonders stays just enough in the underbelly to keep it from feeling excessive. The bright, garish scenes are accompanied by hallmarks of classical music, themed to what's happening onscreen, which gives them a high-tone air that gets undermined by the fact that, say, a woman is crying while angrily shaving off her beard. Somehow, it doesn't seem so classy anymore, and Christopharo gets his point across. It isn't a great movie, and sometimes actually has the appearance of a Telemundo production, but it's good old fashioned exploitative fun and, if you're into that kind of stuff, you'll get a kick out of it.
The Museum of Wonders comes from MVD in a perfectly good DVD release, though it's nothing that set the world on fire. The image is clear enough, displaying the bright, saturated colors against the often black backdrops pretty well. There's not much haloing to speak of and the overall transfer is clean. The sound is a flat stereo mix, but the music comes through nicely, though that's sometimes at the expense of the clarity of the dialog. For extras, we start with a sword-swallowing demonstration from Murrugun the Mystic, who plays Damocle in film. For those into this kind of thing, he's good at his craft. I like it in principle, but that trick has always seemed particularly gross to me, so I'll pass. About ten minutes of deleted scenes and twenty of outtakes (which are not subtitled, though the deleted footage is) give audiences more freakshow stuff to watch, so there's some value there.
It's neither a great disc nor a great movie, but The Museum of Wonders has its appeal. Its market is tiny, but I believe that market will watch this movie over and over again to take in all its weirdness. Given my personal choice, I'd take Browning's original every time, though I'd almost certainly watch The Museum of Wonders again before She Freak the other remake of it, so for that, it gets enough credit to warrant recommendation to those who enjoy this kind of thing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Deleted Scenes
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