The Maze (1953)

With most Twilight Zone-style, drive-in era horror films that save their major creative thrust for a big twist ending, it would be criminal to spoil the surprise for those not already in the know. In the case of The Maze, however, the last minute plot twist is the only reason to seek out the film in the first place, so it must be spoiled to be recommended. Read no further if you wish to avoid spoilers for a half-a-century old slice of schlock you’ll only ever run across in an especially bored 3 a.m. bout of channel surfing or YouTube scouring. In the 1950s, revealing the big secret at the end of The Maze would have been a major injustice; in 2017, it’s the only reason left for anyone to want to dig up this relic.

Two young, happy fiancées are derailed form their path to happiness when the groom’s Scottish royalty uncle dies of a mysterious illness, willing his nephew a castle. Leaving his fiancée’s side to tend to his uncle’s will, the groom cruelly cuts off all communication without warning, putting the question of their marriage in jeopardy. His fiancée arrives at the castle against his wishes in an attempt to talk sense into him & reestablish their romantic connection. She then discovers that he’s aged horribly, supernaturally, in the meantime, as some aspect of his new castle home is tormenting his soul. The mystery of what’s bringing him so much pain is obviously tied to the garden maze on the castle grounds, where no one is allowed to tread. It turns out that the hopeful groom is not the owner of the castle at all, but just a servant to the hideous beast that’s really running the show from inside the maze, a monster so terrifying it would drive any audience mad with fear.

Just kidding. The monster in the maze is just a humanoid frog. The final ten minutes of The Maze is a blissfully inane descent into mundane terror. The main “victim” of the film finally breaks into the maze and stumbles upon the real master of the castle has he hops his way to his regular nightswim in the castle pond. The frog monster isn’t even a killer, just a sadly deformed, centuries-old member of Scottish royalty. As is later explained, hilariously, “The human embryo goes through all stages of evolution, from invertebrate to mammal; he never developed past the amphibian phase.” Embarrassed when discovered by an outsider, the frightened froggy master hops his way up the castle steps & leaps to his own death, tempting everyone in the audience to think “’Tis beauty killed the frog.” Part of me really wants to feel bad for the poor guy, especially considering that the story is loosely based on legends of the real life Craven Castle. The other, louder part of me can’t get over the hilarity of watching a human actor menacingly hop around in an (impeccably made) frog costume.

The Maze is a lot like the original version of The Fly, except five years earlier and a thousand times sillier. The way the film chooses to lead up to its last minute reveal with a slow-moving, atmospheric dread puts a lot of pressure on its mysterious monster to deliver, especially since it (lily) pads out its 80 minute runtime with  direct-to-the-camera exposition & wedding celebration musical performances. By the time it actually answers audience impatience to “Get to the damn maze already!,” the monster it chooses to depict can only play like a punchline. I love its frog monster’s rubber costume and its dumb little roars that alternate between elephant & lion noises, but I can’t imagine anyone, then or now, receiving it as anything but a joke. Whether or not you believe those ten minutes of comedic bliss are worth the 70 minutes of empty horror “atmosphere” that precede it are up to you. Just know that I only provided details of the payoff as incentive for you to get there.

-Brandon Ledet

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