Remember the whole creepy hedge maze thing that Stanley Kubrick did with The Shining? That wasn’t even a part of the original Stephen King book, but the image of Jack Nicholson turned into a human popsicle in the icy maze became one of the film’s creepiest images. Followed by that massive head-scratcher of Nicholson appearing in an old photograph…but let’s not go there. Kubrick wasn’t the first to have a creepy hedge maze, however. Case in point, 1953’s The Maze.
We begin with a young couple, Kitty (Veronica Hurst) and Gerald (Richard Carlson), who are looking forward to getting married. The wedding date is getting close, but suddenly Gerald has to run off to Scotland to take care of some family business. Apparently, his aging uncle Samuel is in need of his help. Sir Samuel never leaves his home, the mysterious Craven Castle. So, the dutiful Gerald heads off, but promises to be back in time for the wedding.
Six weeks pass when Kitty’s aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) spots an obituary stating that Sir Samuel has died and Gerald has become the new baron of Craven Castle. This comes as a surprise to her and Kitty. Then Kitty receives a strange letter which informs her that the engagement is off and that she should not come to the castle to see him. Of course, she and Aunt Edith ignore this request.
When they arrive, Gerald is none too happy to see them. He decides to let the two women stay but insists they leave the next day. He also locks them in their room so they won’t wander the castle. That night, Kitty is awakened by strange noises coming from the hedge maze outside. She also notices strange webbed footprints around the castle. Obviously, something strange is going on, so she has Edith fake an illness in order to extend their stay and get to the bottom of things and win back her man.
As Gerald grows more and more frustrated with her unwilliingness to leave, Kitty continues to go to extremes to bring him back to normal. She even invites a bunch of their friends over for a visit. This includes a doctor who she hopes will be able to determine what is wrong with Gerald. Meanwhile, Kitty starts to catch glimpses of a strange creature lurking around the castle.
The Maze is short little film that does a decent job of building some suspense. I admit to getting somewhat sucked in and was quite anxious to find out what was behind Gerald’s strange behavior. The film has a great classic horror type atmosphere with it’s big dark castle sets. There’s plenty of ominous shadows, secret passages and creepy servants as well. Richard Carlson also does an effective job when he switches into bizarre mode.
With so much great atmosphere and build up, I was all set for great payoff. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. In fact, the end is just plain ridiculous. Usually I wouldn’t want to give away a spoiler as big as this, but I just can’t resist. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know. Ok, you’ve been warned. The strange creature is…a giant frog! Not only that, this frog is a centuries old relative of Gerald’s that never developed into a full-blown human. This has got to be a contender for the silliest monster in movie history. The rest of the film has such a great feel to it, but the frog-man is a major letdown.
The Maze really has a lot going for it…cool atmosphere, solid performances. I was really expecting something great. Instead, we get a final reveal that just about cancels all of that out. It ends up making the film downright goofy.