Simon Cordier is a well-respected magistrate who visits a condemned prisoner, Louis Girot, just before the man’s execution. Girot again pleads his innocence insisting that he has been taken over by a spirit that forced him to commit his crimes. Cordier doesn’t believe him and the man suddenly dies. Cordier does however note a rapid change in his personality during their short interview. In the following days, Cordier must face a number of strange occurrences in his home. He begins to wonder if he is sleepwalking but is soon hearing voices and begins to wonder about his sanity. It’s recommended to him that he take up sculpting, something he once had an interest in. He develops a relationship with Odette, a gold digger married to a struggling artist, but the evil, invisible spirit soon drives him to murder.
DIARY OF A MADMAN aka THE HORLA The film begins with this quote: the vulture has eaten the pigeon; the wolf has eaten the lamb; the lion has devoured the sharp-tongued buffalo; man has killed the lion with an arrow, with a spear, with gunpowder; but the HORLA will make of man what man has made of the horse and of the ox; his chattel, his slave and his food by the mere power of his will. Woe to us!Guy de Maupassant.A graveside service is being held for Magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price). After it is over, each member of the assembled pitches in a bit of dirt. Andre DArville (Edward Colmans) tells Police Captain Robert Rennedon (Stephen Roberts) that the deceased gave a wish for those involved to meet after the funeral. He tells him that they are willing to do so. Jeanne DArville (Elaine Devry) expresses her disgust for Cordier but agrees to meet.At the Galerie DArville Andre takes charge of the meeting, citing that Cordier gave the house to the DArvilles, even though they were known for disliking him. A letter is produced, said to be written by Cordier to be read after his passing. It states that in the event of his death that night, the chest was not to be opened except after the funeral. Father Raymonde (Lewis Martin) wonders why Cordier would think he might die that night. Capt. Rennedon tells him that his investigation proves it was not accidental.Inside the chest is a diary belonging to Cordier and a letter explaining why he could not tell what he is telling now after his death. His servants Pierre (Ian Wolfe) and Louise (Mary Adams) state that they knew nothing about this or about a diary. Rennedon is impatient for the diary to be read.[FROM THE DIARY] Beginning on the day of the execution of Louis Girot (Harvey Stephens), Rennedon visits Cordier in his office. He informs Cordier that Girot wants to see him in his cell. They both leave to go to the jail.Girot claims that an evil force within him caused him to kill his victims. Cordier doesnt believe any of it. Girot tells him that he wants to die to be free of the possession. His eyes glowing green, he attacks Cordier, but falls to his death. Rennedon has the cell opened and has the guard go for a doctor.At his residence, Cordier asks Pierre to bring a cognac into the study. Entering the study, he admires his caged bird who sings. Suddenly he is shocked to see a framed photograph of his late wife and child on the wall. He pulls the servant cord and asks Pierre how the picture got back onto the wall. Pierre swears that no one has been in the house except himself and Louise and that they didnt have anything to do with this. Cordier returns the photo to the chest in his attic and notices written in the dust on the front of a bust of his late wife the words Hatred is Evil. Pierre enters and Cordier tells him about the writing, which has disappeared when they look for it.Pierre and Louise discuss what the matter with Cordier might be. They are puzzled.In the study, Cordier sips his cognac and asks Pierre whether or not Cordier ever sleepwalks. Pierre replies that he doesnt know since his quarters are in another part of the house. Cordier speculates that maybe memories of his late wife and child have returned to cause these things.The next morning in his office, Cordier asks his assistant Martin (Dick Wilson) to bring him a certain file. On his desk, Cordier is surprised to see the file of Girot. He questions Martin about it. Martin says the office was locked and suggests that maybe Cordier left it there the night before.Looking at the Girot testimony from the trial, Cordier asks Martin to summon the building superintendant to see if anyone could have moved the file. When he turns back to his desk, a bottle of ink has spilled, ruining the testimony papers. As he blots the ink, a mans laughter is heard. Cordier asks if someone is there. He sits down and hears more laughter, followed by a voice (the Horla) (Joseph Ruskin) telling him that since Girot is dead he wont be needing the testimony. He also hears that since Girot is dead that the voice will inhabit the body of Cordier. There is a gust of wind and the French doors close.When Cordier tries to hold court, he is unable to focus and has to postpone court proceedings. Back in his office, he writes in his diary about the impending fear of oncoming madness. The voice is heard again, telling him that their association has just begun. Cordiers eyes are shown with the green tint. He is told to rise and kill the bird. When he comes back to himself, he looks for the bird and finds it dead on the floor.Visiting Dr. Borman (Nelson Olmsted), Cordier confesses to hearing the voice and being unable to resist what he is told to do. Borman tells him that it is all in his mind and that he should change his lifebecome a sculptor againsomething he did when he was younger. Borman says that science doesnt believe in ghosts and spirits and that only Cordier can cure himself.Out on the street, Cordier sees a painting of a woman by Paul Duclasse (Chris Warfield) and is immediately approached by the subject, Odette Malotte (Nancy Kovack), who suggests he sculpt her. He agrees and gives her his card.Odette goes into the gallery and asks Andre and Jeanne how the sales are going. She is told that Paul is a new artist and it takes time for popularity to grow. Odette tells Jeanne that they both have Pauls interests at heart. Jeanne is very uncomfortable with this personal insinuation and tells Odette that Paul is in the office. Odette goes upstairs.In the office, Odette speaks to her husband, Paul, who tells her one painting sold for thirty francs, which she scoffs at. She tells him she has a job as a model, posing for ten francs an hour. She convinces him that they need the money and that she will return with a bottle of wine to celebrate.That night Odette knocks on the door and Pierre answers. He invites her and tells her he will inform Cordier that she has arrived. Cordier greets her and takes her upstairs to the studio. Pierre and Louise watch and comment on how long it has been since a woman came to the house.In the attic (which has been cleaned up to be a studio) Odette poses on a chair and Cordier suggests she achieve a look of gaiety. She lowers her dress below her shoulders and releases her hair. Cordier likes the pose and begins sketching.Next we hear Cordiers voice explaining that time passes quickly and that the voices are not heard during this period. He presents the bust as completed and they look at it. She remarks how he kept a bust of his late wife up in the attic. He tells her that she died by suicide and was not buried in the churchyard. He suggests that he might want to do a full sculpture of her and that he will contact her at that time.The Horla speaks after she leaves, telling Cordier that his reflection in the mirror is blocked by the body of the Horla. Cordier throws a case of artists tools at the mirror but still sees no reflection. Only when the Horla steps aside does Cordier see his own reflection. He is told that he is a murderer and that that evil drew the Horla to him forever. It is said that he drove his wife to suicide, blaming her for the death of his son. He denies this. The Horla tells him that Odette was not who she seemed to be. As he is directed to look at the clay sculpture, he sees it change to an evil expression. The Horla leaves by a window. Calling Pierre upstairs, Cordier gets him to witness that the sculpture has changed.Lying in his bed later, Cordier sees the French doors open and the Horla enters. He is told to pursue the woman and pretend there is love. He refuses but the Horla insists that he will force him to do what he says.Pierre and Louise are seen looking at the portrait of Odette, which now hangs in the spot where Cordiers late wife was displayed. The carriage arrives and Cordier escorts Odette into the house. He tells Pierre to tell Louise to prepare the finest dinner and wine from 1881.In the study, Odette sees the portrait and admires it. Cordier confesses his love and suggests that they will begin seeing each other. He proposes marriage and she confesses that it was she who was enamored with him during the sessions. He puts a cameo around her neck, telling her that it once belonged to his wife. She seems impressed.Paul is seen talking to Jeanne (who is also interested in Paul) about his troubles with his wife Odette. He tells her that Odette is no longer interested in him and has moved out into a new apartment. He shows Jeanne a card from Cordier, which Odette had given him. When she left, she told Paul that Cordier could give her all the things she always wanted and Paul could never give. He reminds Jeanne that they are still married.Cordier toasts Odette and tells her that they will honeymoon in his house in Lucerne. She tells him she has one thing she needs to take care of before announcing the wedding. Pierre comes and tells Cordier that he has a visitor: Paul. When she hears Pauls name, she turns away. Cordier asks what Paul means to her and she admits they are married.Paul is invited into the study, where he immediately sees the painting. Cordier tells him he is a great admirer of Odette. Paul remarks how Odette is his wife and he wants Cordier to leave her alone. Cordier tells him that he loves Odette and that nothing will prevent them from marrying. Paul suggests that the public would be surprised to know about their affair and leaves.Immediately the Horla tells Cordier to kill Paul. He refuses. As Paul nears the front door, a large vase falls, nearly hitting him. Cordier comes and apologizes for the accident. Pierre and Louise look on. Paul remarks that it would have been a convenient accident and leaves. Cordier tells Pierre to clean it up in the morning.In the study, the Horla tells Cordier that the time for killing is not yet. This was done to show how simple killing can be. Cordier argues that he will never kill a human as long as there is a shred of his own will left in him. The Horla leaves and Cordier remembers Odette is waiting outside. He tells her that they must leave right away for Lucerne and gets her promise to come with him.Packing his suitcase, he notices the lamp being turned down. He addresses the Horla, who tells him that he cannot run away from it. Cordier is told to kill Odette. He refuses, but the Horla shows by killing a rose that it is able to manipulate him into doing anything. Cordier fires two shots from his derringer to no avail. He speculates that the Horla must be limited as humans are. The Horla tells him that even a distance away he will be able to kill Paul. Later that night Cordier takes a walk over to Odettes place.Paul shows up at Odettes apartment and beats on the door. She reluctantly lets him in. Seeing the suitcase, he says that she is going away with Cordier. He angrily knocks the suitcase over onto the floor. He tells her that she will bleed the Magistrate dry and then go on to another rich man. She agrees and Paul says he is a fool and that Cordier is a bigger fool. He leaves and Cordier approaches from the shadows.Odette opens the door and is surprised to see Cordier. His facial expression is one of evil. She notices and becomes alarmed. He pulls out a knife and stabs her repeatedly. Returning home to his study, we see the green light go out of his eyes.The next morning Marcel the Postman (Don Brodie) delivers the mail to Cordier, who tells him to forward all mail to Lucerne. A spot of blood is seen on the stairs. Looking at the newspaper, he sees that Odette has been murdered and decapitated. The trail of blood drops goes upstairs. He follows the trail to his studio in the attic. Looking at the sculpture, he pulls away clay from one side to reveal Odettes head beneath.The Horla comes in, telling Cordier that he left last night and killed Odette. He denies this, saying he never left the house. The Horla reminds him that Girot never thought he murdered anyone either.Jeanne goes to the gallery, weeping and telling Andre that Paul has been arrested for the murder of Odette. A witness remembers Paul arguing with Odette that night. Andre promises they will pay for a defense attorney.Cordier speaks to the bust of his late wife, wishing he could bring her back from the dead. Suddenly the Horla bursts in, telling him that he is talking only to his conscience. Cordier insists that his heart is in communication with Helen. The Horla laughs and smashes the sculpture of his late wife. He then tells Cordier to wrap Odettes head in a blue towel and take it to the grave. Directed to the back of his garden, he finds a hole dug in which he places the head. The Horla fills in the dirt, telling him that once the body is buried all traces of the woman will have been removed from his life. He tells Cordier that Paul will die for the murder because he is in control of his life.The Horla tells Cordier to burn the painting and finally gets him to place it in the fire. Capt. Rennedon knocks at the door. The Horla tells Cordier to tell him only what he wants. Rennedon is escorted into the study. He tells Cordier that Paul wants to speak to him. After mentioning how Cordier is a man of justice, Rennedon agrees to bring Paul to the Magistrates chambers the next day at noon.Paul is brought into Cordiers chambers with Rennedon present. Cordier states that he doesnt know Paul and that he didnt know his wife. Paul angrily accuses him of wanting to marry Odette. Cordier tells Paul as the guards lead him away that this stunt will not affect the court into believing that he is insane.Paul and Jeanne discuss what happened. He is surprised that Cordier can deny even knowing Odette. Jeanne tells him that Cordier would not let an innocent man be executed just to save his own reputation. Paul remarks how totally cold and inhuman Cordier seemed and how he showed no grief for the death of Odette. He thanks Jeanne and her father for their help. She tells him they dont want to lose him. He kisses her and says he wanted to when they were children. She kisses him again. He says there must be some way to prove that Cordier knew Odette.Cordier writes in his diary that he is scheduled to preside over the trial of Paul. He cannot in good conscience send an innocent man to the guillotine. He plans suicide and loads his gun. The Horla comes in and takes away the gun. When Cordier tries to retrieve it, the Horla pushes it away. He says he wont allow Cordier to kill himself. There is a knock on the door and Cordier is told to answer it.Jeanne tells Cordier that he bought a painting from her at her fathers gallery. He seems not to remember but invites her in. She insists that she has a good memory and asks why he lied about knowing Odette and Paul. She asks for the servants, saying they know Odette was in the house. He tells her they are in Switzerland. She threatens to tell the police, who will be interested in questioning them.After Jeanne leaves, the Horla tells Cordier that he must kill her. He refuses, but his eyes are seen green-tinted.Jeanne discusses her plans with Andre, who advises her not to accuse the magistrate. She insists that she will go through with it to save Paul.Cordier follows Jeanne on her way home from the gallery. Waiting in the shadows, he pulls out a knife to stab her. Suddenly the reflection of a cross from a store window reflects on the shiny blade. His eyes show green for a moment. When he comes to his right mind, he notices the cross and the knife and throws it away.Standing in front of the church, Father Raymonde comes out and questions Cordier. He asks for sanctuary and wants to confess. Suddenly both of them are almost run down by a wagon. The driver (George Sawaya) finds the reins taken out of his hands, but finally the wagon stops. He runs back to see if the Reverend is all right. Cordier tells Raymonde to tell Jeanne to come see him later at his house.Cordier writes that the Horla is now trying to kill him. There is a knock at the door. Cordier answers and gives the box with his diary in it and the letter of explanation to Jeanne. He tells the Father to take her away safely and pray for him.In the study, Cordier extinguishes all lamps but one on his desk and waits for the Horla. When it comes in through the window, it stumbles around. Cordier tells it that he knows that it fears fire (since it would not cast the painting into the fire itself). He throws the lamp against the curtains and the fire ignites and spreads through the room. The Horla runs around in panic, trying to escape the room. He is unable to open the study door which has been locked by Cordier. With screams the Horla is shown burning to death. Cordier tries to unlock the door to escape but drops the key. He tries a couple of times to retrieve it, but unsuccessfully. The house is shown completely burning.At this point we rejoin the earlier scene where the diary was being read by Andre. Jeanne presses Rennedon about Pauls innocence. He agrees that the diary clears Paul. Andre suggests that the Horla was only in the mind of Cordier, but Father Raymonde cannot deny the presence of evil in the world. He says Cordier wanted everyone to know that as long as evil exists in the heart of man, the Horla lives.