An early British horror/mystery based on the Edgar Wallace story THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS, the film was released under that title in its native United Kingdom shores, but American audiences got to see it under the far more exploitive moniker, CHAMBER OF HORRORS (not to be confused with the later 1966 Warner/Seven Arts film which has nothing to do with this). Kino Lorber now brings this creaky old suspenser to the Blu-ray format.
Expiring at the ripe old age of 55, wealthy Lord Selford (Aubrey Mallalieu, THE FACE AT THE WINDOW) announces on his deathbed that the majority of his fortune will go to his boy, John. Selford is buried with some priceless jewels, leaving behind seven keys that can be used to open seven interlocking doors on the tomb. Years later, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL) receives one of the keys and a letter from Silva (J.H. Roberts, THE DIVORCE OF LADY X), stating that she's to come at once so he can reveal “the secret of the door with seven locks” before it’s too late. At his nursing home bed, Silva tells June that ten years earlier he was forced into a terrible crime concerning the door with the seven locks, but before he could tell her more information and the whereabouts of the other keys, he’s shot dead by a silenced sniper concealed behind a wall portrait. Silva’s body goes missing after June notifies the attending nurse (Cathleen Nesbitt, FAMILY PLOT), so she quickly goes off to tell the police. Young Scotland Yard detective Dick Martin (Romilly Lunge, THE TORSO MURDER MYSTERY) is resigning from the job, but when he sees June enter the office of his superior, Inspector Sneed (Richard Bird, BULLDOG DRUMMOND AT BAY) and the murder is reported, he puts himself on the case, being totally smitten with the young woman.
After Martin tackles with a bedroom invader at June’s apartment, they get in touch with Edward Havelock (David Horne, CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE), solicitor to the Selford estate. June, who is told she is a beneficiary of the estate, shows him that the she has one of the seven keys, and Havelock, thinking that he holds all seven keys, now finds them completely missing. June, Martin and June’s man-hungry roommate Glenda (Gina Milo, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN) drive out to the Selford estate one night (later joined by Sneed) and are greeted by Havelock, who introduces them to their host, Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH), physician to the late Lord Selford who know resides there and collects “instruments of torture” and has a wild monkey as a pet. Directly responsible for Silva’s murder, the sinister Manetta shows off his hobby, a recreation of a Spanish Inquisition torture chamber (complete with costumed life-size figures and deadly operating devices), as he himself is descended from inquisitors. Clues turn up (a missing key and a ghastly discovery in the crypt), the elusive John Selford shows up (or does he?), and mishaps occur including the abduction of June before the mad Manetta is confronted in his own “chamber of horrors”!
CHAMBER OF HORRORS is one two early black and white British films based on the writings of “King Kong” creator Edgar Wallace (the American print here credits him as “producer”: he died in 1932!) that Monogram Pictures retitled and released here in the States in 1940. The other one was THE DARK OF EYES OF LONDON, released here as THE HUMAN MONSTER and starring Bela Lugosi. While this one is the less popular and not as appreciated of the two (and marketed as the horror film it isn’t), CHAMBER OF HORRORS still has it merits as an engaging (if you let it be) little mystery with more than a few “Old Dark House” motifs and fair share of archaic, cobwebbed atmospheric thrills tossed in. In it, you can see nuances (including the relationship between the dashing young detective and the pretty damsel in distress, and a gruesome baddie literally having the rugged pulled from under him) which would later show up in the popular run of West German cinematic Wallace “Krimi” adaptations of the 1960s. Although the film is void of a proper music score, director Norman Lee (THE MONKEY’S PAW) manages to keep things suspenseful while making sure there’s some humor thrown in and that the spookier bits are shot with moody low lighting. Lilli Palmer is good as the young woman with a taste for adventure, and for those more familiar with her from her later AIP horrors (DE SADE, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) it’s quite a contrast to see her so youthful. Leslie Banks is quite hammy as Manetta, and he basically looks and acts the same as he did as Count Zaroff in 1933’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (though he really struggles with the supposed Spanish accent). Hammer Horror fans will recognize the sleepy-eyed actor playing the chauffeur Cawler from his later (color) appearances in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN.
CHAMBER OF HORRORS is another Monogram Pictures property owned by Paramount, with Kino Lorber now licensing it from them for this Blu-ray (as well as a standard DVD). The 1080p HD transfer (in the proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio) has the film (or at least its elements) showing its age. After a rough-looking pre-credit sequence, the black and white picture settles in with tight grain, decent grey scale and deep-enough black levels. Textures and detail are not perfect, but dirt and debris are minor and it’s obvious no digital tampering was done and the picture is filmic and acceptable overall. This is miles above what’s been available before (including the Roan Group DVD from 2000). The English DTS-HD Master 2.0 track is adequately presented, and even though the dialogue is clear, on a few occasions the sound level drops for a few seconds, likely an issue inherent in the film elements on hand. Optional SDH subtitles are included. Despite the 79-minute running time listed on the back cover, this is the full 85-minute version.
We welcome David Del Valle and independent filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall for a fun audio commentary, where they discuss how the name of Edgar Wallace was a selling point for films such as this, that CHAMBER OF HORRORS has a similar look to the 1933 Karloff film THE GHOUL (and at least one scene similar to James Whales’ THE OLD DARK HOUSE), and the “queer fascination with cruelty” is also mentioned in regards to this film. They don’t talk so much about the film itself (as it seems not too much is known about it aside from the usual knowledge) but It’s interesting to hear the comparisons to other horror films of the period, and although the commentators admit the movie is slow, they do point out its strong points and how great is to see Banks here, even if he’s dialing it up a bit. Trailers for WHITE ZOMBIE, THE BLACK SLEEP, THE UNDYING MONSTER and DONOVAN’S BRAIN are included, and on the reverse side of the cover is alternate poster art. (George R. Reis)
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