Directors: Reginald LeBorg, Harold Young, John Hoffman and Wallace Fox

Based on a series of suspense books published by Simon & Schuster in the 1930s, the Inner Sanctum Mysteries became a popular radio series in the early 1940s. Universal Studios then obtained the film rights to the books which became ongoing vehicles for bankable star Lon Chaney Jr. From the 1943 to 1945, a total of six Inner Sanctum Mysteries were produced and each (except for the final entry PILLOW OF DEATH) commenced with the head of a sear (actor David Hoffman) in a crystal ball crying out, "This is the Inner Sanctum. A strange fantastic world controlled by a mass of living, pulsating flesh, the mind. It destroys, distorts, creates monsters, commits murder! Yes, even you without knowing can commit murder"

The six Inner Sanctum films were a mix of melodrama and whodunit B movie thrills, with occasional cheat supernatural elements tossed in. In his starring performances in the series, Chaney has often been criticized as being miscast or too much of a clodhopper, but fans of the actor can relish him here in a variety of occupations, yet always as a genial everyday lady-killer propelled into a whirlwind of murder of deceit for which he’s is not the guilty party, at least in most scenarios. Say what you will about Chaney the actor, but it’s hard not to admit he was an imposing screen presence, especially in his dapper mustached 1940s heyday (though his appearance does noticeably deteriorate due to his well-publicized excesses), and as he proves in THE STRANGE CONFESSION specifically, he can display great empathy brought on by the torment of his characters.

The first three Inner Sanctum movies were directed by the dependable Reginald LeBorg (THE MUMMY'S GHOST), who brought a sense of economical style to the efforts, most significantly seen through some notable shadowy imagery. When LeBorg left Universal, the final three entries were helmed by Harold Young, John Hoffman and Wallace Fox respectively. The films featured some of Universal’s finest stock players in a variety of roles (sinister and virtuous alike), including the likes of J. Carrol Naish, Evelyn Ankers, Anne Gwynne, Brenda Joyce, Martin Kosleck, Milburn Stone and others. Universal presents all six of these films on a two-disc, dual-layered set (each runs only a little over an hour), and here’s a rundown:

The first disc starts with 1943’s CALLING DR. DEATH. Dr. Mark Steel (Chaney) is a neurologist married to a philandering hussy of a wife Maria (Ramsay Ames, THE MUMMY’S GHOST), who he wants very much to divorce. In love with his nurse/assistant (Patricia Morison), he blacks out one weekend, only to wake up in his office Monday morning to learn of his wife’s murder. Because of his amnesia, Steel is not sure whether he committed the murder or not, but in the meantime, Maria’s lover (David Bruce, THE MAD GHOUL) is accused of it and put on death row, even though he swears his innocence. The film also features an admirable turn by J. Carrol Naish as the hounding police detective, as well as Fay Helm, Holmes Herbert and Alec Craig.

WEIRD WOMAN (1944) is based on the Fritz Lieber novel Conjure Wife, which also was the literary source for AIP's BURN, WITCH, BURN! in 1962. Sociology Professor Norman Reed (Chaney), a celebrated author on a book dismissing superstitions, is married to young Paula (Anne Gwynne), the daughter of missionaries and raised deep within the voodoo-laden jungles. Paula still practices witchcraft as a guard against evil forces, despite her husband’s wishes against it, but when strange events and murders occur around their campus home, he is almost convinced that her peculiar practices have some credibility. The interesting cast also includes Evelyn Ankers, Elizabeth Russell (THE CORPSE VANISHES), Ralph Morgan (THE MONSTER MAKER) and Phil Brown (Uncle Owen in STAR WARS) as an obnoxious student who picks a fight with Chaney.

DEAD MAN’S EYES (1944) has Chaney as painter David Stuart, engaged to glamorous Heather Hayden (Jean Parker), daughter of a wealthy philanthropist. David’s top model is another spicy dish named Tanya (Acquanetta, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN) who is not only jealous of the couple's love but inadvertently causes an accident which burns his eyes to the point of blindness. David is then suspected of murdering his future father-in-law, whose “dead man’s eyes” he receives in a transplant. After the bandages are removed, he pretends to still be sightless in hopes of catching the real killer. The film also stars Paul Kelly, George Meeker, Eddie Dunn, Jonathan Hale, Edward Fielding and Thomas Gomez (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) as the snooping police captain.

The second disc moves on to THE FROZEN GHOST (1945). Alex Gregor (Chaney), professionally known as “Gregor the Great” is a well-known hypnotist who may or may not have killed a man through a mind trick during his stage act. The incident proves to be scandalous, and after leaving his love interest (Evelyn Ankers), he takes refuge at a wax museum/masnion run by Madame Monet (Tala Birell), who mysteriously disappears. Was she killed in the same hypnotic way? Martin Kosleck (HOUSE OF HORRORS) is wonderful as a slimy wax-sculpting creep who lusts after the Madame’s cute niece (Elena Verdugo, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Also starring Milburn Stone, Douglass Dumbrille and Arthur Hohl.

STRANGE CONFESSION (1945) is the most unusual of the series, with a very indifferent plotline which is told in narrative flashback and is basically a remake of Universal’s earlier THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD with Claude Rains. Chaney plays brilliant chemist Jeff Carter, the brains behind a pharmaceutical company run by the shrewd Roger Graham (J. Carrol Naish). A humble family man who gets fired and re-hired, Carter creates a formula for a new wonder drug which is prematurely put on the market by his double-crossing boss who sends the peon to South America to do research in order to keep him in the dark. Brenda Choice plays Chaney’s glamorous wife and a very young Lloyd Bridges is his friendly colleague.

The final Inner Sanctum film, 1945’s PILLOW OF DEATH has Chaney as lawyer Wayne Fletcher who is about to tell his wife of his plans to leave her to run off with his secretary Donna (Brenda Joyce). But his wife is discovered smothered to death with a pillow, and Fletcher is the main suspect. He is released from custody due to a lack of evidence, attends a séance where his wife’s voice holds him responsible for her murders, and her spirit also wills him into her crypt (she's missing from it) one very dark night. Also starring J. Edward Bromberg, Rosalind Ivan, Clara Blandick, George Cleveland and Wilton Graff.

All six films are presented in their original full frame aspect ratios (several newspaper headline scenes are windowboxed as to not crop any picture information) in strong, solid black and white transfers with little or no blemishes. The films all run their original running times despite some false online rumors that they would be presented time compressed. The mono audio is also clear on each title. Optional English and French subtitles are included for all titles as well. There are no extras, but the attractive digi-pack’s clear inner shells reveal a collage of original poster art for all six titles. (George R. Reis)