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CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) ** ½

Chamber of Horrors is a leisurely paced but entertaining horror flick that was originally supposed to be a TV pilot for a weekly version of the great 1953 Vincent Price shocker, House of Wax.  The network bigwigs decided it was “Too gruesome for television” (which is always a good thing in my book), so it wound up going to theaters instead.  To hide some of the trappings of a Made-for-TV production, the studio added two great gimmicks called “The Fear Flasher” and “The Horror Horn” to warn potentially fragile minded audience members of the “Four Supreme Fright Points” of the film. 

 

The excellent opening scene sets the mood nicely.  In turn of the century Baltimore, the mad Jason Cravette (Patrick O’Neal, doing a remarkably eerie Vincent Price impersonation) holds a reverend at gunpoint and forces him to perform a marriage ceremony.  The bride?  A corpse!  When Cravette eludes the police, two amateur detectives (Cesare Danova and Wilfred Hyde-White) who also run their own House of Wax, investigate the crime while simultaneously immortalizing the killer in one of their macabre wax displays.  The crime-solving duo catches the killer with his pants down at a brothel and he’s quickly tried and sentenced to hang.

 

On route to the prison, Cravette escapes by chopping his own hand off and soon shows up using an alias looking for revenge and wielding a hook hand.  When he finds the judge who put him away, he puts a meat cleaver on his stump and hacks him to death.  Next he takes his hook to the psychiatrist who declared him insane.  The cleverest death though comes when Cravette puts a gun on his stump and covers it with a fake hand and blows away the officer who arrested him.  Finally he comes after Danova’s head, which leads to a pretty good fight scene, complete with a fun demise for our killer. 

 

The film has it’s share of stylish touches (the trippy courtroom scene is pretty damned cool), but the downside to all of this is that since the original pilot was only 60 minutes long, that meant that the studio had to add another 20 minutes or so of gratuitous padding to get this up to feature length.  Also, the flick suffers from a TV style budget and some of the scenes reek of the small screen (like the obvious set-up for next week’s episode that closes the film).  Another problem with the film is when the Fear Flasher and Horror Horn sound, nothing really “scary” happens.  Director Hy Averback keeps most of the horrific stuff off screen and the blood is kept to a bare minimum.

 

Danova and Hyde-Whyte are fun to watch and have an easy chemistry together and Tony Curtis of all people has a head-scratching cameo as a poker playing brothel patron.  It’s O’Neal though who steals the movie as the homicidal Cravette.  He’s quite good at waving around his multipurpose death stump while spouting such scenery chewing lines as, “Yes, I’m dead!  Won’t you join me?”  But it’s Hyde-White who gets the best line of the movie:  “Anyone who can carve a paperweight out of a dead body deserves to be taken quite seriously!” 

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