Chamber of Horrors (1966)

“Chamber of Horrors” is deliciously absurd and tacky horror of the 1960s, and I love it wholeheartedly! The plot of the film was intended as the pilot for a TV-series, but eventually it was considered too gruesome and shocking for television. So, instead, director Hy Averback and his crew turned the concept into a long-feature film and added a few redundant but contemporary popular gimmicks like the “Fear Flasher” and the “Horror Horn”. These features are obviously inspired by the marketing tricks invented by the legendary William Castle (“The Tingler”, “13 Ghost”, …) and warn viewers when supposedly shocking sequences are about to start, so they have the time to cover eyes and ears. Cute but derivative, of course, and quite unnecessary because “Chamber of Horrors” is already sufficiently inventive, entertaining and compelling without having to use silly gimmicks.

I’d really wish that someone in Hollywood would pick up the idea and produce the overdue TV-series after all! The concept is inspired by the 1953 classic “House of Wax” and set in Baltimore around the end of the 19th century. The local wax museum proudly exhibits gruesome real-life crimes and the series would feature the museum’s two curators as amateur-criminologists that outsmart the police and solve macabre murder cases. Clever! The first assignment for the handsome Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova) and the witty Harold Blount (Wilfred Hyde-White) is apprehending the crazy Jason Cravatte, who strangled his fiancé with her own hair and married the corpse afterwards. Cravatte is arrested and sentenced to death, but he escapes during prison transport by chopping off his own manacled hand and throwing himself into the Baltimore River. With a hook for a hand and a sexy French prostitute as an accomplice, Cravatte returns to Baltimore with the fiendish plan to kill everyone who wronged him in court.

Vintage Grand-Guignol material, in other words, and “Chamber of Horrors” is fantastically entertaining thanks to its bizarrely twisted plot details, grotesque scenery and vivid acting performances. Patrick O’Neal is so delightfully sinister and menacing as the homicidal Jason Cravatte that even his famous lookalike Vincent Price couldn’t had played the role better! The script also introduces numerous intriguing supportive characters that were clearly supposed to become recurring regulars in the series, so it’s a crying shame the format didn’t go through. Even in the extended 99-minutes version, the gore and bloodshed are rather limited, so feel free to keep watching when you see the Fear Flasher and hear the Horror Horn.

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