Directed by Hy Averback [Other horror films: N/A]
I don’t know how well-known this film is, but I think it was aiming to be another one of those gimmicky movies from the 1960’s in the vein of William Castle that people would look back fondly on. Certainly some people do look upon this film with joy, and while I generally find it a decent movie, I was not a fan of the “horror horn” or the “fear flasher”.
“Horror horn?” I hear you cry in astonishment. “Fear flasher?” I hear shouts in the street, amazed.
See, the beginning of this film begins with a warning about the “supreme scenes of fright” and how the creators would safe-guard us against them. Flashing lights on the screen would warn us along with a horn, that frightful, terrifying-to-the-soul scenes would soon be on screen.
I don’t mind a good gimmick. I love William Castle movies. Even that timer in The Beast Must Die that allowed the audience time to guess who the werewolf would be was sort of charming. The “fear flasher” and “horror horn” could have been the same, hokey fun, even if it was such a foolish over-hype of the “supreme scenes of fright.”
There’s barely any blood in the film, though. If they had gone an H.G. Lewis route and made the dismemberments gory, or at least shown actual dismemberments, it might have been worth it. But what they do is show a flashing screen and then a blade slicing through the air and – cut scene. We see no body parts get chopped off. We see no gore of any sort (and this movie was in color, so if they had wanted to copy what Lewis was doing so well at the time, even more tastefully, they damn well could have), and really, no fright.
None of my complaints about those gimmicks are to say the rest of the movie’s bad. It has a vibe somewhat similar to House of Wax (a comparison I can’t resist given that a house of wax is one of the main locations in this film, albeit utilized in a different way), and it can still be fun, but “supreme scenes of fright?” This movie may not be a comedy, but that must be a joke.
Patrick O’Neil made for a decent Vincent Price-clone (I don’t know if that was intentional, but I got the vibe that’s what O’Neil was aiming for). His revenge was fun, but not gory enough. A dwarf named José René Ruiz (but credited as Tun Tun) played a pretty fun character, and he got in some good lines. Laura Devon was quite beautiful, and has an unique story arc.
Most fun were Wilfrid Hyde-White and Cesare Danova, who were partners at the wax museum and also were amateur detectives, possessing a Holmes and Watson relationship. Amusingly enough, at the end of the film, both of them discover another murder, and set out to investigate, so they easy could have made a sequel called The Mystery of the Iron Maiden Murder or something like that, and I would have been all in, because I thought this pair was pretty good together.
Chamber of Horrors isn’t a great film, but it’s okay. I think it would have greatly benefited from either getting rid of the gimmick or actually making the gimmick mean something by adding in gore, but it’s still an okay film. I didn’t care for it when I was younger, but I can appreciate it more now. I just wish it was better.