The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Article 2139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2007
Posting Date: 6-21-2007
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring Lex Barker, Christopher Lee, Karin Dor

A lawyer receives a mysterious message which promises to unveil the secret of his past. He visits the castle of Count Regula in the company of a baroness, her servant, and a priest, only to discover that Count Regula was a sorcerer who was drawn and quartered thirty-five years ago. However, this doesn’t mean that he’ll remain dead…

Despite the fact that a lot of the krimi have horror elements to them, the fact of the matter is that not a lot of horror movies came from Germany during the sixties. This is one of the exceptions, and it’s an odd one; the basic plot is very familiar indeed, but it has bizarre and decidedly eccentric touches to it. The music is pretty uneven, the American title is a lie (there is no Dr. Sadism in the movie) and the credits weren’t carefully researched (just for the record, “The Pit and the Pendulum” was not a novel). The German title is accurate enough; there is a snake pit, and there is a pendulum. Outside of the debt it owes to Poe, it also owes one to Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY; in fact, heroine Karin Dor looks quite a bit like Barbara Steele. It’s not a particularly coherent movie, but the best scenes stick in the memory; my favorite moment is a carriage ride through a spooky forest littered with dead bodies, and the scene where Count Regula rises from the dead (which involves his body attaching itself back together) is great. The set design is excellent; Count Regula’s castle walls are decorated with paintings that look like they were done by Heironymous Bosch. I saw this one as a kid, and I never forgot it, and I think it still holds up pretty well today.


The Black Zoo (1963)

BLACK ZOO (1963)
Article 2138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2007
Posting Date: 6-20-2007
Directed by Robert Gordon
Featuring Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren

A zoo owner uses his wild animals to dispense with his enemies.

The three movies made by Michael Gough for Herman Cohen in the late fifties and early sixties (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, KONGA and this one) are something of a piece; Gough plays for all practical purposes the same character in all three: a man who has a smooth way of dealing with the authorities, but is brutal and abusive to those close to him and resorts to murder to do away with his enemies. This is the most obscure of the three movies; it’s nowhere near as good as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, and even though I think it’s better than KONGA, it’s not as amusing as that one is in the final analysis. Still, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Cohen’s work; I find it often lacking in subtlety, and there is a tendency toward shrillness (the characters scream at each other a lot). For me, the best things about this one are the presence of some familiar faces; Elisha Cook Jr. pops on the scene just long enough to die a horrible death, Rod Lauren was always interesting playing disturbed teens, and Edward Platt of “Get Smart” fame gets to play the chief of police, and I must admit to being tickled the moment one of the characters calls him “Chief”. My favorite moment is an unexpected one; Michael Gough attends a meeting of animal lovers known as the True Believers, and they give him a young tiger to replace his recently deceased one named Baron, and then they perform a ceremony to transfer Baron’s lost soul into the new beast.


Peril from the Planet Mongo (1966)

Article 2137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2007
Posting Date: 6-19-2007
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles Middleton

Flash Gordon returns to Mongo to do battle with evil emperor Ming the Merciless.

When feature versions of serials were being cobbled together in the mid sixties, it looks like FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE had the distinction of having two feature versions carved out of it. I’m thinking that the other version has the more interesting footage. As usual, I prefer the original serial because I find this sort of action movie easier to take in bite-size chunks. For the record, I still prefer the cast members playing Princess Aura and Prince Barin in the original FLASH GORDON, simply because they didn’t look like standard-issue leading men and women of the period as the ones here do. Buster Crabbe is still one of my favorite serial actors simply because he allows his characters to express a greater range of emotions than other serial heroes did. The best thing about this feature version is that, in comparison to most of the other ones put together in the mid sixties, this one is relatively short.


The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)

Article 2136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2007
Posting Date: 6-18-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Guy Rolfe, Jan Holden, Andrew Cruickshank

An officer of the East India Company investigates a series of disappearances in India. He comes to realize that they’re being caused by a murderous cult of Kali that specializes in strangulation.

At least one source of mine claims that this is based on a true story, though I haven’t found anything more at this time to back this up. If it is based on a true story, I’ve no doubt that some doctoring to the story occurred in this movie; much of it feels as if was plotted like a movie rather than a having been a recreation of real events. Still, it is a quite engaging movie and it did make me wonder about the true details of the cult. It’s well acted by all, and it’s quite brutal for its time. I like the touches of detail, especially during the scenes where the high priest indoctrinates the new members; the scenes where he relates the story of Kali’s battle with a monster (which explains why the cult uses strangulation) and the scene where he teaches a new member the methods of begging his way into caravan stick in the memory. There are rumors that two of the major roles were originally intended for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (the Guy Rolfe and George Pastell roles respectively), but I think the movie works well enough without the extra star power. “Doctor Who” fans will enjoy seeing the Master himself, Roger Delgado, in a small role.


Spectre (1977)

SPECTRE (1977)
Article 2135 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2007
Posting Date: 6-17-2007
Directed by Clive Donner
Featuring Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt

Two criminologists turned occult investigators go to England to discover whether an ancient demon has been released from bondage.

Gene Roddenberry made several attempts to launch new series during the seventies via made-for-TV pilots, but he never had much success until he went back to the “Star Trek” franchise. This is one of his more interesting attempts; instead of another science fiction variation, it goes the horror route in giving us two investigators into the occult. It’s not entirely successful; the story seems confused and a bit muddled, and it’s a little too low key for its own good, but it also has a unique feel to it that makes me wish it had made it to a series; I would like to have seen the directions it would have gone. In particular, I liked Robert Culp’s focused but subtle intensity; there’s a real conviction to his performance. It’s also nice to see John Hurt, who would gain a certain genre fame by dying a horrible death in ALIEN (which he would reprise in Mel Brooks’ SPACEBALLS) and then went on to play the title role in THE ELEPHANT MAN. I suspect that this movie was released abroad with added footage; there’s some scenes in my copy that certainly didn’t air on network TV, so it’s a little difficult for me to say how racy it was when it first aired here. It’s definitely an interesting effort, and I suspect that it would hold up on rewatching.


The Shuttered Room (1967)

Article 2134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2007
Posting Date: 6-16-2007
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Gig Young, Carol Lynley, Oliver Reed

A woman returns with her husband to the island where she was born, hoping the old mill they inherited will prove to be a summer home. However, the woman has scary memories of her youth there, and not only do they have a strange and violent presence in the house, they also have to contend with a gang of ruffians.

I have strong memories of having seen this one in my youth, and for years it stood for me as a perfect example of how the horrors in your mind can prove to be far stronger than the horrors that manifest themselves on the screen. The movie still works at least partially; the opening scene is quite memorable, the use of sound and point-of-view camera angles is strong, and the door to the shuttered room (red with a spiky peephole) exudes its own sense of menace. The movie is pretty good at first, and at leaves the viewer with a sense that something truly demonic inhabits that room. However, the movie runs into problems; it becomes less interested in the scary presence in the house and more interested in the gang of ruffians that threatens them. On the other hand, maybe this isn’t a bad thing; the head ruffian is played by Oliver Reed, and he gives the best performance in the movie. He steals every scene he’s in and you can’t take your eyes off of him. It also adds to the general feeling of decay and inbred degeneracy that inhabits the movie, and Reed’s character, despite being a cousin to Carol Lynley’s character, clearly has designs on her that are far from platonic. The biggest problem with the movie can be found in the final revelations; given the big build-up they make about the demonic presence, and taking into account that the movie was based on a story co-written by H.P.Lovecraft, the king of unspeakable horror, one is bound to be disappointed by a horror that is utterly speakable. I was disappointed by the ending now as I was when I saw it as a kid.


Satan’s Triangle (1975)

Article 2133 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2007
Posting Date: 6-15-2007
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Kim Novak, Doug McClure, Alejandro Rey

Two Coast Guard pilots investigate a ship found floating in an area commonly called the Devil’s Triangle. All aboard are dead except for a young woman, and she relates the story of what happened.

It was quite common during the seventies to make movies based on real-life mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. This TV-movie is one of several based on the legends of that place. It’s a potentially fun idea; it can be fairly entertaining to speculate on the cause of the disappearance of so many boats and planes from the area. This one takes the horror route, and you should be able to figure out what the explanation is, especially if you took the trouble to note the title of the movie. It’s rather short on surprises when all is said and done; when one of the pilots puts forth a series of logical explanations for all of the freak accidents that occur aboard the boat, you won’t be fooled for a second, especially since his explanations come across as less plausible than the real explanation. Still, the movie appears to have a bit of a following, usually among those who saw it when they were kids when this type of thing is more effective. All in all, I found this one pretty average.