Film Reviews

Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1943-45) – Blu-ray Review

The Inner Sanctum.  First a series of books, then a radio play that ran for over 500 episodes, and eventually a series of six movies produced by Universal, all starring Lon Chaney in the lead role.

While the books and the radio show were tilted more towards the horror end of things, don’t go into this assuming that’s what you’re going to get.  Instead what we have here in Eureka Entertainment’s latest offering Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Film Series are six noir thrillers, tales of mysticism, murder, magic and jealousy.

The restoration job from Eureka is their usual sterling work.  The pictures are sharp as a pin, and comparing them to the standard def versions recorded who-knows-when really hammers home just how much of an upgrade this set is.  While not as well known as, say, The Twilight Zone, Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt, there’s still a lot to enjoy here and a lot to recommend.

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The six movies on offer are:

Calling Dr. Death. A doctor in a loveless marriage is accused of killing and mutilating his unfaithful wife but he can’t remember doing it and another man is sent down for the murder.

Weird Woman. The tale of an anthropologist who marries a woman from a tribal society and brings her home where she must try to fit into modern society while struggling against the disapproval of her husband’s colleagues and friends.

Dead Man’s Eyes. When an artist is blinded in a freak accident (though seriously, why would you have the DEADLY ACID right next to the NOT-DEADLY ACID?), his one chance to restore his sight depends on another person being willing to donate their eyes.

The Frozen Ghost. A stage mentalist has someone drop dead in the middle of his act.  Disgraced and guilt-ridden he turns to an old friend who gives him a place to work in her wax museum.  For me this was by far the weakest of the six films.  The character motivations in this one strain believability to say the least. Someone throws a knife at you and you brush it off like they’d just stepped on your toe?  You narrowly escape someone trying to murder you, only to blame the other man and claim it must be a conspiracy?  Uhm, okay then.

Strange Confession. This one is told mostly in flashback. Lon Chaney this time is a brilliant chemist, working for an unscrupulous boss.  The story is told in flashback as we see the events that led up to his hammering on the door of an old school acquaintance, begging for his help.  There’s a definite Seven vibe that runs through parts of this story, but I won’t say anything more than that for fear of spoilers!

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Pillow of Death. Stalkers and murderers and seances, oh my. Once again, Lon Chaney is accused of murder, and this time it’s not just spiteful neighbours and jilted lovers accusing him, it’s the voice of his victim, communicating from beyond the grave!  Of the six this is the only one that really veers close to full-on horror.

I’d sum this set up as having three really good films (Calling Dr Death, Strange Confession, Pillow of Death), two good ones (Dead Man’s Eyes, Weird Woman) and one not very good one (The Frozen Ghost).  So what else do you get for your money?  A damn fine selection of special features that give a lovely insight into the Inner Sanctum books, radio and movie series.

Disc 1 – Special Features
– ‘This is the Inner Sanctum’: a specific look at Universal and the making of the movies. They had the rights to the logo, but that was all, they had to do all new stories.

– ‘Kim Newman on The Inner Sanctum Mysteries’: Kim Newman gives an overview of the book, radio and movie series that were all released under the Inner Sanctum banner.

– Three episodes of the radio show, complete with creaking door(tm) and war-time adverts.

Disc 2 – Special Features
– ‘The Creaking Door – Entering the Inner Sanctum’: a great little behind the scenes look at both the radio show and the movies. It explains, that the movies are NOT directly related to the radio show. Hence the lack of “Raymond” the host, or the creaking door motif. Himan Brown (creator of the radio show) was approached by Universal to do the movies, but wanted too much money. He threatened to sue them if they used any of the motifs from the radio show like the creaking door. So they went straight to the publishers of the original books instead, which is why Simon and Schuster are explicitly credited at the start of each film.

– ‘Mind over Matter’: an interview with actor Martin Kosleck. While it’s not specifically related to the movie he appears in (Frozen Ghost), it’s still interesting. Apparently he really wasn’t a fan of Lon Chaney!

– Three episodes of the radio show from the Lipton Tea era, complete with creaking door(tm).

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These six films represent Lon Chaney’s attempts to move away from playing the buffoons or monsters he’d been typecast into, to be taken seriously as an actor, and he’s a pleasure to watch in them.  He’s a very physical actor, with a face and demeanour that lends itself well to the role of the victim/martyr that he plays in these films, his characters always put upon and accused from all sides. While the acting and plots might be a bit cliched in places, there’s real heart and effort put into these films that makes them a pleasure to watch.  With an average runtime of just over an hour for each one, they don’t require a great time committment. Check them out.  We think you’ll like them.

Inner Sanctum Mysteries is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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