MARCH 5, 2013
With a title like The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (and about a dozen others) attached to a German production, I figured this movie would be pretty grim and gory for its day, but it's actually kind of tame, the sort of movie that MST3k or a horror host would love since it clocks in a little over 80 minutes and doesn't have much they'd have to cut for their basic cable audience. Hell, it's even got an overly happy ending (spoiler) - you expect the hero and heroine to survive, but their comic relief carriage driver and another girl get away too? The Germans sure were a lot more uplifting in the 60s.
Anyway, fun little flick, which apes the Corman/Poe productions (with Christopher Lee subbing for Vincent Price) in that it takes a certain element from a Poe story (in this case, "The Pit and the Pendulum") and creates a story of no relation that is reverse engineered to get to the part everyone knows, i.e. a guy in a pit being menaced by an ever-lowering blade. Of course, all "Pendulum" adaptations have to do this since the original story doesn't give many details and starts with the guy already in the cell for reasons unknown, but this goes above and beyond by pretty much ignoring everything but the titular event - it's not even the Spanish Inquisition. By the same token, that one Saw sequel with a pendulum scene could be considered an adaptation.
However, it also apes Mario Bava and other haunted castle movies of the era, so the ladies are gorgeous and the sets are intricate and far more terrifying than the "Old Dark House" counterparts of the 30s and 40s. I bring them up because the plot is similar; a guy and a group of other folks are at a remote location seeking answers involving ancestors, there are a lot of hidden passageways and the like, and (again, spoiler) just about everyone lives. The only difference is that there's a real supernatural threat instead of just some guy dressed as an ape or a vampire in order to scare folks into getting an inheritance for himself. No, Lee is out for revenge, because everyone is related to the folks who killed him 30 years before, and he needs their blood to be fully reborn or some nonsense, so it's like a cross between a typical Dracula/vampire movie and an Old Dark House, but with some Poe tossed in for good measure.
So yeah, it can be a bit generic, like a sort of greatest hits horror movie - there's even some potions and a lab for some mad scientist flair - but I was pretty entertained throughout. Lead hero Lex Barker is appropriately charming, scoring a few good lines and seemingly enjoying himself as he goes through the motions, and Karin Dor as the heroine is the sort of actress from the era that will make you wish you were around at the time to appreciate her in her prime. And the sets are terrific; it takes a bit for them to arrive at the castle, but it's worth the wait - Universal should track down the production designer's original notes and build the thing for their Halloween Horror Nights attraction, as it's much more exciting than the Van Helsing or whatever inspired ones I've seen. Skulls! Pits! Passageways! It's got everything and more (plus Christopher Lee, who I honestly thought was just doing a cameo when he died in the opening scene).
The journey there is fun too - I actually pondered for a second if the movie was more about their trip to the castle than anything else, as it lasted a good 20 minutes and had its fair share of horror moments and obstacles. I assume they had to pad this out a bit because they didn't get the castle set for long enough to make a whole movie there, but if that's the case they did a fine job of keeping it just as interesting to watch as the rest, a far cry from just about any modern "breakdown" movie, which you might as well just fast forward until the teens get to the scary house after their car runs out of gas or gets a flat tire or whatever. Hell, it's even kind of amusing watching Barker wander around the town in the first reel (prior to the carriage), asking around and encountering local weirdos.
It's never particularly scary or exciting, but it's CHARMING, and not at all unpleasant like the title suggests (one of the alternates, Castle of the Walking Dead, is much better). I don't know if it's available on a GOOD edition anywhere, since this was a Mill Creek style affair (off-center cropping, VHS transfer, etc), but if you find it in a budget pack it'll probably be one of the more enjoyable movies in there.
What say you?