As Warner Brothers Unleashes
Two Horror Double Features
Two Horror Double Features
"I want you to find my crazy nephew," Mrs. Perryman (Jeanette Nolan) implores amateur sleuths and macabre museum curators Anthony Draco (dishy Italian actor Cesare Danova) and Harold Blount (Wilfrid Hyde-White) in the lackluster Chamber of Horrors.
Boasting two gimmicks-- the "Fear Flasher" (flickering a blood red screen every other second) and "Horror Horn" (that blasts a warning sound) to ready the weak for the ghastly gore that will follow with each killing, surprisingly there's very little blood that's shed in the otherwise grisly film.
Although it's a self-conscious B-movie which was originally filmed to launch a television series called "House of Wax," before it was deemed too intense for the public airwaves and released theatrically by Warner Brothers, the opening of Chamber still packs a creepy Corpse Bride styled punch.
Right from the start, we're introduced to Patrick O'Neal's campy Jack the Ripper meets Sweeney Todd like Jason Cravette-- a depraved madman who has a thing for marrying blondes-- whom he finds particularly fun when they're dead. After being apprehended by the two sleuths who run a criminally themed House of Wax museum in the northeast along with Tun-Tun, their Mexican dwarf ally played by Jose Rene Ruiz, Cravette hacks off his hand in a brutal underwater escape that makes Richard Kimball's flight from justice as TV's The Fugitive seem like a trip to Disney World.
Returning with a Captain Hook styled device better to slash up his enemies with (see, you always have to get something at Disney World), he enlists a plot for revenge with a willing blonde woman-of-the-night which begins to grow tedious before it culminates in a cool, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock bit of mirror and circus freak like trickery in a final showdown at Draco and Blunt's House of Wax.
While it seems like it may have provided some fodder for Tim Burton to play with in the '90s, especially when he tackled the world of B-movies with his brilliant biopic on the worst filmmaker of all time, Ed Wood, the far superior second film on this Warner Brothers Horror Double Feature release starred the one and only Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu (playing one of several villains throughout his career, which would eventually find him starring for Burton in a number of films).
While it's billed as a sort of creepy Stepford-like harem with imagery depicting numerous beautiful women all at the evil genius Fu Manchu's beck-and-call in various promotional stills and posters, The Brides of Fu Manchu is a wicked good time and far more entertaining than the newest entry into the James Bond series. Ironically, Fu seems to have been created as a B-movie send-up on the Ian Fleming spy series in its 1966 release. In Brides, we find Lee returning to the role as "the most evil and ruthless man in the world," according to his nemesis, the Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer, taking over for The Face of Fu Manchu's Nigel Green).
In his second Fu Manchu outing, Lee's nefarious villain and his daughter who has the ability to control minds and brainwash women into becoming submissive murderers head up an army of Chinese men all dressed in black tunics and Tibetan red prayer scarves. Of course, fitting to its Bond-like scope, Fu has an evil plot to take over the planet and get his hands on the world's top scientists to build his very own death ray.
By sending out his henchmen to abduct the wives and daughters of brainy physicists and powerful men around the globe, he bends them easily to his will in getting their cooperation in exchange for the safety of their loved ones. However, when one particular plot goes awry and Smith begins catching on, things get much more complicated leading to a rushed finale that of course, per usual, makes everyone think Fu is dead again in the series' running gag.
While Chamber was decidedly more Edgar Allen Po- like, Fu Manchu seems like it's a product of its time blended together with Sherlock Holmes. Possibly one of those B-movie series which may have inspired the next generation of '80s and '90s filmmakers to make adventurous blockbuster movies with villains that always seemed far more intellectually capable than our everyman hero (like Die Hard, Speed, etc.)-- while there's a definite "cheese" factor to the dated Fu Manchu, it's still very entertaining.
However, much like the disc's opener, not so scary that it could compete with the desensitizing, exploitative horror (or "torture porn") films of today, which really make one question the lack of respect the industry has for its audience by showing us everything but never giving us much in the way of a plot. Or with movies where videotapes and cell phones can kill, at the very least-- even providing audiences with a clearly defined villain like Chamber's Jason Cravette who seemed to crave a much better storyline than the one offered by screenwriter Stephen Kandel.
While I think I'd probably prefer Warner to release a boxed set of Lee's five Fu Manchu films, Chamber is worth sitting through once to get the pre-Burton feel but overall, it bogs down the rest of the disc, which is amped up by "Hammer Films icon" Lee as the classic Warner Brothers "mastermind of terror."