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Noble-born cad Denis (Stapley) has been tricked into a forced stay at the eerie manor of the Sire de Maletroit (Laughton), an evil madman who can't get over the death of his beloved, twenty years after she married his brother (Cavanagh) instead and subsequently passed away during childbirth. Maletroit is determined to have his revenge: the brother has been stowed away in the dungeon for two decades, while he's convinced his disreputable house guest will make a suitably hellish husband for his niece. As luck would have it, the young couple manage to fall in love, and with the help of manservant Voltan (Karloff), they try to make their escape, but not before a final confrontation with Maletroit in the dungeon's crushing deathtrap. Written by
Stephen Cooke <email@example.com>
Beloved favorite seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1974
1951's "The Strange Door" is something of a throwback to the Gothic horrors of previous decades, except that it comes from Universal, which rarely did such pictures (1939's "Tower of London" and 1940's "The House of the Seven Gables" instantly come to mind). Reuniting Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff 19 years after 1932's "The Old Dark House" (James Whale English Gothic), Laughton especially has a field day, alternately menacing and comical, and always fun to watch. Karloff is sadly reduced to a tongue-in-cheek servant role, quietly speaking his lines while rolling his eyes with great frequency. The château was used as a torture chamber during the Middle Ages, featuring a dungeon full of armor and weapons, plus a cell where the walls come together (Lugosi made use of one in 1935's "The Raven"). Richard Stapley (later Wyler) makes little impression as the hero, but Sally Forrest captures the eye as the endangered beauty (even lovelier in "Son of Sinbad" with Vincent Price, where she dances in a skimpy harem outfit). Laughton's sadistic nobleman is ably supported by a terrific supporting cast of rogues ("villainy binds men together!"), with William Cottrell, whom I've never seen in anything else, Morgan Farley, and Hollywood newcomer Michael Pate, who earns a piece of mutton for his handling of a bribe (he later starred as the vampire gunslinger in Universal's 1959 "Curse of the Undead"). Paul Cavanagh and Alan Napier have smaller roles, but are welcome faces nonetheless. This eternally underrated little 'B' features music cues from "The Wolf Man," "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," and "House of Frankenstein," and was followed a year later by a similar Gothic, "The Black Castle," also featuring Karloff and Pate. "The Strange Door" aired 3 times on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater- November 23 1974 (following 1960's "Doctor Blood's Coffin"), March 13 1976 (preceding 1956's "She Devil"), and December 17 1983 (solo), one of the very last broadcasts, and now available from Chilly Billy himself.
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