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Borrowing a page from the playbook of producers like William Castle, Al
Adamson, Nicholson and Arkoff at AIP and the like, this was a lot of fun
me as a kid with the hokey gimmicks of the "Fear Flasher" and the "Horror
Horn" added to prevent the more squeamish members of the audience from
of sheer fright, (the goosebump-inducing voice of the Narrator in the
"Instructional" sequence was none other than CANNON himself, William
who actually directed one of these horror potboilers for Warner's, the
Jones/Connie Stevens starrer TWO ON A GUILLOTINE.)
This rehash of the definitely superior HOUSE OF WAX with Vincent Price, gives us the grisly tale of serial strangler Jason Cravette (Patrick O'Neal in a bravura performance), who is finally caught literally red-handed as he ritualistically weds and beds his latest victim, ex mortis.
His subsequent escape and its gory consequences, (he goes from being caught red-handed to losing one of them), becomes the fodder for a sensational museum of mass murderers run by suave local entrepreneur Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova, one of Warner's second-tier matinee idols.) Once worried about operating in the red, soon Draco and his associates, the marvelous Wilfrid Hyde-White and diminuitive sidekick Tun-Tun (the 'Mini-Me' of his day) are back in business, as the slippery Cravette gives our heroes and the local authorities more red than they know what to do with, cutting a vengeful swath through the ranks of all those responsible for his near-incarceration.
Hy Averback keeps all the right balls in the air with a speedy and sure sense of direction, and there's much delightful interplay between the lead characters, especially Danova and Hyde-White. Look closely and not only will you see Tony Curtis in an uncredited cameo, but a baby-faced Wayne Rogers as well, as a very unlucky constable (whom Averback would direct years later in episodes of TV's M*A*S*H...talk about six-degree associations!)
With the lush photography provided by master d.p. Richard Kline, and a score by William Lava that reminds us that he wasn't just at Warner's to provide soundtracks for Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, this was about as classy as genre-B pics could get for the mid-'60's, not discounting the efforts of A.I.P. with the Price/Poe films. Not available in any medium that I'm aware of, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled on AMC or TNT late night to catch this worthy rarity.
Since they had to use the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn to sell this failed TV pilot, one might make the incorrect assumption that this is a bad film. In fact, it is excellent within its limitations. Patrick O'Neal is superb as Jason - suave, cunning, a devil with the ladies, cruel and absolutely insane. His story is told in a very interesting fragmented style. We know little about him when he is first arrested but as Draco and his associates track him down we learn much. The subject matter and milieu are a bit seamy for television which is why this was released theatrically at first. I never saw it there though I passed a theater where it was playing. For years I had seen it only in black and white. Recently I saw a color TV print and it looks great. O"Neal is a wonderful Vincent Price stand-in with Cesare Danova, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Phillip Bourneuf,Jeanette Nolan and Jose Rene Ruiz ( as Tun Tun) doing great work. Laura Devon has the best line. As she tries to clumsily describe Jason she suddenly bursts out " What am I thinking ? He is the easiest man in the world to identify. He only has one hand!"
Expecting a low-grade and low budget chiller (you know: good ol' Tony Curtis has a cameo in it...), knowing that it was originally made for TV, and having seen vintage ads of it, announcing gimmicks like the "fear flasher" and the "horror horn" to protect rabbit-hearted viewers from being shocked without warning, this one's a real surprise to watch. Sure, the gimmicks are quite ridiculous, but the rest of the movie -and that is quite a lot- provides tense and moody atmosphere, above average camerawork, gorgeous colour compositions and probably the most gripping performance Mr. Patrick O'Neal -as the demented killer- has ever delivered (well, sure, there have not been many...). It's great fun watching him do scary things with his special wooden hand stump, fitted with a variety of hooks, knives and cleavers. This almost forgotten pic can easily compete with the quality of the Vincent Price Classic "House of Wax" and it's a winner - especially considering the fun factor. The whole thing looks a bit like as if William Castle would have produced and re-edited a classic hammer movie directed by -say- Jacques Tourneur (forgive me, Jacques). Great fun to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cunning, deranged and sophisticated wealthy aristocrat Jason Cravatte (superbly played with lip-smacking wicked aplomb by Patrick O'Neal) gets apprehended by the authorities for murder. Jason escapes by cutting off his own hand and replacing it with a hook. He then goes on a grisly killing spree, specifically bumping off those folks responsible for his arrest. Suave wax museum curator Anthony Draco (a fine and charming performance by Cesare Donova) and his jolly partner Harold Blount (delightfully played by Wilfrid Hyde-White) investigate the case. Director Hy Averback, working from a sharp and clever script by Stephen Kandel, relates the engrossing story at a steady pace, ably creates a flavorsome misty and spooky 19th century period atmosphere, stages the shock set pieces with considerable flair, and further spices things up with a few amusing moments of witty humor. The sound acting from a tip-top cast qualifies as a significant plus: O'Neal positively shines as the delectably sick and sadistic villain, Donova and Hyde-White make for a very engaging amateur sleuthing duo, plus are are praiseworthy contributions by Laura Devon as Cravatte's unwitting fair damsel accomplice Marie Champlain, Patrice Wymore as alluring restaurant hostess Vivian, Suzy Parker as ravishing rich lass Barbara Dixon, Tun Tun as Blount and Draco's loyal midget assistant Senor Pepe De Reyes, a pre-"M.A.S.H." Wayne Rogers as the amiable Sergeant Jim Albertson, Philip Bourneuf as the bumbling Inspector Matthew Strudwick, Jeanette Nolan as brash, gossipy old shrew Ms. Ewing Perryman, and Marie Windsor as classy brothel Madame Corona. Robert H. Kline's vibrant color cinematography gives the picture an attractive polished look while William Lava's graceful and melodic orchestral score hits the shivery spot. Better still, this film offers a few nicely perverse touches: Cravatte marries the corpse of his freshly strangled fiancé at the movie's beginning and plans on making a composite person out of the severed body parts of his victims. Why, we even get a lovably hokey William Castle-style "horror horn" and "fear flasher" gimmick kicking in every time something particularly horrific is about to happen. Good, ghoulish fun.
This is one of my 4 most favorite vintage horror movies of all time It's listed under Thriller, but his tortuous style and murders along with the Horn and Flasher always sent a chill up my spine Patrick O'Neal is in his best form although I haven't seen all his movies, but playing Jason the homicidal maniac had to be his most memorable He was so devilish and down right cruel that yes, it was really scary to watch He had that soft spoken demon in his vocals and knew just how to use his eyes, which is highlighted in the climax His ambush ingenious can well be compared to Vincent Price in "Theatre of Blood" They both knew how to make their victims beg for their lives Jeanette Nolan's portrayal of Jason's blue-blood aunt describing to Anthony Draco her nephew's madness and what drove him to it is spell binding She is indeed a strong actress and interesting to hear her rattle off the humorous one-liners The use of attachment instruments for his missing hand is clever and vile and what he does to the Sargent in the alley will grab you It's one of those acts you don't see coming Jason's fate in the climax makes a true chamber statement The whole cast was strong and lots of witty lines Sherlock Holmes fans will marvel in the detective techniques and the beautiful women will make for eloquent eye candy to men This movie is full of shivers and surprises
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An aristocratic, sociopathic strangler, Cravatte(Patrick O'Neal,
evoking the spirit of Vincent Price with his quietly mad psychopath and
demented eyes)in Baltimore(..who removes his handcuffed hand, which was
locked to a steel wheel, with an ax after escaping from a train into
the sea below a bridge)hides out in New Orleans under a different name,
choosing a stunning streetwalker to assist(..unknown to her;she thinks
it's a blackmailing scam)him in a series of vengeful crimes retaliating
on the key figures who planned to send the killer to the gallows. The
true motivation, besides his insanity, that provides him with the
desire to kill is the loss of his hand for which he blames the ones who
caught him, for being "responsible" for his trauma.
The detective team of the debonair, sophisticated sleuth Anthony Draco(Cesare Danova, with his Italian looks and charm)and his protégé, the cerebral criminologist Harold Blount(the delightful, incredibly likable, unflappable Wilfrid Hyde-White), along with side-kick dwarf assistant Pepe(José René Ruiz),will join forces with local law enforcers Inspector Matthew Strudwick(Philip Bourneuf),at first resisting them as mere amateurs until they help capture the killer at the insistence of Cravatte's blustery, cigar chomping Mrs. Perryman(Jeanette Nolan,chewing scenery as a wealthy multi-married voice of authority, whose monetary contributions and prestigious name certainly carry an influence), and Sgt. Jim Albertson(Wayne Rogers). What makes this Holmes/Watson type sleuthing team so unique is, when they aren't helping their peers solve crimes, that they run a wax museum whose exhibits are based on notorious murderers, their victims & devices.
If you want a proper description of what the film looks and feels like, imagine if William Castle directed a Hammer film. Baltimore is akin to the fog-infested, cobble-stone streets of London . With macabre humor, some lurid elements regarding Cravatte's dwelling places and selection of "adventuress" women, the deranged methods for which the killer does in his victims(..Cravatte uses an assortment of weapons, such as a meat cleaver, surgical knife, and gun, hooked on to a device he ordered connecting to where his missing hand use to be) , the House of Wax setting which never gets old, and a spirited cast who add extra fun to the sordid atmosphere of the premise. For a film made for a television audience, this is a good looking production....great sets, costumes, use of shadow, and professional camera-work. Director Hy Averback might be looked at as a hack, because his film seems so similar to other directors and companies churning out these type of films at the time but his smörgåsbord of ideas and styles impressed the hell out of me. I think a lot of horror aficionado/buffs will have fun with this one.
I think some might penalize this for not being too original. The "House of Wax" setting, which I've always been a fan of, really provides some very amusing bits not to mention the final showdown between our hero and the killer, especially in how Cravatte meets his end. But, the setting has been used before. The killer's affliction, by his own hand, and how he murders folks, has been seen before..the idea of a hook-handed killer doesn't exactly seem fresh, even at that time in 1966. And, many might find the two gimmicks of the "fear flash" and "horror horn", which were all the rage back then, rather hokey. I dunno..I find these gimmicks an amusing part of a cinema from yesteryear. While the story is indeed a wicked one, it's still a film made with a television's audience in mind, so sadly the violent elements are tame, off-screen stuff. Marie Windsor, as a brothel's Madame who lends her place to Cravatte as a hideout because he pays well, and Tony Curtis as a card-playing client in the Red Light District, have small roles.
This is what other horror movies want to be. It might even be classified best under "cult classic". It isn't surreal, but it does start with carbon copy looking characters and manifest them into deeper beings. The central character becomes the murderer, a man of noble birth who just has evil inside of him. He escapes execution by diving into a river in chains, so he is dead now. Or is he? You know better than that. But unlike the goofy ogres of later movies who just can't die, he engineers a way out of his dilemma which makes him very easy to identify later, but which also gives him an idea for building an arsenal of weapons. He continues his killings, but this time he's out for revenge. The good guys are a true delight. In the manner of most great camp science fiction (and unfortunately true to life in the case of law enforcement), the police are bumbling fools, and the real heroes are a trio of wax museum owners. Great atmosphere make this a great movie, and the casting of Hyde-White (My Fair Lady), is inspirational. One wonders why this super talent wasn't in more films. He gives the film an extra point or two in the rating. Trapper John also appears, as a policeman. Some day, this film will come out again to show what a great horror movie should be.
"Chamber of Horrors" sure reminds me of some of William Castle's films,
as it begins with a prologue narrated by William Conrad. It explains
how scary the film is but as a special service to the squeamish in the
audience, a red light will flash and weird music will go off when one
of four horrifying moments are about to begin! This is cheesy but also
fills the movie with kitschy fun.
The film begins with a truly horrifying and wonderful scene in which a total psycho (Patrick O'Neal) forces a minister to marry him....to a dead woman!! The guy is 100% nuts but clever--and manages to elude the police for some times after this. Eventually, when he is captured, he manages to escape both times--and I won't go in to detail about it, but the second time is a doozy and everyone assumes he's dead! And, from here on, the film bears a lot of similarity to the wonderful film "House of Wax" (the Vincent Price version, not the new crappy one) as well as the Dr. Phibes films--some amazingly gory murders, all in the name of revenge. This portion of the film is pretty good, albeit a bit slow at times.
What intrigued me about this film was seeing Patrick O'Neal in a role totally unlike his other film and TV appearances. He was good, mind you--but NOT the typical sort of O'Neal! Also I appreciated that although the subject matter was grisly, it was not at all explicit--and the red flashing lights really weren't necessary. I am thrilled, as I think many horror films just go too far.
Overall, I liked this film very much--O'Neal's character was great and the story quite exciting. The only serious problems were the occasional bad writing, as intended victims just acted too dumb at times--such as the cop (Wayne Rogers) who chose to look for a serial killer out to kill him TOTALLY ALONE! When this character found O'Neal, instead of shooting him on sight, he allowed him to get close to him...too close. Another case of bad writing involved the assistant, Pepe, who hears a noise and TELLS NO ONE--going to investigate it himself!! Too dumb--and sad because otherwise it was a thrilling little movie.
By the way, the way the film ended it seemed apparent this was meant as either a TV pilot or the first in a series. Sadly, this was not to be.
This takes place in the 1800s. Patrick O'Neal (having a REAL good time)
plays a killer who is sentenced to jail for killing his wife and then
marrying the corpse! He escapes from the train taking him to jail and
is believed dead. However he's alive. He also lost his hand in the
escape and has a variety of attachments (among them a hook and a meat
cleaver) and sets out to kill the men who convicted him.
This was originally made for TV but was considered too gruesome (at the time) and released to theatres. It was also put on with a VERY fun gimmick--the Fear Flasher and Horror Horn. When the supposedly gruesome parts were coming the frame froze, flashed red and a horn sounded to warn people! The "gruesome" parts are ridiculously tame by todays standards and wouldn't scare a child. In fact I originally saw this on TV uncut during the afternoon in the 1970s when I was in grade school! Didn't scare me at all. Still the acting is good, the atmosphere is spooky and it moves at a fast clip. Silly but fun. I give it a 7.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This comes across as a superb vehicle for O'Neal, Hyde-White and the rest of the cast. Casting Tun Tun as the assistant was inspired. It's well staged, has good set decoration and it's a worthy addition to the various House of Wax films - possibly the best of the bunch. The ending has a surprise twist when Jason is killed by being impaled on his own wax figure in the was museum. The only weakness from a cinematic point of view is the kooky Fear Flasher and Horror Horn gimmick. The film survives even that, though. Best line in the dialog - after being thought dead, Jason returns to wreak vengeance on the judge who sentenced him and the judge says "But you're dead". Jason's response - "Yes. Won't you join me?".
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