Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Edgar Wallace was a British author of crime and thriller novels; he had over 150 works published and many of them have been made into movies, mostly in England or Germany and mostly B-thrillers (IMDb shows 170 films based on his works, including KING KONG, the screenplay for which he co-wrote just before his death). This modest thriller is really more an "old dark house" police mystery rather than a horror movie, but its atmosphere is spookier and more effective than many a "legitimate" horror movie. As he's dying, Lord Selford explains his plans to be buried with the family jewels in the family crypt, in a tomb with seven locks, apparently to ensure that the treasure gets passed down properly when his son marries. After this creepy little deathbed scene, complete with a threat of afterlife revenge reminiscent of the opening of THE GHOUL, the action jumps ahead several years when Lilli Palmer gets involved with the Selford family and assorted hangers-on. She is given one of the seven keys by an old man in a nursing home who is killed before he can explain what's going on. Palmer and her friend (Gina Molo, here mostly for comic relief) get the police in on the situation. Leslie Banks, known mostly for his creepy turn as Count Zaroff in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, is almost as creepy here as Dr. Manetta, who is clearly the mastermind behind whatever larceny is being planned. The plotlines are not always clearly delineated, but it's easy enough to keep track of the basics: damsels and cops in distress, strange servents and henchmen not to be trusted, keys to be carefully looked after. And, to help keep things light, a romance between Palmer and a Scotland Yard inspector (Romilly Lunge).

The "old dark house" elements included a cobwebbed crypt, a mysteriously missing heir who just as mysteriously turns back up, an occasional dead body, and the chamber of the title, a place where Banks has collected a variety of historical torture instruments; once you see the iron maiden demonstrated, you just know it will play a key role in the climax. There are some Hitchcockian touches, especially early on when an attempt is made to make Palmer think she's imagined the existence of the dead man in the nursing home. Banks has a pet monkey to whom he speaks Spanish and who inadvertantly helps some of the good guys out of a jam in the crypt. Cathleen Nesbitt (AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, SEPARATE TABLES) has a small role as one of the sinister skulkers. I hadn't heard much about this film before I saw it, but I enjoyed it a great deal.

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