Thursday, October 10, 2002


In the mid-40's, Universal took the name of a popular radio show, INNER SANCTUM, and used it as a series title for a handful of B films in the horror-suspense line, each about an hour long, and seemingly made on Poverty Row budgets. Seen now, they seem like episodes from a long-forgotten Twilight Zone spin-off, but instead of Rod Serling as host, these have Lon Chaney Jr. as the star. Most of them, despite the way that Universal has marketed the video tapes, are not horror, but moody psychological mysteries. Nevertheless, if you don't have high expectations, they are acceptable time-passers, especially around Halloween.

In CALLING DR. DEATH, Chaney is a doctor who winds up the chief suspect when his wife is murdered. He knew that she was cheating on him and he cannot account for his whereabouts the night of the murder. Hounded by cop J. Carroll Naish, he tries, with the aid of his faithful nurse, to find the killer and winds up breaking the case using hypnotism. Though it's not especially well written, the hypnosis gimmick gives the movie a creepy scene or two. It's a nice twist for Chaney to play a good guy. STRANGE CONFESSION, though a little too heavily plotted for its own good, is even more like a Rod Serling tale. Chaney is a chemist who discovers what might be a cure for influenza. Before he gets a chance to thoroughly test it, his boss (Naish) sends him out of the country and greedily puts the over-the-counter medicine on the market, with predictably disastrous results. Chaney's own son gets sick, is given the medicine and dies, and Chaney returns to get revenge. The opening takes place at Christmas, with the rest of the story told in flashback. Lloyd Bridges and Milburn Stone, long before their TV fame, have small parts. The story and climax are both meatier than in DR. DEATH, but I kept thinking someone besides Chaney would have given the slow-moving films a little more life.

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