CHAMBER OF HORRORS is a fun film to watch again and again, not because it is great cinematic art but because it again takes us to the venerable House of Wax as visited in the Vincent Price 3-D thriller HOUSE OF WAX and the original MYSTERIES OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Again, we see the huge letters on the marquee of the commercial museum in turn-of-the-century Baltimore. What is missing, fortunately, is the paddle-ball wielding, attention-getting ballyhoo artist drawing crowds in front of the museum. (He is not unlike the young people today who stand in front of businesses in China, clapping their hands to draw the attention of those crowds passing by in the street.)
I am not a fan of the Fu Manchu series, even though I am a fan of Christopher Lee, so I merely consider the inclusion of BRIDES OF FU MANCHU as a bonus feature for those interested in that genre and series.
CHAMBER OF HORRORS is an interesting little mystery with interesting characters -- some of them like supermodel Suzy Parker and Laura Devon making for lovely eye candy. For the ladies, we have the handsome Cesare Danova and Patrick O'Neal as a Vincent Price-type villain. Wilfred Hyde-White is also on hand to lend a touch of British dignity to the proceedings. His distinctive and cultured delivery is always welcome in a film. This was, I have read, originally meant to be a TV series. Too bad it was not turned into a series that could today be run on cable TV. Also too bad is the inclusion of the dreadful gimmick called the Fear Flasher and Horror Horn. This was supposed to warn viewers of some shocking scene that was to follow. As it turns out, this is no Dario Argento film and the camera turns discretely away from anything gory and shocking -- probably because it was originally meant to be aired on network television. Eliminating the annoying gimmick would definitely improve the film and keep it in the realm of a mystery thriller. It is hardly, as the ads and the fright gimmick would suggest, a horror film.
In HOUSE OF WAX, the artist and owner of the museum is the demented villain who wants to staff his exhibit with wax-covered murdered humans. In CHAMBER OF HORRORS, the owners of the museum are the good guys -- amateur crime fighters who are not above gloating about their past successes. Cesare Danova is a charming, womanizing artist with impeccable manners and the ability to duke it out with the psycho killer Patrick O'Neal. Wilfred Hyde-White is a successful author of books on bizarre criminal cases. Also rounding out the cast is Tun Tun as an assistant in the museum who has "a nine-foot ego" to accompany his "three-foot" stature, according to the Wilfred Hyde-White character. The three make an incredibly likable trio of unlicensed detectives who are always willing to aid the reluctant police inspector. Wayne Rogers in his pre-MASH (the TV series) days appears as a personable Baltimore policeman who becomes an unfortunate victim of O'Neal's dapper but shadowy one-armed villain. Even Marie Windsor of the days of the Republic westerns appears as the madame of the "full house," as Tony Curtis calls it in his cameo appearance, and Jeanette Nolan joins the cast as a Baltimore blue-blood concerned about the negative reputation that her psychologically-challenged nephew is giving her family name. It is she who first enlists the aid of Wilfred Hyde-White and his associates at the museum in tracking down her relative who has the temerity to steal her jewelry and to insist on marrying the corpse of the faithless lady he has strangled with her own hair. Not a shabby collection of characters.
Does CHAMBER OF HORRORS equal the horrors of the 1953 HOUSE OF WAX? -- not really. However, it is enjoyable to see the same gothic set used again, particularly in such crisp Technicolor images. Patrick O'Neal is quite skilled at portraying a soft-spoken murderer whose elevator does not reach the top; he is no Vincent Price (who could be?), but he is a versatile actor with his own distinctive voice who was, perhaps, under-used on the big screen. He was equally skilled at playing good guys in such films as THE KREMLIN LETTER, ASSIGNMENT TO KILL, and the much-less-serious Euro-spy romp MATCHLESS.
As a period mystery, is it worthwhile enough. As a film offering us another look at the wax museum filled with horrible murderers and their victims, it is more than worthwhile.