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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967) review


Christopher Lee (Count Frederick Regula), Lex Barker (Roger Mont Elise / Reinholt von Marienberg), Karin Dor (Baroness Lilian von Brabant), Vladimir Medar (Fabian)

Directed by Harald Reinl

Count Regula, sentenced for the murders of twelve virgin women, is condemned to death by being drawn and quartered. Thirty-Five years later, Roger Mont Elise, a lawyer, is traveling in Bergenstadt hoping to find any information of his lineage. A peculiar one-legged man meets him in the street one night and hands him a letter written by a man named Count Regula. The letter is an invitation to the castle Andomai. On his way to the citadel, Roger happens upon a Baroness Lilian von Brabant and her servant, Babette, being assaulted by a group of black clad, masked bandits. Rescuing them, Roger sees that Lilian also has a letter sent by Count Regula.

The four continue on together and after encountering one horror after the other, the group end up at their destination. The night of horror continues as the four guests encounter the evil Count Regula and his sinister plan of obtaining eternal life through his revenge on the descendants that had put him to death.

Director Harald Reinl fashions one of the most atmospheric olde world horror movies ever made. Easily holding its own with the best of Bava, Reinl's film showcases a nightmarish quality delivering an ever thickening air of spine-chilling ambiance similar to, and in some ways, surpassing the Italian fright film master. Reinl was probably most famous for his numerous entries in the 'Winnetou' series of West German western films which began with the classic, TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE (1962). Reinl's gruesomely opulent dungeon and torture opus is apparently based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Pit & the Pendulum'.

Lex Barker makes for a decent enough hero, if a little bland. Barker will probably be best known for his role in five Tarzan movies. He later went to Europe and had a grand career appearing in various action and western films most notably the West German WINNETOU movies. The gorgeous and alluring Karin Dor is a true beauty and bears a passing resemblance to famous British horror actress, Barbara Steele. Like Barker, the stunning Karin Dor featured in a fair number of the 'Winnetou' films as well as landing a role as a Bond girl in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967).

Christopher Lee's participation would be one reason to raise curiosity in the picture, yet he's not in the film very much. You see him briefly at the beginning, and not again until the last 22 minutes when he is resurrected via his undead servant. His second entrance also unveils his villainous purpose and just exactly why he murdered twelve virgins and was well on his way to ending the life of a thirteenth victim till he was captured. In typical olde world horror fashion, Regula needs the blood of thirteen virgins to obtain immortality. He prefers the women to live out their last moments in agonizing and paralyzing horror to enhance their fear just prior to his extracting the victims blood.

Chris Lee is undoubtedly most well known for his numerous and seemingly inescapable portrayals of Dracula in the Hammer Films series as well as similar roles in other films. Lee played the vampire like villain, Lyco in Bava's fusto horror film, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1962). His role here as Count Regula is not only similar in name, but at the end, he is abhorred by the sight of the cross; demanding Roger toss it away lest he be destroyed.

As per the Gothic horror trappings, there's the typically eerie scene wherein the protagonist inquires of the location of an historically blood soaked bastion. Of course, no one in the surrounding village will speak up, simply ignoring the curious hero rushing off in fear. Of course, there is also the one individual (usually a man of the cloth) that dares to give the probing protagonist the directions he seeks. In this case, it's a holy man carrying a gigantic cross amidst a procession to ward off a devilish monster. There are also the foreboding warnings to turn back as well as the frightened carriage driver who continuously pleads to head back to the safety of the village.

There's an abundance of religious symbolism throughout the film. This imagery occasionally makes for a surreal experience. The coach carrying the group to Castle Andomai pass by several effigies of devout iconography out in the middle of a barren landscape. The filmmakers surely were inspired by Mario Bava for the many different color schemes during the more dreamlike moments. The most obvious is the opening segment in which Regula is condemned to death and just before his sentence is carried out, he has a golden mask aligned with spikes placed on his face. The most noteworthy sequence rife with Bavaesque imaginings is the Forest of the Dead sequence.

On their way to the castle, Roger and his companions enter a haunted forest. Within the hellish woodland, they find trees which sprout human limbs and bodies. Traveling deeper within, the group soon encounters dozens of hanged individuals dangling from the fog encroached trees. The coach driver, whom had been begging to turn around, dies leaving the four travelers stranded.

The mysterious man seen earlier in a burned out guest house, suddenly leaps atop the carriage and absconds with the two women inside. Roger and Fabian must now make the remainder of the trip on foot. Once the two men reach the castle, they find it in ruins adjoined by a creepy graveyard near the entrance. A spiked door creaks open leading into a dungeon and upon entering, the real horror begins.

When they first meet earlier in the film, Roger and Lilian take notice of the peculiarity of their two letters. Roger seeks to learn about his parents, while Lilian is on her way to take possession of her mothers estate. The two share something else aside from their letters from the man called Regula. Lilian's mother had given her a crucifix before she died and Roger was left a medallion bearing the image of a mountain and a saint as its crest. Fabian explains that only aristocracy have a coat of arms such as the one Roger possesses and that it's unusual for such an upper class family to abandon their child. When the two later encounter the revived Count Regula, Lilian learns that it was her mother who turned Regula over to the authorities and Roger's father was the one that sentenced him to death.

About the only negative I can levy at the film is the score. It's not very memorable especially when compared with any of Hammer's, Bava's or Margheriti's horror works. The German audio track on this region 2 dvd features a nice opening cue as Regula is taken to his final judgement. This cue, however, was replaced in the English version without the accompaniment of music, instead containing the more somber sound of church bells ringing the background.

The pervasive tone and mood of this movie totally takes your attention away from any of the characters including the venerable Chris Lee. It's definitely a triumph of style over substance like a nightmarish fairy tale brought to life. If you are a fan of Gothic horror cinema, you would do well to track down a copy of this picture. Despite the lack of a memorable score, this one comes highly recommended.

This review is representative of the German E-M-S DVD (R2). This DVD contains an English dubbed audio track in addition to a German language track. No English subtitles are provided. For those curious, Christopher Lee dubbed his voice for the English version.


Sean M said...

Watched this for the 2nd time today and enjoyed it all the more on realising that i must've nodded off during the first viewing because there were scenes (like the one involving the vulture) that i didn't recall.

A superb and spectacular looking gothic horror which had me gripped right from the beginning when Regula has the spiked mask skewered onto his face and then being ripped apart by the four horsemen.

The coach journey through the body part adorned forest is wonderfully eerie and the castle itself a brilliant labyrinth of never ending rooms of torture and horror.

Enjoyed the scene of the Poe derived pendulum descending downards towards Mont Elises midrift.Interestingly i saw a television docu about mythical instruments of torture including Poes pendulum (they used an animal carcass) and surprisingly in reality it proves virtually ineffective ripping away only about an inch before the friction completely takes hold.

I looked up this movie in Jonathan Rigby's CHRISTOPHER LEE"THE AUTHORISED SCREEN HISTORY" and found out that Karin Dor was in fact Reinl's wife.

I agree about the musical score,some of it inappropiate reminding me in fact of dodgy 1970's sex comedy music.

My rating a briliant 9 out of 10.

venoms5 said...

Yes, great movie, Sean. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. An unusual experience. The Germans show they can do it just as good as the British and the Italians.

Sean M said...

Just checked and it seems that Reinl didn't make any more horror movies after this one which seems a pity.

UK Sky tv viewers should note that this movie is currently being rotated along with a few other horror classics on the Paranormal Channel.

Cliff said...

Out-bavas Bava. A surprising gem. Also, best thing I've seen Karin Dor in. She is hauntingly beautiful.

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