Review for Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Film Series
Inner Sanctum Mysteries was a series of Universal films made between 1943 and 1945 all starring Lon Chaney Jr and was based on the series of popular stories published by Simon and Schuster which then became a very popular Radio series. These six films are not adaptations of any of those stories which is a little odd, but I suppose it means that their stories (though a little cliché) are not just rehashes of other work.
The six films Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man’s Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death are all around an hour long, which makes them feel more like the usual TV Drama episode that we are used to and so are very easy to watch, in theory, but it is not surprising that these are forgotten films of the Universal archives not as fondly remembered as the other Universal movies of the time.
Apart from the last, each film starts, not with a creaking door, but with a head in a crystal ball giving the same warning about being a murderer. I am not sure why each film doesn’t have its own specific warning (similar to how Twilight Zone episodes started) , but it is certainly a creepy way to start the films.
Calling Dr. Death is the story of a doctor who is unsure whether he killed his wife or not. He uses hypnotism through his nurse to find out the truth, but will it show him what he wants. This is a very campy film and the ending, like many of these films is a ‘Oh no it wasn’t them.’ However, the revelation was pretty good.
Weird Woman is about a Professor who falls in love with a woman on a trip. She is a tribal woman who it appears to be a supernatural creature. This is possibly the strangest of the films and I am not sure exactly what is going on or indeed what happened which makes it even more bizarre.
Dead Man’s Eyes is the story of an artist who is blinded and because of this he rejects his fiancé despite her father paying for surgery and donating his eyes which could restore his sight. Her father is killed and every suspects the artist who was there at the time. He must prove that he didn’t kill his ex- fiancé’s father and discover who was really behind it. I actually really enjoyed this one and the effects of the blinded eyes was really creepy and almost how I expected these films to be. It was a little campy at times, but it was solid story all told.
The Frozen Ghost is a story of a wax museum where a stage mentalist and a plastic surgeon are involved in some spooky and deadly antics. This film was not enjoyable to watch and though I enjoyed some bits, it really just didn’t work and by the end there was a ‘Scooby-Doo’ feel to how it all came together at the end, which was a little weak.
Strange Confession is possibly the timeliest film of the bunch considering the Covid-19 pandemic. Told in flashback, the film follows a scientist who is discovering a cure for influenza, but his cure is released by his boss before it is ready leading to tragedy. I actually thought this film, worked the best of the bunch and with a little added time and maybe a bit more character it could have lived outside of the Inner Sanctum series. Having Lloyd ‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking’ Bridges as Chaney’s friend was perfect and the whole film, just worked.
Pillow of Death is the final story and possibly the most neglected. IMDb stated this was ‘one of the worst movies of all time’. Yes, it has its moments, but this tale of a husband suspected of killing his wife is not all that bad. Maybe by this time I had become accustomed to what I was expecting from the film and had no high hopes, but it wasn’t unwatchable.
If I look at these films as a critic, I would have to say they are all not as great as I would like. Some of the acting is wooden, the setups are cliché and the endings too. However, there are some shining points with Lon Chaney Jr able to hold his own in each film and his supporting casts are generally fine. Though the stories are cliché, that seems to fit in with the types of films that these films are. I think if I was watching just one of these I would have hated it, but having six in a row I really enjoyed the campy crime capers that they offered. The music and general atmosphere of the films are fantastic and I especially enjoyed Strange Confession and Dead Man’s Eyes.
The set is bursting with extra features This is The Inner Sanctum suffers from concentrating too much on the history of Universal Pictures. I can understand why they do that, but by doing so, it almost forgets about what it is supposed to be covering and doesn’t really tell you much about these films which is a shame. This feels like a small part of a larger ‘History of Universal’ documentary that has just been cut and put here. Interesting in parts, but not the ‘Making of’ I was expecting.
The Creaking Door: Entering the Inner Sanctum is a look at the origins of the book series and the radio show. There is very little in regards to remarks about the films although it does explain why when they were creating they did not adapt any of the radio shows or use the iconic creaking door which they refused to allow the film producers to use.
Interview with noted Film critic Kim Newman is great. He always seems to appear on any obscure Horror film sets and his contributions here are wonderful. It is a shame that he doesn’t provide a commentary on any of the films, as the ones I have heard of him have been fascinating. One thing he does note was about how even if Lon Chaney Jr. wasn’t the best actor, he plays these roles better than the usual Universal Horror crowd (such as Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff) would have done and I have to agree with him.
The interview with Martin Kosleck, who stars in The Frozen Ghost, is a little strange and I can only assume it is included for completest sake. He seems to talk more about all the Nazis he has played during his cinematic career and as he only appeared in one of these films it is a little strange to include it.
All six include their original Trailer with Calling Dr Death, Weird Woman and Strange Confession also including an audio commentary. These are all fine, but it is a shame that the other three were left out as it makes them feel less than they are.
Included are six episodes of the original Radio show which are all nice to listen to, though I wish there were some links to download to listen to properly. Only one The Black Seagull is notable for starring Horror Icon Peter Lorre and it is odd that they don’t include any starring the likes of Boris Karloff (one of which was included in the recent Bela Lugosi set). However, I did enjoy listening to them.
Inner Sanctum Mysteries are not masterpieces, certainly not films I will be watching or recommending to go seek out. However, there is a charm to them that I have to admit I enjoyed, for the most part. At times I was waiting for the guys from RiffTrax or MST3K to chime in with some comments, but there is a lot to enjoy with these six films and if you are a fan of the classic crime setup shows like Columbo or Quincy then you may enjoy these.