Chamber of Horrors (1940)
aka The Door With Seven Locks
I’ll admit to preferring the Seven Locks title but I can see the exploitation factor with Chamber of Horrors and the images it may conjure up. All for the good of the box office receipts.
It’s a dash of the Old Dark House flavor in this Edgar Wallace adaptation that stars a young Lilli Palmer as an adventurous young woman holding one of seven keys that will unlock a murder mystery and maybe unveil a fortune in priceless jewels. Not only that but it’s a whole lot of “B” film fun to boot. All that’s missing is a Bulldog Drummond or a Charlie Chan turning up for the proceedings.
When aging patriarch, Lord Selford lays on his deathbed at his English Manor, he tells those in the family that he is to be entombed with a fortune in jewels. Each of his seven descendants are to receive a key including his one and only son, barely a teenager just yet. The year is 1928. Ten years will pass when a mysterious letter and key arrive for Miss Palmer asking her to visit a man who will explain to her the key’s importance as he lays near death. Her visit is a short one. A shot rings out from a hidden passage in the make shift hospital where he is staying. Palmer attempts to report the murder only to discover the man’s body has disappeared deepening the mystery that lies ahead.
Palmer is apparently a cousin from Quebec, Canada. A relative that was referred to in the opening segment and one who would be second in line to the family fortune should anything happen to the Lord Selford’s son who by now would be near the age of 20. Palmer with gal pal Gina Malo head to the ancestral home where the tomb with seven locks is to be found in the depths of the catacombs below. Directed by Norman Lee, Palmer will be introduced to a succession of characters including a family doctor played by Leslie Banks and a romantic interest as essayed by Romilly Lunge. It should come as no surprise that that the good doctor has a torture dungeon either. Strictly for historical purposes.
Included in the suspicious group are the staples of most any murder mystery. The chauffeur, a large and intimidating butler, a nurse who went to the school of Ratched and an inspector from Scotland Yard who is bound to screw things up. A good portion of the mystery will be unveiled as the plot moves along. It seems we have a group of uneasy partners collecting keys in order to lay claim to the entombed prize. When the thieves have a falling out, one will be left as the mastermind of the ingenious plot. It shouldn’t be tough to figure out though there is always a red herring around each corner of these enjoyable genre pieces.
Lili will find herself in dire straights and may have to rely on her hero and paramour Lunge to rescue her from the clutches of the dastardly …….. and watch out for that clichéd surprise near the end.
Coming in at 86 minutes, this runs a might longer than most of those quickie serial mysteries that were so popular at the time in Hollywood. Being a product of England, this was actually distributed by poverty row specialists, Monogram for it’s North American run. Now that I realize Monogram served as a distributor as opposed to the actual production company after having seen the film, it explains the above average product on screen and the inclusion of Lilli Palmer who would go on to a long and successful film career playing opposite some of Hollywood’s most famous leading men.
Chamber of Horrors is a passable entertainment from the era when these types of scripts were continually in production and for those hoping to get a look at this one, check out the recent blu ray edition from Kino Lorber who continue to put out a welcome wide variety of titles in their Studio Classics Line.