Released in 1940 under the original title “The Door With Seven Locks,” this was a star vehicle for then-megastar (I’m exaggerating) Leslie Banks. Placed into production after the British “horror ban” was lifted, it was brought to the United States sometime later and given the title “Chamber of Horrors.” Unfortunately there is no title that can improve the movie itself, but we sure would like to think so.
The plot, if you’re interested, has to do with an old man nearing death who gathers together seven people, and gives them seven keys which go to the door he locks himself behind in a room filled with jewels and money. Once the keys are handed out, he is wheeled into the room to rot. The old man sets forth a curse that tells if the door is opened the old man’s ghost will haunt whoever opens it. Over the years the key-bearers begin to die-could the deaths be incidental or intentional? The last key-holder is found and told her life is in danger. Of course, she doesn’t heed this advice.
While such a concept is indeed an interesting one, the movie is dragged down by its blah acting, lame storytelling, and pacing, which really isn’t pacing at all. Everything just happens very…slowly…as if…you’re watching…grass…grow. I’m all for taking your time in movies, but damn. This snooze fest could barely keep my eyes on the screen for more than sixty seconds at a time. Not to mention the fact it’s one of those movies where in the last five minutes the villain has to explain the whole plot before his demise and the required happy ending takes place.
Granted, this ain’t Hitchcock, and it never tries to be. It’s a horror film with no horror, a drama with no drama. Hell, this is barely on par with the other shlock horror flicks made around the same time frame. The actors are stock Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Double-Crossers, with plot twists that are…hey, wait a minute. There are no plot twists!
Sure I could go on about how this is part of film history, about how the film impacted blah blah blah and went on to inspire blah blah blah. But honestly, I’m kind of ashamed I lost a few hours of my life to this dreck, and it’s not even good dreck!
What I will say is that this film is a wonderful sedative, sure to put even the most caffeine-addicted drone to an instant coma. Try it out on the kids for a smash-bang good slumber!
VIDEO ^ Shot in 1.37:1 and on 35MM, this thing has aged like left-out fruit. The damage is irrevocable, with every kind of defect known to man included. Scratches, tears, grain, contrast that never stays still, edge enhancement, compression artifacts…I could go on. While the Roan Group likes to boast on the DVD opening titles that it has been digitally mastered and restored, I saw neither mastering nor restoration anywhere on this disc. Just imagine what can be wrong with a picture, and you have some sense of what this thing looks like. I gave the video rating a single star (instead of a ½ star) because there was one shot, just for about two minutes, where it looked half-assed. What can I say; I’m big on pity for old shitty black and white flicks.
AUDIO ^ In scratchy Dolby Stereo 2.0, this muffled mess is barely audible. Having to crank your system up to try to find some seemingly intelligible dialogue is bad enough, were it not for the horrible hiss and distortion that dominates the track. From the first notes of the blaring, overbearing score to the harsh screams that distort on contact, this is an ear-bleeding just waiting to be unleashed. You have been warned.
EXTRAS ^ Extras are kept to a minimum here, with a few little tidbits that could easily be missed-the film begins as soon as the DVD player is turned on, so you have to press the MENU button to access them.
Chamber U.S. Titles (1:17) ^ Leading the pack is the short U.S. title sequence, with the exact same shitty video, lettering, and background film as the movie title sequence, except now The Door With Seven Locks is Chamber of Horrors. Ooh.
“H” Censor Board Rating (0:10) ^ This quick blurb is the British Board of Film Censors certification that the film is approved for exhibition to Adult Audiences. Yeah, I was expecting more too.
Cast and Credits ^ The same cast and credits that are shown at the beginning of the film, except this time actually legible. Also available is a three screen background on the film (most of which is found on the box anyway) and some information on Leslie Banks.
MOVIE (Overall) * – 1 Star ^ DVD Ratings ^ OVERALL – * Star ^ VIDEO – * Star ^ AUDIO – ½ Star ^ EXTRAS – ½ Star