“You? But… you’re dead!”
“Yes, I am. Won’t you… join me?”
With these words, CHAMBER OF HORRORS officially crosses the line into “movies I can’t believe I haven’t seen before.” Long before these immortal words are uttered, we’ve had the FEAR FLASHER and the HORROR HORN, cheapjack gimmicks to alert the squeamish, and we’ve had Patrick O’Neal chopping his own hand off with an axe, while underwater. This is a movie determined to deliver, come rain, snow, sleet or hail — a TV pilot script presumably rejected for gruesomeness, from the authors of MacGyver and THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, finds itself under the direction of Hy Averback, the not-quite-inspired helmer of films such as I LOVE YOU, ALICE B TOKLAS and huge amounts of TV — so why is it so GOOD?
There’s the script, which has weird concepts and funny lines to spare — what other 1966 movie opens with a madman forcing a priest, at gunpoint, to marry him to a corpse? And there’s even a hint that the marriage may have been consummated (!)… Cesare Danova is only so-so as leading man, but his sidekicks are Wilfred Hyde White and a charismatic Mexican dwarf billed as Tun Tun. And there are cameos by noir’s arch femme fatale Marie Windsor, primo sleazeball Berry Kroeger (in yellowface, no less) and some full-on cheroot-smoking zest from Jeanette Nolan, Orson’s Lady Macbeth. And, for no readily explainable reason, Tony Curtis turns up for thirty seconds, playing cards in a Baltimore brothel. “I have — excuse the expression — a full house.”
The fellow really holding it all together, even as he hacks the rest of the dramatis personae apart, is Patrick O’Neal, who on this evidence could have had Vincent Price’s career (the plot, in which the crazed scion of a wealthy family dismembers the officials who sent him to execution, sending parts to the police as if to assemble a Frankenstein’s homicide victim, seems to pre-echo Price’s PHIBES revenger’s comedies, even as it picks up from his earlier HOUSE OF WAX). O’Neal was a damn good actor, as you can see in KING RAT, but I’ve never seen him have this much fun, throatily whispering menaces, humming gleefully to himself, and attaching an amusing series of weapons to his wrist-stump, the best of these being a pistol concealed within a lifelike wax hand…
The movie has perhaps not quite enough jokes, but makes up for it by having some jokes that are well above its station — and the ending will really make you wish that TV series had happened. Joe Dante should make it for Warners, immediately.