Legend House | Buy at Amazon | Review by Dan Taylor
When some Eurotrash-loving pals and I were discussing Severin's new NIGHTMARE CASTLE disc a few weeks ago the conversation turned to other 1960s Gothics and the topic of 1967's THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM came up. I'd never seen the flick but their raves inspired me to finally crack the seal on the Legend House release of DR. SADISM and DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER that I've had sitting around for about a year. I only bought it to have another copy of DEATH SMILES (a fun and trashy kameo Kinski flick from Joe D'Amato) but the chatter inspired me to book a lunchtrash session with the good, er, bad doctor. Who doesn't even appear to be a doctor at all!
The flick, "inspired" by Poe's 'Pit and the Pendulum', opens with Count Regula (Christopher Lee) being hauled off after coming this close to killing his 13th virgin. Unlucky #13 got away and led John Law to his castle door, resulting in his sentenced execution. Deciding that the usual decapitation is just too good for him, they slap a spiked mask on his face (with a peculiar smiley face mouth slit!) and drag him off for a good old fashioned drawing and quartering (though we never see any drawing). But not before he declares revenge from beyond the grave on the magistrate who sentenced him and all his descendents. Stop me if you've seen this plot before!
Being as the flick was made in 1967 we don't get too graphic with his execution, though the body does fly into the air with an alarming jolt before we fast forward 35 years. A peg-legged storyteller is going around relating the tale of the count's misdeeds and delivering letters to the likes of Baroness Brabant (beautiful Natalie Wood look-a-like Karin Dor) and Roger Mont Elise (shiny wax figure look-a-like Lex Barker) who I thought was some kind of inspector but is referenced in other places as being a lawyer. Seems the letters are invitations to the castle of the aforementioned and afore-executed Count Regula, whose very name causes superstitious townies to shut their windows and cross themselves. The Baroness' letter suggests she'll be getting some kind of inheritance while the orphaned Mont Elise is promised information about his mysterious childhood.
Though the two invited guests take off for the castle in separate carriages, the long journey (which takes up almost a third of the flick's running time) inevitably brings them together after a series of spooky encounters and highway robberies. Along for the ride to the creepy castle are the baroness' servant Babette (Christiane Rucker), a "priest" on his way to a baptism (Vladimir Medar), and a panicky coachman with a weak heart (Dieter Eppler).
Upon arriving at the castle they find themselves at the mercy of a re-animated Count Regula and his invulnerable man-servant Anatol (Carle Lange, the mad doctor from the excellent krimi CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND) who bleeds thick green blood. Seems that Regula has a plan that will give him life and rid him of the last of his enemies. To say anything more could be classified as a "spoiler" but even the most novice horror fan can tell where the paper-thin plot is heading about 15 minutes into the flick.
But that's not to suggest that THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM isn't entertaining (the flick is also known as THE SNAKE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE BLOOD DEMON, CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD and BLOOD OF VIRGINS... all of which are more accurate but less colorful titles). The entire film is jam-packed with plenty of Gothic-by-way-of-Germany atmosphere and creepy touches, with the journey through the haunted forest deserving special mention. At one point the trees lining the road appear to be sprouting human limbs and sundry body parts while another section is filled with the limp corpses of dandy highwaymen who have been strung up for their crimes. The castle itself is a Gothic funhouse filled with vultures, traps, snake pits, torture devices and, naturally, a pit and pendulum.
One can only imagine that Lee's character was given the name "Regula" for its proximity to another character he was famous for playing – an admirable bit of exploitation chicanery that we don't see these days. Regula even displays some vampiric characteristics, like an aversion to crosses, while Anatol explains that his body's ability to absorb and instantly heal gunshot wounds (in wonderfully animated 60s fashion) is due to his dead body being liberated from the gallows shortly after his death. (That's a new one!)
Director Harold Reinl (Dor's lucky husband) directed a ton of krimis and also helmed the very fun Jerry Cotton flick DEATH AND DIAMONDS so I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that composer Peter Thomas contributed the music – wildly inappropriate that it may be at times – to this flick.
Surprisingly atmospheric and spooky, DR. SADISM tries hard to adopt some of the trademarks of the Italian Gothics of the era (including the spiked mask strapped to Lee's face in the opening sequence and pockmarks that dot his post-reanimation face) as well as remind viewers of Lee's famous Hammer roles (his haircut late in the flick reminded me of his Hammer Frankenstein hairdo), which makes the whole thing feel like some sort of weird mash-up. A too neat finale and Barker's rigid performance sorta hamper this one in the long run, but it's definitely a worthwhile watch.