The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism


Director Harald Reinl spent most of his career making adaptations of the Karl May and Edgar Wallace books but managed to turn out The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel) starring Christopher Lee, Lex Baxter (yep, Tarzan) and Natalie Wood look-a-like Karin Dor. The story is based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. Poe's tale takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. The narrator of the story is charged for an unnamed crime, then locked in a dungeon where implements of doom force him closer to a large, deep pit in the floor which will send him falling to his death.

There's tons of Gothic-kitsch torture traps in Dr. Sadism, along with a pistol carrying priest, hilarious effects (green blood!), a psychadelic creature mural and a soudtrack that resembles some kind of 60's swing-pop/lounge music which is completely out of place but entertaining. In the movie's start we meet Count Regula (Christopher Lee) who has been found guilty of torturing and murdering 12 women in his far away castle. He's sentenced to be quartered, fitted with a spiky mask and then torn apart by horsies in the town square. Fast forward to present day and Count Regula's story has become the equivalent of a carny sideshow act but most of the townsfolk are terrified at the mere sound of his name. Leading lovelies Roger von Marienberg (Lex Baxter) and Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Karin Dor) are mysteriously lured to the Count's castle on the hill where they soon learn why they were selected for sadistic torture and mayhem.

The film is a little draggy in parts and filled with cheesetastical goodness but is actually quite nice to look at. The Bavarian forest and medieval castle dripping with all the right decor make for a nice backdrop. And there's snakes. Lots of snakes. Plus what's more perfect than Christopher Lee in a glass coffin? Oh right--a sadistic Christopher Lee in a glass coffin. Turn this one on for a fun background movie.

Death Smiles on a Murderer

I think Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) made a 1967 rough sketch of Twin Peaks when he made Death Smiles on a Murderer (La morte sorride all'assassino). I think it's the resemblance I see between Greta von Holstein (Ewa Aulin) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). You know, the same mysterious and much desired blonde at the heart of the story--seductive yet innocent and with a dark past. Others might say the film resembles David Lynch's entire filmography in the way that you can watch one film repeatedly and come up with a different conclusion every time. I'm a big fan of Lynch and will always defend him when others say he's aimless and nonsensical, but I'll save that for another post. D'Amato's flick is pretty aimless but I found myself enjoying it regardless.

In Death Smiles on a Murderer, Greta is injured after a carriage accident and suffers from amnesia. She happens to land into the arms of Walter von Ravensbrück (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angela Bo). The couple nurses Greta back to health in more ways than one and they both end up falling in love with her. There's not as much sexytime as one would think, since this is a film by the same director who brought us a slew of erotic flicks, including several Emanuelle titles. Still, you can enjoy Klaus Kinski as Dr. Sturges who has a very veiny...forehead and orders Greta to strip while he 'examines' her. There's also a small lesbian scene after Eva tries to drown Greta in a bathtub. Isn't everyone aroused after tubtime strangulation? Gawd. Even though they kiss and make up, Eva is still seriously pissed and decides to lock Greta up in the mansion dungeon. There also might be something about a wacky Incan formula and incest but it's all kind of a blur. I was distracted by the Emanuelle DVDs I want someone to buy me for my birthday.

Watch the film for Klaus Kinski acting his pants off, Greta's lingerie and the pin in the eyeball scene. Try to ignore the horrible sound, hilariously bad gore and your complete and utter confusion over what the hell is really happening. It's still a fun trip if you're along for the ride.

Frankenstein's Bloody Terror

My favorite of these three films is the 1972 Paul Naschy werewolf flick, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror (La marca del Hombre-lobo). Why does a movie about werewolves have Frankenstein in the title? The film was originally called The Mark of the Wolfman but was changed once a U.S. distributor got their hands on it and added a prologue explaining how Frank became Wolfstein. And what a nifty prologue it is. The opening credits set the vibe for the entire film--swinging psychedelia meets traditional monster terror.

We meet young lovers Janice and Rudolph in the opening ballroom scene where they first encounter the mysterious Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) who takes an immediate liking to Janice. No one leers at the ladies like good old Waldemar. The couple decides to prance off to the ruins of castle Wolfstein where they see Daninsky again. He fills them in on the werewolf legend of the Wolfstein family. Apparently old wolfie is still buried in the family crypt, complete with silver cross in his heart. This can only mean one thing of course--the wolfman comes back to life and attacks Rudolph but Waldemar saves the day and gets bitten himself. When Waldemar starts to go wolfie, Rudolph and Janice try to help him by calling on Dr. Janos Mikhelov but when he and his wife arrive, they turn out to be satanic vampires. More creatures yay! The vampires pull a little Hunger action and seduce Rudolph and Janice. Can Waldemar stop them before anyone else dies?

This movie is filled with many amazing things. Tons of cleavage, satanic rituals, drunk gypsies, a unicorn hairdo, groovy cars, groovier music (I swear I heard a sitar!) and of course the great Paul Naschy who sadly passed away in November. He's a bear of a man who swipes at the air and pounces his prey with great determination. It's clear that he loved playing this role throughout his career and Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is where the magic all started. The film was shot on location at real castles and a monastery which compliments the foggy hills, forest backdrop and dramatic lighting. This is a great place to start with Naschy if you're new to his films. You won't be disappointed.