One would think that from the title, and the disc cover (above), THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM is a grisly example of torture porn or a long-lost Jess Franco movie. It's neither--it's actually a dark fairy tale, set far in the past in a European neverland. The film is part of Severin's exemplary THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE Blu-ray box set.
This is a 1967 German film, and its native title is DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDAL. In America it also had such titles attached to it as BLOOD DEMON and CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD. Whatever one chooses to call it, the film was produced and directed by veterans of the German "Krimi" genre, which Lee himself had already dabbled in.
Sometime in what appears to be the early 19th Century, somewhere in Middle Europe, a lawyer (Lex Barker) and a beautiful young woman (Karin Dor) are invited to a mysterious castle, on the pretense of learning something about their pasts. After a harrowing journey, the two arrive at the castle to find that they have been lured there by a Count Regula (Christopher Lee), who was drawn and quartered some thirty years ago for murdering several women. The Count plots to take his revenge against them, and he also wants to use Dor's blood in order to gain full immortality.
A few years ago, I bought a very cheap DVD of this film which used the TORTURE CHAMBER title. The picture quality was far more horrid than anything that happened in the story, it wasn't in widescreen, and it had been edited. The terrible condition that the movie was in is how most people have seen it over the years.
The transfer of THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM that Severin presents in its Christopher Lee box set is so beyond the other versions of the film available in North America that there's absolutely no comparison. This version is the original unedited German print (with German credits). According to the back of the disc cover, it was scanned from the original negative, and it is stunning, with eye-popping colors and the correct aspect ratio.
The brilliant picture quality makes this title ripe for a total reevaluation. This Blu-ray reveals that the movie is a mad mixture of Italian Gothic, Hammer horror, and Edgar Allan Poe by Roger Corman. Director Harald Reinl pulls out all the stops, with a beginning that has a fairy tale-like village setting, a haunted forest, a creepy manservant who helps Count Regula in his nefarious schemes, and a dilapidated castle that has interiors that appear decked out for the world's greatest Halloween party. There's also torture devices, vultures, bugs, snakes, and garish color and production design. It's like a Mario Bava movie on steroids.
Christopher Lee really doesn't have all that much to do--he appears at the start and end of the film--but his pasty-faced Count makes a vivid impression. (However you define his character, he is decidedly not playing a vampire.) It also helps that Lee dubbed his own voice on the English track. Former Tarzan Lex Barker makes a proper stalwart hero, and Karin Dor looks ravishing in period costume. Karl Lange (who has far more screen time than Lee) gets the juiciest role as Regula's right-hand man.
Despite all the ghoulish elements, there's very little gore here. The movie is a wild ride from start to finish, and it's great fun for those who like their classic horror to be prepared extra creepy. The rather strange (for this type of story anyway) music score is by Peter Thomas.
Severin provides a ton of extras for this title. There's a recent interview with Karin Dor (who passed away not long ago). It's a short audio talk that is presented with stills of Dor during various points of her film career. She talks about such co-stars as Nigel Green and Klaus Kinski, and she gives her impressions of working for Alfred Hitchcock on TOPAZ. Ironically the film featured on this Blu-ray is barely mentioned.
A short feature on the village location is included, with then-and-now shots that show the place looks quite the same as it did during shooting. There's two different German Super 8 digest shorts of the movie, a poster gallery, original German trailers, and a behind-the-scenes gallery and slideshow which give a glimpse at how the film was restored.
A new audio commentary is here as well, with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth. It's an engaging and enthusiastic one, as the duo discuss the various versions of the movie that have cropped up on home video over the years, and how the recent restoration should enable the picture to be elevated to a fine example of Euro Gothic. They also analyze Christopher Lee's acting career during the time this movie was made.
Out of all the material in the Severin Christopher Lee box set, this is the best-looking title by far. It's an amazing restoration that makes the film seem brand new--no matter how many times you may have seen one of the old lousy video releases of this feature, this is something totally different. The plot of THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM may not make a lot of sense, but it isn't supposed to. It's pure dark Gothic fantasy, the kind that lovers of the macabre can delve into without things getting too nasty.
*By the way...I can't stand the title that is used for this Blu-ray. It's silly, and I even feel silly writing it. It in no way fits or describes the mood of the story. But this is still a great example of fantastic cinema.