Classic horror movies: ‘Chamber of Horrors’

I first became acquainted with “Chamber of Horrors” sometime in the 1970s when it aired on TV. Which was ironic since the movie was made for TV in 1966 – it was even a pilot for a series, as the final “what adventure will we get into next time” scenes makes obvious – but was considered too gruesome for broadcast.

So “Chamber of Horrors” was released to theaters and with that release came the opportunity for a great gimmick.

Cesare Danova and Wilfred Hyde-White are the owners of a wax museum in Baltimore in the late 1800s. They are also amateur detectives, investigating killers who might be good displays for their gruesome House of Wax.

The run across a serial killer, Jason Cravatte (Patrick O’Neal, suave in a cast of suave actors), who would make a likely addition to their chamber of horrors.

If he doesn’t kill them first.

Cravatte is a fun Big Bad because of his gimmick. He’s missing a hand, so – like the villain from “Enter the Dragon,” only years before – he replaces the missing appendage with various murderous sharp objects.

To flesh – no pun intended – out the running time of the movie for theatrical release and amp up the gimmickry, the producers inserted the “Fear Flasher” and “Horror Horn,” visual and audio clues to tell audience members when they should close their eyes or turn away.

When Cravatte was about to chop off a body part, the screen would flash red and ungodly noises would begin blasting at the audience.

If we didn’t understand, narrator Wiliam Conrad explained things to us:

“Ladies and Gentlemen … The motion picture you are about to see contains scenes so terrifying, the public must be given grave warning. Therefore the management has instituted visual and audible warnings at the beginning of each of the FOUR SUPREME FRIGHT POINTS … the HORROR HORN and the FEAR FLASHER. The Fear Flasher is the visual warning. The Horror Horn is the audible warning. Turn away when you see the Fear Flasher. Close your eyes when you hear the Horror Horn.”

Of course, if you dared continue watching, you didn’t really see any gore. Not like the decapitations and amputations on your average episode of “The Walking Dead” today.

But it was a great gimmick.

Personally, I wish “Chamber of Horrors” had led to a TV series. It would have preceded “The Night Stalker” as an episodic horror series by several years and would have been a favorite of all us bloodthirsty movie and TV geeks from back in the day.

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