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  Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, The Eternal Strife
Year: 1967
Director: Harald Reinl
Stars: Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Christopher Lee, Carl Lange, Christiane Rucker, Vladimir Medar, Dieter Eppler
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Count Regula (Christopher Lee) has finally been caught and convicted of terrible crimes against twelve women who he murdered - but why would he commit such acts? Nobody seems to know, and as the Count is told of his sentence, he isn't going to start telling now. For his punishment, the authorities decide that hanging is too mild, and instead push a spike-lined mask onto his face and then tie him between four horses so that he may be quartered. And so it is that over thirty years later, the tale of the Count has passed into legend, though for lawyer Roger Mont Elise (Lex Barker) it is about to become all too real...

There are a few titles for this German horror, as not only is it bombastically known as The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism but The Blood Demon as well, yet its original language title Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel provides a hint as to what director Harald Reinl's true influence was. This was, according to the credits, based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, but if you know that brief story then you'll also recognise that this has as much to do with that as Roger Corman's version of a few years before did. Yet this was apparently an attempt to emulate the success of the American director's Poe cycle, and has stayed in the memories of those who have caught it over the decades.

This is probably because Reinl successfully created a genuinely eerie atmosphere, which was not down to making this look American as if anything it resembles a Hammer horror, possibly intentionally, but it was all European as far as these period chillers went. The presence of Christopher Lee helps that sense of Britishness, but his character disappears soon after being torn to bits by the horses, not turning up again till the finale which explains almost everything that has been going on. I say "almost" due to the carefully crafted atmosphere of a dream, even a nightmare, which means there are elements that make no sense.

But more importantly than making sense, they provide some memorable imagery, with the forest of severed limb- and head-draped trees one of the more idiosyncratic scenes that hold an illogical but striking appeal. And that's before we even reach the castle of Count Regula, which according to those locals who will talk about it, has been abandoned since the Count's demise. The hero in this is the rather overage but still handsome Lex Barker, still best known for his roles as Tarzan and, on the Continent, Shatterhand as he was a big star in Germany hence his casting in this. Never the most expressive of actors, he is a solid if functional protagonist here in a performance that in spite of his character's mysterious past holds no surprises.

The female lead is that actress of international films Karin Dor, who Roger meets on his carriage ride to the castle (providing he can track it down), a noblewoman who is travelling with her maid on the same woodland road. The scenery at least is well used and pleasingly creepy, but that is but half the film, as the rest entails the cast actually getting to that elusive castle where the four of them (they have been joined by a jolly but suspicious self-proclaimed priest called Fabian (Vladimir Medar)) start with the investigation. Here they meet Regula's manservant, who reveals that he was once hanged (hence the brace around his neck), and not only that, but plans to revive his old master too. Thus the filmmakers get the chance to make with the pits, pendulums, snakes, rats, preserved corpses and Mr Lee's Count making his big comeback. Better to look at than listen to, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism has an almost quaint charm that makes it worth a try for vintage horror fans.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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