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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Chamber of Horrors/Brides of Fu Manchu
Chamber of Horrors/Brides of Fu Manchu
Warner Bros. // PG // December 9, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Justin Felix | posted December 20, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

A recent trend in the home video market seems to be the "sweeping up" of older catalog titles by the major studios for release as budget double - , triple -, and now quadruple - features. They're nice for the casual consumer, as the price is usually relatively low, and for the more hardcore DVD collector, as several titles usually fit in one space-saving case.

Arguably, Warner Brothers is the studio most responsible for this trend. Over the past decade of DVD, they've routinely gathered up classic films in their extensive library for release as double bills. December 2008 sees the welcomed general release of a couple horror-themed double features from the studio vaults. The pairing of Chamber of Horrors and The Brides of Fu Manchu is one of these releases. So, without further ado . . .

Double Die-abolical Masters of Doom!

Chamber of Horrors (1966) ***

A large cast of characters populates Chamber of Horrors, an unusual mish-mash of mystery, horror, and comedy set in pre-1900s Baltimore that opens this double feature. It begins with the film's boogeyman, the crazed Jason Cravatte (Patrick O'Neal), forcing a minister at gunpoint to marry him and the fresh corpse of a lover he had strangled. Jason is finally captured and brought to justice, thanks in part to a trio of amateur sleuths who also own a wax museum depicting unsavory crimes. Sentenced to hang, Jason manages to escape his impending doom by chopping off his hand with an axe (a long story that we won't dwell upon here). This being a horror movie, Jason of course decides to take his revenge on the folks who sentenced him. Armed with a variety of sharp implements that he can hook into the stump of his arm and helped out by an adventuress named Marie (Laura Devon), Jason enacts bloody revenge, while the owners of the wax museum puzzle out what's going on.

Chamber of Horrors delivers what one would expect given its grisly storyline and time period. It's one of those concept movies with a gimmick; in this case, a prologue to Chamber of Horrors tells the audience that cues are set up for the most horrifying scenes so that viewers may turn away if they don't think they can handle the terror. The Fear Flasher (basically just a couple flickers of red) and the Horror Horn (sounding about like what you'd imagine) precede 4 murder scenes. By today's standards, however, these foreshadowed scenes are tame and bloodless. It's an unnecessary gimmick anyway, as the movie is entertaining enough on its own merits. Trashy yet engaging, Chamber of Horrors is certainly watchable drive-in fare.

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) **

This double bill ends with the Christopher Lee vehicle The Brides of Fu Manchu. Here, Lee plays the infamous mastermind and wannabe world dominator Fu Manchu. Manchu has spent 18 months kidnapping the young daughters of various scientists (they're the titular brides) in order to force them to create a powerful weapon. Manchu controls his "brides" via mind control in an undisclosed underground lair with the help of his own daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin). Meanwhile, Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer), the hero, tries to undermine Manchu's devious plot.

I'm a little perplexed as to why The Brides of Fu Manchu was included in a "Horror Double Feature." Genre categorization is a tricky thing, of course, and Christopher Lee remains an acknowledged titan of cinema fright. The Brides of Fu Manchu, however, seems more like a tacky mash-up of old school James Bond with a dash of Sherlock Holmes. This is largely, in other words, a 1960s action romp with a lot of dated fisticuffs. And as such, well, it's not quite boring but it's rather repetitive and uninspired. Christopher Lee's stature and imposing voice work well to develop the menace of Fu Manchu, but the film could have used more scenes with him in it.

So, two old films - one a fun midnight movie and the other a dated action fantasy - from the 1960s are on this double feature. I'm recommending the disc, but largely for Chamber of Horrors, which I think old horror film fans will find fun.

The DVD

Video:

Both movies in this double feature are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Warner Brothers, in its cover art, claims that the two movies are preserved in "the aspect ratio of their original theatrical exhibitions." Given its age, Chamber of Horrors looked fairly good. Its image was sharp and detailed. The same can't be said about The Brides of Fu Manchu. Its opening scene looked dreadful: a lot of dirt and debris, and an image that lacked clarity (I'm guessing it was culled from a previous Fu Manchu movie). The film proper looked all right - though colors seemed a bit dull, and there were periodic incidents of dirt and other blemishes.

Sound:

Chamber of Horrors and The Brides of Fu Manchu are made available with serviceable though limited Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio tracks. Out of the two, The Brides of Fu Manchu fares better: dialogue was always clear and the score was well-mixed. Chamber of Horrors could have used more oomph. I had the volume set about twice as loud as normal, but the dialogue was always clear.

Subtitles are available on both features in English (for the hearing impaired) and French.

Extras:

Chamber of Horrors is 99 minutes long; The Brides of Fu Manchu runs 94 minutes. They're both available on one single-sided disc - so it should come as no surprise that no extras are present here.

Final Thoughts:

I'm recommending this double feature more for Chamber of Horrors, which was a diverting midnight movie from the 1960s. The Brides of Fu Manchu has Christopher Lee as the titular villain but little else going for it.

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