Part of my love for movies comes from a desire to see pictures that are just downright fun to watch. They don't even need to be movies that are all that good, and sometimes just a title and atmosphere can be enough to make it a win for me. This is where Universal's mid 1940s film series “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” lies for me. Based upon a popular radio program of the day, which in turn was based upon a series of books, the six films that comprise the series are quite fun to think about, strictly based on titles alone.
There's nothing all that significant about these movies, they're all B pictures, and they all star Lon Chaney, Jr. But what is it that these movies have that makes it worth your time? For one thing, there's the titles. All six films, in order: Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession, and my favorite title Pillow of Death. Who wouldn't want to see a movie called Pillow of Death!?!?
Another facet to these films, is that with the exception of Pillow of Death—really I can't write that enough—they all open in the same manner. After the title card all of them carry—proudly announcing this film as AN INNER SANCTUM MYSTERY, we are greeted by a disembodied floating head inside a crystal ball, welcoming us to “The Inner Sanctum, a place controlled by mind, where even you can commit—murder!!! (dun dun dun!)”
I'm not all that sure these films were all that intensely terrifying when they first came out, but they must've been moderately successful for the studio. They are fun to watch, especially from a film buff's standpoint. It gives you a look at the day to day operations of a studio during the golden age of Hollywood. Full of contract players who worked a day on one movie, then off to another the next, and another the day after that. Contract directors making the rounds of the studio, and using their marquee horror star in Chaney, along with the “Inner Sanctum” franchise name, to draw in theatergoers.
The films are all short, the longest in the series runs only an hour and seven minutes. Thought being B pictures, these are still Universal titles, production quality is very good. The films all feature nice bits of atmosphere, and fine black and white cinematography. There's also the glimpse of a very young, up and coming, Lloyd Bridges in Strange Confession. Would I recommend these to a someone looking for gripping suspense and an engaging mystery? No, I wouldn't.
Most of the plots are easy to figure out, and most of these films stand as what they are—short pulp movies designed to bolster a studio's bank account. But in there lies some of the charm of these films, fun little excursions that make for great rainy day viewing. Movies that feel like they're trying too hard with the titles and floating head introduction to convince you of a “shocking” hour or so ahead. Oddly enough, it's the film with the silliest title, Pillow of Death, which is the best of the group.
The entire series is available in a two disc set from Universal for about $20, not bad for this group of entertaining little movies. If anything, the price of admission is worth it for the floating head alone, and again, Pillow of Death!