Here we are, at the final Inner Sanctum mystery, and whatta miserably silly title it has: Pillow of Death! Forget about the dumb title though because Pillow of Death is a real good one that throws everything at ya, from seances to graveyards, from secret passages to a gun-toting maid. Not to mention a boodle of red herrings. Most importantly, at the heart of Pillow of Death‘s story is the strongest mystery in all the Inner Sanctum tales.
The penultimate Inner Sanctum mystery is John Hoffman’s Strange Confession. This one’s told entirely in flashback and features Lon Chaney’s most sympathetic character in the series yet. When I get down to ranking these bad boys, Strange Confession while most likely be fending for the top spot against Weird Woman – I dug it that much. Maybe because I’m a sucker for underdog stories, so watching Chaney get manipulated by some big pharmaceutical fat cat really made my blood boil. He gets screwed over the entire film. Or maybe it’s because Chaney carries a severed head in a bag. Either way, Strange Confession is a wild Inner Sanctum tale of manipulation and revenge with one helluva sucker punch ending.
Round four of the Inner Sanctum mysteries brings us a new director, Harold Young, and NO throaty whisper narration from Lon Chaney. Good riddance, I say. The Frozen Ghost is a wickedly fun little murder tale in which a mentalist is framed for murder because he kills people with mind bullets. Something like that. While the mentalist angle is kinda weak, The Frozen Ghost makes up for it with a wonderfully menacing villain and a creepy setting within a wax museum. When was the last time you saw a movie about an ex-plastic surgeon turned wax sculptor knife thrower?!
The third Inner Sanctum mystery is Dead Man’s Eyes, a tightly wound little mystery in which an eye transplant leads to murder, naturally. Lon Chaney stars as a talented painter who’s not very observant. I mean, most artists are highly observant, even if it’s in a poetic, ethereal way. If he was paying attention, he wouldn’t have washed his eyes out with ACID. Seriously, homeboy is reaching for some eyewash, but picks up a bottle of acid instead and bathes his eyeballs with the stuff. It’s one of the most ridiculous accidents I’ve ever witnessed on film and leads to a charming story that drags its heels to an insipid degree.
The second Inner Sanctum mystery is Weird Woman, a tale of Polynesian hoodoo and good ol’ American voodoo. Again the film stars Lon Chaney Jr., who reprises his throaty whisper narration that he gave me the willies in Calling Dr. Death. Does he pull the same gag in all of the Inner Sanctum films? Guess I’ll find out. This time around he’s an anthropology professor who’s expertise is the effect of superstition on mankind. It’s very familiar to his Steele character in Calling Dr. Death, and again he’s framed for some heinous shit he didn’t pull. Some guys can’t catch a break, huh?
I really dug Inner Sanctum the other day – a film based on the popular mystery radio show series (1941-52). Reading more about it, I found out that Universal produced six other films under the Inner Sanctum banner prior to the 1948 one I had watched. All of them are streaming on YouTube, so I decided to do a run of them for the rest of the week. The first one is 1943’s Calling Dr. Death, a murder mystery filled with red herrings, wrapped around some trippy sequences of hypnosis. The complete lack of believable crime solving skills by the law makes it tough to take seriously, but for what Calling Dr. Death lacks in credibility, it makes up for in some really fun psychedelic visuals and breakneck pace.
Here’s a cold-blooded little caper for ya. Clocking in at a lean 62 minutes, Inner Sanctum is “based” on the mystery radio series of the same name that ran from 1941 to 1952. I’m not sure based is the right word – it’s more like they just took the banner name and used it to market the film. Either way, Inner Sanctum is a great murder story framed around an intriguing train ride that bookends the main narrative. It’s definitely a B-grade noir, with very low production values. But what it lacks in pizazz it makes up for in cynicism and brute force.