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"This is the Inner Sanctum...." And this is the world of B-movies, where Hollywood studios churned out entertaining little numbers to fill out an evening back in the Golden Age. Universal's Inner Sanctum series, released in 1943-45, was inspired by the successful radio show of the same title. They're gathered on Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Movie Collection, a fun grouping of a minor cinematic achievement. All six films star the phlegmatic Lon Chaney Jr., and most begin with a floating head in the crystal ball, welcoming us to the inner sanctum, "A strange, fantastic world, controlled by a mass of living, pulsating flesh... the mind." The vaguely supernatural promise of this grabby opening is rarely fulfilled by the movies, which tend to be acceptable murder mysteries with--despite the wacky titles--very little horror content. Chaney plays a man of some distinction (a professor in Weird Woman, famous mentalist in The Frozen Ghost, physician in Calling Dr. Death) who runs afoul of women (among them Evelyn Ankers and Patricia Morison) and murder. At some point in each movie he has some elaborate voice-over agony, making clear the connection to the radio series' interior monologue. The one-hour-and-change productions are handsome, considering their budget restrictions, and Universal's prints are well-preserved; the literacy of the writing is surprisingly high--although decent writing can't put much zip into the proceedings. Weird Woman is probably the best of the bunch, an adaptation of Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife (later filmed as Burn, Witch, Burn!). Chaney is an expert on superstition who marries a voodoo-obsessed woman, whose spells might be responsible for his rapid professional rise. The influence of Cat People is as strong as the source novel. Calling Dr. Death, the first in the series, is duller, with a hypnotism-minded Chaney bedeviled by a wanton wife who conveniently dies under mysterious circumstances. Dead Man's Eyes and the amazingly-titled Pillow of Death are more fun, the former a variation on the old eye-transplant story and the latter a whodunit with lawyer Chaney accused of his wife's murder (the supernatural touch this time: sťances). Strange Confession has Chaney as an honest chemist battling an evil pharmaceutical tycoon (J. Carrol Naish), and The Frozen Ghost combines two horror staples, the unstable mentalist and the wax museum. It's just crazy enough to be entertaining, even if there's no ghost (and hardly any freezing). All in all, the DVD set is a good look at Universal's second-tier output of the era. And then there's Chaney, whose jowly steadfastness can become weirdly fascinating if you watch a few of these close together. Universal put him hard to work after the success of 1941's The Wolf Man, and alongside his monster-movie excursions and his singular triumph in Of Mice and Men, the Inner Sanctum pictures represent Chaney's best moment as a leading man. Despite his limitations, he'll always have his spot in the Universal galaxy.

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MC31085 Inner Sanctum Movie Collection DVD (Calling Dr. Death / Weird Woman / The Frozen Ghost / Pillow of Death / Dead Man's Eyes / Strange Confession) 30% Off! Collection $29.98 $20.96