A couple of friends came by the other night looking to borrow a horror flick to include in their annual “Shocktober” homemade movie festival. Netflix was apparently running behind schedule. As it happened, I was right in the middle of Universal’s Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Movie Collection, a two-disc, six-film box set of a Universal B-movie horror series produced in the early 1940s starring Lon Chaney Jr. “Nah,” said one. She didn’t want camp horror. She wanted the hard stuff. Granted, The Inner Sanctum Mysteries are only a few notches above an Ed Wood epic, if only when it comes to production values (Wood had Bela Lugosi, after all), and the titles of the one-hour-or-so installments tend to inspire more snickers than shivers: Weird Woman, The Frozen Ghost, Pillow of Death. Pillow of Death? In that one, from 1945, a psychotic serial killer stalks a family of wealthy eccentrics, smothering them one by one in their sleep, with Chaney’s small-town lawyer watching over their niece, one of the half-dozen-plus aspiring starlets that Universal paired him up with in each installment. It’s hilarious. There’s a danger, however, in all this good-natured mocking. Perhaps unintentionally, audiences of yesteryear become our targets of mirth, those naive souls who once sat quaking in fear before the prologue that opens every Inner Sanctum installment in which a disembodied head, floating in a crystal ball, warns audiences that anyone is capable of “Murrrderrr, even you!” These are the imaginary rubes against which we measure our contemporary viewing sophistication, even as we cringe and look away from the latest gorefest atrocity splashed across the screen. The most wonderful thing about the Inner Sanctum mysteries is that it’s doubtful anyone ever took them seriously.
Other recommended new releases: Art School Confidential (DVD); The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III, Exorcist: The Beginning, Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (DVD); Hail Mary (DVD); Style Wars: Revisited (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: A Tale of Two Cities; Border War; The Butterfly Effect 2; Click; David Copperfield; Disturbance; Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs Volume 1; Hollywood’s Legends of Horror Collection: Mark of the Vampire/The Mask of Fu Manchu, Doctor X/The Return of Doctor X, Mad Love/The Devil Doll; The Latin Legends of Comedy; Marie Antoinette; My Family: Season 1; My Family: Season 2; A Prairie Home Companion; Pride and Prejudice; Treasure Island; Trina: With Friends Like These; The Tripper; UK SUBS: Warhead: 25th Anniversary Live at Marquee; Waist Deep; Wake Up Screaming.