The Door with Seven Locks / Chamber of Horrors (1940)

The_Door_With_Seven_Locks_(1940)‘No, to the left of the mill-house where the doctor keeps his torture gadgets.’

Lord Selford dies and leaves his considerable fortune to his young son. The family jewels are buried with him in a crypt with seven locks on the door. Ten years later, a young woman who has been raised in Canada receives a mysterious letter, accompanied by one of the keys…

Run of the mill British mystery thriller, based on an Edgar Wallace tale. It was made shortly after the ban on domestic Horror Films had been lifted, but only some gothic trappings and window dressing really qualify it for inclusion in that genre. Most of the mystery departs about halfway through, when the villains discuss what they’re up to, although there are a couple twists late on. What atmosphere director Norman Lee manages to evoke is pretty much torpedoed by the script, which saddles the heroine with a ‘comic’ friend whose remarks are stupid and irritating.

The most entertaining aspect is provided by Leslie Banks as the villainous Dr Manetta; descended from notorious Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada, he collects torture devices and walks around with a pet monkey on his shoulder. Banks had excelled as the chilling Count Zaroff in lriving Pichel’s ’The Most Dangerous Game’ (1932) and had played in Alfred Hitchcock’s ’The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1934), but his best years were behind him by 1940. Appealing heroine Lilli Palmer was the only cast member who went on to better things. She was an Austro-German who had fled the Nazis to England and had already also appeared for Hitchcock in ‘Secret Agent’ (1936). After the war, she went to Hollywood where she starred with John Garfield in classic boxing drama ‘Body and Soul’ (1947) and went on to a long and distinguished career in character parts. Strangely enough, this was the final film for both leading man Romily Lunge and annoying comic relief Gina Malo, although there doesn’t appear to be any obvious reason for it.


‘Release the hounds!’

I haven’t read the original story and I wonder if the more ‘horrific’ aspects here were added to take advantage of the end of the horror ban in England. Manetta’s torture appliances do seem a bit like an afterthought; just some poison cups, a few shackles and a strange ‘iron maiden’ which wraps you in its arms and injects you with thin spikes. Perhaps it’s based on a genuine model, but it’s a little different from the more traditional device.

This is an adequate time passer, enlivened by the performances of Banks and Palmer. But l couldn’t help wondering about a couple of points as the final credits appeared. Why did Lord Selford want to be buried with the family jewels? And why were there 7 locks on the door of his tomb? Selford’s will stipulates that all the keys are passed to his solicitor for safe keeping. So what’s the point then? They’re all in one place so they’re just as easy to steal as if there were only one. Of course, they do get separated which helps drives the plot, but what other function did they serve?

I don’t think Selford really thought it through… but it does provide the film with a nice title.

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