Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Calling Dr. Death

Title: Calling Dr. Death

Year: 1943

Got It For: $5 (set of six movies).

I happen to be quite the fan of old radio dramas, especially ones of the thriller/horror varieties. Radio plays are quite the lost art these days, though you can still find them being made by a few broadcasters like the CBC and BBC. To my knowledge however, none of these are in the genre of suspense or horror, which in my opinion are the best for this type of audio drama. With breathless speeches from the characters, spooky sounds and eerie ambience the listener’s mind can create a vast canvas of the most horrifying things it can imagine. One of the best horror dramas ever on the radio was Inner Sanctum, which ran almost all the way through the 1940’s and into the ‘50’s. The series was so popular in fact that a series of six movies were made for Universal Pictures under the “Inner Sanctum” banner, a fact I was unaware of until I ran into a DVD of all six of these films on a $5 rack. All of the movies star Lon Chaney Jr. of Universal’s popular Wolf Man franchise. This brings us to our current feature, Calling Dr. Death.

Chaney plays Dr. Mark Steele, a successful neurologist with a talent for hypnotism. While Dr. Stelle is adept at unlocking the secrets of all his patients, his own life and mental health are a mess. He’s trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman only interested in his money, has a thing for his cute nurse, and is beginning to hear his own voice in his head suggesting that maybe life would be better with his wife out of the picture, *nudge nudge, wink wink.* One Monday morning, Steele wakes up to find his wife has been murdered and he can’t quite remember where he’s been all weekend. Hey, don’t act like it’s never happened to you! So is Steele really the killer? Is an innocent man going to the chair? Or is someone else behind the whole thing?

This film is actually quite good. Chaney and the rest of the cast deliver good performances, especially for what was a low budget picture, and the film is shot quite nicely with a decent DVD transfer. If you’re a fan of old fashioned mystery and suspense tales, it will do quite well for you. The film isn’t perfect however. Some of the superimposed “state of mind images” are a bit cheesy, and the famous Inner Sanctum host that bookended the radio program is nowhere to be found. We are, however, introduced to a man whom I refer to as “Mr. Crystal Ballhead.”

It clocks in at just over an hour, which was pretty standard for some low budget movies of the time, but it may come across as a bit of a ripoff at regular full price by itself. If the other five movies are as good as this one was though, it’s a steal as a set for five bucks.

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