Thursday, May 27, 2021

Inner Sanctum: The Frozen Ghost

It was a franchise that started as a publishing imprint. Originally, the “Inner Sanctum” was a line of Simon & Schuster mysteries, but it became an anthology series on radio, TV, and the big screen. Produced by Universal at the height of its early horror years, the Inner Sanctum films often blurred the mysteries with slightly uncanny elements. They also all starred Lon Chaney, Jr, which is why fans still watch them. Fittingly, Harold Young’s The Frozen Ghost, gets the business on this week’s edition of Svengoolie.

There are no ghosts in this film. Most of the events take place in a wax museum that is rather cold, but the really bad stuff goes down in the furnace room, where the wax is melted. Maybe the title makes sense as a metaphor, but whatever.

Alex Gregor, a.k.a. “Gregor the Great” is a legit mentalist, who has a talent for getting answers from the audience’s thought-waves by putting his fiancée-assistant, Maura Daniel, into a trance. At least that is what he really believes. He is also genuinely convinced he killed a disruptive drunk skeptic with his negative mental energy. Of course, the cops think that is hogwash, but he is so alarmed and guilt-ridden, he breaks off with Daniel and spirals into a funk.

To restore his spirits, Gregor’s business manager ever so logically arranges for him to stay in Madame Valerie Monet’s wax museum. It is filled with cheery exhibits of notorious murders designed by Dr. Rudi Polden, a disgraced plastic surgeon and generally suspicious character.

The Frozen Ghost
is definitely creaky and corny, but the sets and trappings of the Monet Wax Museum will bring joy to any fan of vintage Universal horror. It is also cool to see Chaney together again with Evelyn Ankers (his co-star in The Wolf-Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and Son of Dracula).

In fact, Chaney was perfect for the big, tormented Gregor. He totally wins over viewer sympathy, while looking believably sinister to Inspector Brant, the unimaginative flatfoot. For their parts, émigré-thesps Tala Birelli and Martin Kosleck chew great amounts of scenery as Madame Monet and Dr. Polden. Yet, it is always hard to top David Hoffman’s series intro as the floating head in the crystal ball.

Inner Sanctum
radio shows still hold up as some of the best of the medium. That is not really the case with the Universal films, but they remain entertaining in a retro kind of way. They are also notable for showcasing Chaney Jr’s range, especially Frozen Ghost. Recommended for some good old fashioned old dark house (or in this case wax museum) fun, The Frozen Ghost airs Saturday night (5/29) on Me TV, via Svengoolie.