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Bedlam is one of the costlier psychological-horror efforts from RKO producer Val (Curse of the Cat People) Lewton. Boris Karloff stars as the supervisor of the notorious 18th century British insane asylum St. Mary's of Bethlehem, better known as "Bedlam." Anna Lee, who co-stars as the feisty mistress of a fatuous government official, is appalled by the miserable treatment afforded the Bedlam inmates and insists that reforms be initiated. The crafty, politically connected Karloff responds by having Lee herself incarcerated in the institution: she is a "willful woman", and therefore must be insane. With the help of a few of the more rational patients, Lee stages a mutiny, capturing Karloff and giving him a mock trial. Though they don't truly intend to harm Karloff, he is seriously injured by one of his tormented patients. Assuming that Karloff is dead, the other inmates wall up his body in the cellar -- and as the last brick is put in place, we see Karloff's eyes suddenly open! Though it has it moments of genuine terror, Bedlam is as historically accurate as possible, right down to the archaic dialogue passages. For the most part, the film is an indictment against political corruption, with Karloff (in a terrific, multi-faceted performance) alternately bullying and wheedling to save his own behind. Val Lewton (writing under the pseudonym Carlos Keith) based his film on one of the illustrations in Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress," glimpses of which are seen throughout the film as transitional devices.
Posted October 1, 2010
The best-known films in this set are I Walked With a Zombie, Cat People, and its sequel, and all three are recognized classics of the genre. However, each of the titles in this collection is excellent. The three Karloff films provide him with his best roles since the pre-Code days, especially Body Snatcher where he is supported by the great Henry Daniell. Panther Man is a suspenseful American giallo, full of misleads and red herrings. Ghost Ship features a tremendous performance from Richard Dix as a captain going increasingly mad and, in haunting and fleeting periods of lucidity, aware of it. For me, the real revelation in the set was the 7th Victim, a movie whose tone and content feel decades ahead of their time. It has such a pervasive air of suicidal melancholy, that one marvels as it being released by a major studio, let alone during war-time. This box set is an essential and wonderful addition to any horror fan's DVD library.
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