The Strange Door, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's story, "The Sire de Maletroit's door", celebrates its 60th anniversary by finally getting a UK release on DVD via Odeon Entertainment. Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton are reunited on celluloid for the first time since 1932's The Old Dark House, and it's the former's distinct image that is exploited to garnish the packaging.

The story begins when womanising rogue, Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley) is involved in a bar brawl that abruptly ends when he fires a shot from a dubiously acquired pistol that appears to kill his foe. His fleeing from the baying mob soon leads him to the film title's entity. Denis fortunate stumbling upon Maletroit Manor via a 'strange door' ultimately renders him a prisoner to the manor. During a curious investigation of the manor, its eccentric owner, Sire Alain de Maletroit (Charles Laughton), introduces himself, along with revealing his arrogant plan for an arranged marriage with his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest).

Karloff's relatively short, but imperative screen time begins around a quarter of an hour into the movie and completes the quartet of main players. His character Voltan, the ill-treated servant of the Sire, is a meld of vulnerability, confusion and strained loyalty. Indeed there is more than a suggestion he too is a detainee of the Manor. The Sires twisted wickedness soon surfaces with each entertaining scene involving Laughton, whose mastery of props is great fun to watch!

When the attraction of Blanch and Denis turns to love, it would appear that the Sires plan of destroying his niece by splicing her with "the worst kind of scoundrel" has backfired. That is until the true extent of the Sires evil is revealed....

The film has been cited as many as a B-Movie and with its 77 minute running time and bastardisation of Stevenson's original prose this is an understandable judgement of director Joseph Pevney's piece. But this alone should not detract from its entertainment value. Ok, so some of Laughton's over acting is more 'hammy' then the banquet he greedily devours as the Sire (in fact some of it makes a certain Mr Shatner seem quite restrained in comparison!). But this is balanced by some fascinating sequences involving Laughton, in particular when the Sire and his seemingly insane brother Edmond (Paul Cavanuagh) are together on screen. Edmond's wild eyed howls, in response to the Sires malevolent mocking as he divulges the sinister plans he has in store for his daughter are indisputably harrowing.

Karloff's performance is typically enigmatic. There are a few priceless changes of facial expression that breathes life into Voltan's character.

While it could be easy to criticise the piece for being more than a little dated, there is enough atmosphere and larger than life characters to carry the movie. If you can get over some of the clich�s so often associated with vintage movies such as the classic 'one punch K.O.' and the 'Terminator-esque resilience' of Voltan, this movie does toy with some genuinely interesting concepts. Simmering hatred eventually boiling thus giving way to madness and, ultimately, self-destruction.

This is a budget disc and, as a result, the only bonus feature is a stills gallery. It is worth perusing this simply to sample the original poster artwork which is sadly missing from the cover of the disc itself. These garish works of art perfectly exemplifies the unscrupulous marketing techniques from Hollywood studios (in this case Universal) that later became synonymous with selling Horror flicks to the public. The raised daggers and sensational taglines do the movie an injustice I feel, as the true menace of the picture was not gore or physical violence but mental torment.

Although the DVD itself loses points, in my opinion, for not using some original artwork for the cover, I could not fault the actual print used. Although black and white, the picture is sharp and the subtle changes in lighting throughout the movie, is noticeably effective with the excellent transfer.

Overall, the DVD is a worthwhile purchase, with some well-known sites even offering the disc for under �6 delivered. At that price, surely it's worth skipping that burger, fries and watered down cola in favour of the key to The Strange Door.....

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Odeon Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review