Chamber of Horrors
My haven't horror movies changed over the years, now we get in your face gore, bodies being mutilated where as go back over half a decade and the horror grows from the darkness of the mind. It means that watching 1946 horror movie "Bedlam" now is less frightening but more fascinating. It's fascinating not only in the portrayal of the asylum system of the 18th century but also the depraved mind of the man in change of an asylum and those who enjoy watching those committed act like loonies. And whilst watching "Bedlam" now there are few frights there is a genuine sense of unsettling creepiness especially as it builds to its dramatic finale.
After being made aware of St Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum, more commonly known as Bedlam, Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) is neither impressed by the conditions that those inside are kept or their master George Sims (Boris Karloff) who takes delight in profiteering off of the insane. When she makes a stand with Quaker William Hannay (Richard Fraser) she finds herself not only falling foul of her friend Lord Mortimer (Billy House) but also thanks to the treacherous Sims committed and thrown into his care so that she can't spoil the good thing he has going.
Whilst "Bedlam" starts with a moment of drama as a man falls to his death from a high window in the asylum the first half of the movie almost feels like a comedy. The minute we meet the jovial Lord Mortimer there is a sense of humour going on and whilst we also meet the insidious George Sims as he is questioned over the death of the man it is almost comical as he twists the facts to clear his name. It continues from Lord Mortimer having the "bedlamites" putting on a show for his affluent friends to Nell growing tired of his despicable behaviour and trying to humiliate him.
But then we get the second half, the more creepy half as Sims manipulates Mortimer and those on the Commission of Lunacy to have Nell committed in to his care. Watching the nefarious Sims try to make her life hell by throwing her in with the loonies is immediately ominous and every time she rises above what he throws at her it becomes more and more ominous as he tries to manufacture her demise. This leads to a series of terrifically dark scenes as things come to a powerful head and for a movie which is now over 60 years old these scenes border on the electrifying as expectedly Sims gets his come-uppance.
The thing about "Bedlam" is that for all the various characters be it Lord Mortimer or Dorothea the Dove the success of the movie really comes down to three things; Boris Karloff, Anna Lee and the dialogue. Karloff is wonderful as the insidious Sims painting a portrait of an evil man but one who even in the grasps of danger is cunning enough to try and turn things to his advantage and Anna Lee as Nell is his complete equal, forthright and strong as she does battle with him time and again. And it is those battles where the wonderful almost poetic dialogue comes into play delivered with such snide ness that it makes Sims and Nell worthy adversaries.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Bedlam" may not be the horror movie it once was it is still seriously creepy especially when it comes to the escalating battle between the insidious Sims and Nell leading to a brilliant dark and ominous climax.