Pillow of Death (1945) May 10th, 2020
Pillow of Death closes out the Inner Sanctum Mystery series with maybe the best movie title ever. Don’t get me wrong, Frozen Ghost and Weird Woman are phenomenal titles that perfectly bisect the fanciful and mundane, but none of them caused more previewing speculation than Pillow of Death. What secrets are contained therein? Who would name a movie Pillow of Death and why? Is this the story of a demonic cushion? The murder implement in a series of grisly smothering? I must know!
It’s almost completely irrelevant to the plot. Huge disappointment. I was expecting Rubber levels of bizarre ordinary objects turned viscous killing machine! I imagined great sequences of Lon Chaney Jr. laying down for his nightly slumber not realizing his violent nocturnal premonitions weren’t dreams at all but glimpses of the murderous acts he commits while unconscious and under the influence of a haunted pillow! I wanted the story of an incel whose waifu pillow becomes homicidally jealous when her husband begins seeing a human girl on the side. If you can’t tell by now my hopes were dashed in a most careless and heartbreaking manner.
Instead of all the wonderful possibilities my mind ventured to guess, we were saddled with a movie of D level Twilight Zone quality. I’m talking the Jordan Peele Twilight Zone bad. Like, the one with Greg Kinnear bad.
The premise is essentially a man arrives home with his mistress and explains he intends to separate from his wife tonight, only to find that she’s already been murdered. Cue the whodunit mystery. Everyone is interviewed, all alibis accounted for. Maybe it wasn’t a murder at all? They make a point of mentioning that the deceased had recently become fascinated with history’s famous suicides as evidenced when Lon Chaney Jr. supplies the detective with his wife’s most recent book “Famous Suicides of History”. I lost my mind with glee when the disturbingly hilarious cover filled the screen. Deliciously macabre.
Early on we’re introduced to the idea that the old family mansion where Pillow of Death takes place is haunted by moaning ghosts dragging chains around the attic. This establishes supernatural events may occur in this world. Maybe there’s an evil pillow chained to the rafters up there? Nope, not that. It’s just their silly neighbor’s pet raccoon they keep chained up in their backyard has broken its shackles and climbed into the attic next door. Ok, maybe they’re trying to assure us, the audience, that supernatural happenings are just as bullshit in this fictional world as they are in our real world. Still satisfyingly weird but unfortunately not pillow related.
Next we hear that the wealthy family has a psychic medium on retainer. Totally normal thing to have and brings back the theme of the validity of the supernatural. He suggests they perform a seance and ask the dead woman to identify her killer. And would you believe it? She does! She fingers her husband Lon Chaney Jr. who bolts upright out of his seat and demands to know what’s going on. If our experience with the raccoon taught us anything it’s that this world has no room for the supernatural, so this seance must be a sham. Right?
Strange and silly things continue throughout Pillow of Death like the next door neighbor who uses the secret passages in the mansion to sneak inside on almost a daily basis. The body of the deceased wife goes missing and Lon Chaney experiences a vision of the dead woman begging him to follow her to her mausoleum. Eventually there’s another murder and Chaney suspects the psychic medium, after all he’s also… an accomplished ventriloquist! *GASPS WHILE DRINKING WATER*
All the while no mention of pillows. NONE. “What has this got to do with pillows?” I shout at the lifeless unblinking TV. “When are we going to see the Pillow!” I shriek as my wife searches Tinder for an adequate replacement husband, “I’m not too picky, just swipe left if you scream at movies for not having enough pillows. All others welcome.” reads her profile bio.
The film finally relents in the last few minutes and *SPOILERS* it turns out the murderer was Lon Chaney Jr. all along! The premonition, the seance, the family medium were all legit! Completely uprooting the foundation of realism established by the attic chained raccoon earlier in the film. Oh and the pillow, it’s just how Chaney smothered his wife and others to death. It’s not even the same pillow. Pillow of Death should’ve been called I’ll Kill You With Anything in Arms-reach!
In the end, while I was pleased with Pillow of Death‘s weirdness, it wasn’t what I wanted and that’s just plain disappointing.
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