I caught up with THE FEAR CHAMBER (filmed in 1968 but released in 1972) this past week and got just about what I expected. Its one of the four movies that Boris Karloff made right before he passed away and while it’s generally referred to as the best of the bunch its still a pretty terrible movie. The horror icon plays a scientist who discovers a living, possibly sentient rock in some vast underground caverns. Somehow the creature communicates with throbbing sounds and lives off human fear. Now, you may ask- how did a creature living for centuries beneath the earth’s surface evolve to need human fear to survive? Well, just by asking that question you have thought far too hard about this movie. That is only one of the many WTF elements in a story that seems content to throw them around randomly until one sticks.
To get the necessary fear infused blood to feed the rock Karloff and his band of merry mad scientists have constructed a ‘Fear Chamber’ into which they drag duped women to scare the hell out of them. When the ladies (of the night) pass out in terror they drain off some blood and drug the victim so she can’t recall her awful ordeal. This is where we get to see the sadistic turban wearing loon, the crazy-eyed bald midget and the half-wit hulking male nurse with a lobotomy scar do their thing. Which is kind of interesting for five minutes. But then the plot kicks in and the film starts to suck. Boris gives his all even to this crappy material but he can do little to save it.
This is not a good or fun movie and I would not recommend it to any but the most completist of Karloff fans. Its deadly dull and a real chore to slog through. But I can recommend the Elite Entertainment DVD release of the film. The fantastic filmmaker Jack Hill provides a solo commentary track for the movie and it is more than worth the price. It turns out that Hill wrote the script for this and the other three Mexican made movies that Kaloff filmed before his death. Unable to travel to Mexico City because of his health his scenes were filmed in California by Hill with the rest of the picture made south of the border. This is a great commentary that answers nearly all of the questions I had about the film and its production. It turns out that most of the script was tossed out or altered by the Mexican director as he saw fit. Hill thinks what he wrote was much better than what got made but I don’t know if this mess could have ever been too wonderful. Still, this track is well worth listening to even if you don’t want to watch the film itself. Hill is a fount of information and stories about not just THE FEAR CHAMBER and Karloff but filmmaking in general. His tales of editing & sound tricks to save poorly shot scenes was an eye opener for me. As a huge fan of his Blaxploitation and Women In Prison films of the 70s I was glad to have Hill explain himself and relate how the infamous Mexican foursome that ended a horror icon’s career got made. It doesn’t make this movie any better but it makes its low quality worth enduring to learn something new about low budget movie making and Boris.