Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Karloff in his Fear Chamber

FEAR CHAMBER (aka The Torture Zone/1968). Directors: Juan Ibanez; Jack Hill.

Dr. Karl Mantell (Boris Karloff) is convinced a life form, a kind of "primordial plasma," has not only taken up residence in the earth's core but is the "source of all the untapped knowledge of the universe." [How he has arrived at these bizarre conclusions is never made clear.] Mantell's daughter Corinne (Julissa) and her friend Mark (Carlos East) descend into the earth and discover one of these creatures, bringing it back to the lab. They discover the creature feeds on hormones created by terror, so to that end these wonderful people imprison women in a "fear chamber" in which they are subjected to skeletons, spiders, snakes, pools of blood, and think they are going to be sacrificed on an altar. [A startling moment has Karloff in his priest's robes stripping them off for medical whites and going directly into his modern laboratory, which is directly adjacent to the "fear chamber."] The life form, which resembles a steaming rug, communicates with the humans via computer and kills people by sucking out their life energy as well as their terror, leaving them aged corpses. Mantell has a psychologist, Helga (Isela Vega), who spies on female applicants as they change into medical robes and seems to get a thrill out of whipping women, possibly under the influence of the monster. Brutish Roland (Yerye Beirute) is only interested in the monster because it's promised to deliver him many diamonds. Helga and Roland are apparently being played by the life form, which hopes to transmit information to others of its kind within the earth. Supposedly inspired by the writings of Poe [don't you believe it!] Fear Chamber actually has some interesting ideas and elements, but it's disjointed, badly edited and confusing [signs of post-production tampering], with highly unlikable protagonists. At times it simply seems thrown together. A scene when a woman unknowingly does a sexy dance for the monster hits a high camp note if nothing else. There are some other arresting moments amid the often amateurish absurdity. Karloff is fine, and luckily his distinctive voice isn't dubbed. This was made in Mexico the year before his death and released a couple of years later. A frustrating aspect to the picture is that these "scientists," who terrorize women and seem like complete nuts, never really get their comeuppance.

Verdict: Zestily absurd at times but not very good. **.

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