When you consider that this is one of four Mexican funded films shot back-to-back containing footage of an ill Boris Karloff (he was suffering from emphysema at the time and would die shortly after the completion of his filming) that's intercut with scenes shot in Mexico it's easy to see why Fear Chamber is so scattershot. It's also easy to see why it turned out so badly as it seems little to no effort was made to make a coherent, or scary, horror flick.
Karloff plays Dr. Carl Mandel, a scientist who is overseeing his daughter Corinne (Julissa) and college Mark (Carlos East) as they head down into a crevasse in an active volcano in order to investigate various signals they've been receiving. Upon finding a living, glowing rock they return to the surface with their discovery in order to hook it up to some computers and try to figure out how it came to exist.
Their research seems to be hitting a standstill though; at least until Karloff discovers that the rock needs a fluid from the human body to survive. It can only live off of the "pure fear" of humans and Karloff, his nurse/assistant Helga (Isela Vega), and the various other odd characters who are wandering around with no real purpose (this includes a cackling dwarf and a turban wearing man in sunglasses) set up a "Fear Chamber" where they proceed to scare unsuspecting girls in order to extract the fluid from them.
Filmed by director Juan Ibanez, the "Fear Chamber" sequence (which is also glimpsed in the opening credits) is a mish-mash of attempts at surreal visuals as our female victim is frightened by various reptiles and insects (check out those swooping shots of fake spider webs and skeletons!), harassed by Karloff's mean-spirited helpers, and falls into a pit of red-ish liquid where she's attacked by some hilarious bad tentacles. And all this before they stage a faux Satanic sacrifice scene.
The "story" continues on this un-structured past for the rest of the movie as our alien rock continues to get smarter and demands more food (which the clam-like creature can now get itself using tentacles its grown), Karloff lies sickly in bed occasionally emoting like crazy delivering some inane monologue, and Helga and her slow-minded assistant Roland (Yerye Beirute) kidnap local women in order to feed their guest (all the while Roland rambles on about the rock being his "friend" before becoming obsessed with diamonds and going off the deep end).
Fear Chamber is a mess of a movie that's only of interest for horror fans just because of the stories behind its production (stories that are entertainingly told on the DVD commentary by co-writer Jack Hill, who also directed Karloff's scenes). It's even hard to derive cheap laughs from the movie, even with all the obvious unintentionally funny fodder at your fingertips. Ibanez shoots all his sequences poorly constantly using tight angles to hid the films low-budget origins and he also peppers the movie with tons of scenes of various cast members peeping in on undressing girls (Hell, there's even an entire dance sequence where one girl strips down to her lingerie before being attacked) among other generally sleazy stuff such as whippings, poor sexual tension between Helga and Roland, and mild bloodshed.
Shot in 1968 and unreleased until three years later due to legal complications, Fear Chamber wastes the drive-in B-movie talent of Hill (who made Spider Baby, The Big Doll House, and the awesome Pam Grier blaxploitation flicks Coffy and Foxy Brown), embarrasses Karloff, and generally sucks - what's most amazing about it is that most of the Mexican cast continues working to this very day.
Visit Elite Entertainment for more DVD info. (Chris Hartley, 1/22/06)
Directed By: Juan Ibanez.
Written By: Jack Hill, E. Vereara, C.
Starring: Boris Karloff, Julissa, Carlos East, Isela Vega.
Elite - December 13, 2005
Picture Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen.
Picture Quality: Considering the age of the film and the poor source print they were most likely forced to use, Elite makes Fear Chamber look about as good as they can. The picture is constantly under attack by grain and print damage, but it looks better than expected even if it's nothing you'd want to show-off.
Extras: Elite offers only a couple of special features but they're both worth it.
There's a deleted scene that is actually an extended scene from the dance sequence (that restores the nudity cut from the theatrical print) and also an informative and entertaining commentary by Jack Hill the fills you in on the history of Karloff's now infamous "Mexican Horror" phase.