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Friday, March 2, 2012

Fear Chamber



1972
Jack Hill

"With all the macabre horror of Edgar Allen Poe…" opens the movie and we all know Poe's love of writing about dwarves who torture young girls to aid in the feeding of telepathic rocks.

Boris Karloff is Dr.Carl Mandel, noted scientist of..  you know.. science stuff. Dr. Mandel has discovered a strange signal coming from underneath a volcano. Sending his daughter and some other guys down to check it out, they discover a huge living rock. Somehow they discover it not only lives on blood, but it must be blood tinged with fear, So Mandel does what any self-respecting scientist would do. He hires a bunch of seedy types, builds a fake Satanic dungeon complete with evil mechanical tentacles and proceeds to lure young women in and scare the bejeezus out of them and then harvest some of their blood. Things go wrong when one of the lady scientists is killed by the rock accidentally; Dr. Mandel shuts down the experiment, even going so far as to kill the rock. Mandel's unseemly employees have a different idea. Especially since the rock has been speaking to them and letting them know it has the formula for mass producing diamonds. All it needs is blood...

Fear Chamber was on one of Karloff's last films. It's one of four Mexican cheapies he was contracted to shoot but due to his frailness he had all his scenes shot in California in a few weeks. He died in 1969 but this film was not released until 1972. He's bed ridden, in a wheelchair or behind a desk in nearly every scene. Despite all this he's still easily the most charismatic actor in the whole film.

Although the movie starts off with some scientists in tin foil suits wandering around what is supposedly a volcano, the film really doesn't show it's true intentions until a short time later when an unsuspecting young lady is chased around a Satanic pit that's about as realistic and scary as your average state fair spook house. From there on out it's little people and giant dumb guys menacing girls who run around in their underwear, while the evil rock sucks some blood out of people. Once and while the movie throws out some science stuff to remind us this is marginally a science fiction film and not some cheeky exploitative silliness.

A bit too often though the plot simply gets forgotten, most notably when the villains of the piece decide to hire a prostitute to feed to the rock. Before getting down to the exsanguination, they make her do a fairly lame strip tease to some equally lame sleazy jazz music. Dancing by the rock, it reaches out and grabs her and kills her quickly. At no point is she scared, she doesn't even see the rock coming to get her. What happened to the whole fear thing?

There is also this very odd moment in the film where Mandel's nightmare is pretty much him delivering a lecture on where the rock came from.

The look of the movie is bright and colorful, the blood couldn't be redder. There are lots of weird hallucinatory jump cuts during the 'fear' sequences, and bizarre music. The camera loves to linger on every inch of exposed female skin. The special effects are fair to sub par. The weakest being the evil rock itself, which looks like a combination muffin and unspeakable latex sex toy. I really can't dislike a movie which has one of its villains wandering around a volcano proclaiming to be, "The King of the World!"

At its heart it's a fun movie that takes itself a bit too seriously near the end. There's only so much heartfelt technobabble you can throw out to try and wrap up your story. Not that it really has much of an end. So if you like your weak veneer of science-fiction over a little bloodletting and sleaze this might be the perfect movie for you.

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