Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Boris Karloff Blogathon: Day Four


No one can deny that Boris Karloff was a master villain, but even
the best of actors wasn´t immune to the whims of sriptwriters.
In the 40´s when studios were churning out scripts, mad
writers often threw logic out the windows and came up with some
really freaked out plots. For example take "THE MAN THEY COULD
NOT HANG", well actually they did hang him, but his assistant
brought him back to life with an artificial heart. In "THE MAN
WITH NINE LIVES" he discovered that freezing people can cure
cancer. "BEFORE I HANG" had him discovering that blood cells
carry "the very essence of our behavior". Unfortunately he injects
himself with the blood of a murderer. Go on, guess waht happens.

The four Mexican films he made at the end of his career were
no exception to far out ideas. "THE FEAR CHAMBER", the movie
I´m here to talk about this issue, is the most outrageous of the
four. Of course, it was written by Jack Hill, who also wrote "SPIDER
some of the most wahcked out plots of all time, so Boris was really
doing the best he could with the material he was given. Okay crew,
leave your disbelief at the door and fasten your seat belts. This ride
is gonna get bumpy!.

A scientist (Boris Karloff) and his assistants (Julissa and Carlos
harles] East) are able to pull a piece of stone from an active
volcano. What makes this rock so radical is --now get this--
it´s alive, and by hooking it up to a computer they are able to
communicate with it! The talkative mineral promises to tell the
scientists where huge deposits of gold and diamond are located
if, and here´s the first plot twist, they will provide it with what
it needs to live: human glandular secretions. The gland juice
must be taken from people at the moment of extreme fear to
provide the best nourishment. Is this a totally radical idea or
what? So what do Boris and company do when they hear this?
Do they toss the rock back into the volcano and forget the
whole thing? Do they tell the rock what it´s asking is too
much? No! They all go right to work and build a torture
chamber in the basement! Is that awesome? There´s even
more. To get victims they advertise at an employment
agency for live-in housekeepers. Once thay lure tham to the
mansion thay use the fear chamber on them. With lights,
mirrors, rubber tentacles and Boris himself hamming it up
in a black robe faking a human sacrifice, they scare the
women to a point where their glands produce enough fluid
to keep the rock not only alive, but growing!.

Boris is not the well intentioned but misguided scientist he was
back in the Columbia Pictures "Mad Doctor" series in the 40´s;
he´s totally up the wall here. In once scene he describes how a
soon-to-be victim has a fear of maggots and slugs and says
"Imagine how she´ll feel to wake up and find herself covered with
them." What a relief this scene wasn´t shown, yuck, what a total
gross out!.

Now like the plot is not rad enought to carry the film for the rest
of the running time, get this; a thief breaks into the lab. The rock
knows its personal space is being violated and evolves a tentacle
to pull the female crook to her death. Upon discovering her corpse
and finding out she planned to rob the house Julissa remarks "It´s
not murder, it´s justice." Boris, showing a small spark of humanity
at last, replies "No, it´s murder as surely as if we´d killed her
ourselves." I guess scaring people out of their skins is okay but
killing them isn´t. Anyway, Boris tries to destroy the computer but
collapses from illness. His assistants put him to bed, tha´s about it
for Boris in this picture.

In order for the plot to keep going we have to lose the cast members
who showed any decency. Carlos and Julissa decide they want to go
off and get married, Boris is in his room sedated, this leaves lab
assistants Isela Vega and Verye Beirute, both of whom are deeply
into a heavy grreed trip. They lure victims to the house and bypass
the fear chamber, taking them right to the rock so it can kill them.
Members of the house also become victims. A turbaned swami
who was in the house for no reason I could figure out is stabbed
by Beirute and a mute dwarf (Santanon) is also killed. Carlos and
Julissa return just as Beirute gets way too greedy and kills Senorita
Vega. Beirute knocks Carlos down and declares, "I´m gonna be king
of the world!" (He pronunces it 'kink', and if you think about how
absolutely bizarre this film is maybe he´s right.) and stomps off
toward the volcano.

Boris finally gets out of bed and figures a way to get rid of the
yakety rock. Boris figures that if thay feed the information thay´ve
glommed from the stone to shrink back to its original size. Now
does that rank as the dumbest plot solution you´ve ever heard
or waht? Well, dumb as it sounds the idea works and the rock not
only shrinks but goes dormant again. Oh, and what about Senor
Beirute? Well, the ending of the film is pretty badly edited but you
get the idea that he went scrambling around the inside of the
volcano and falls into the molten lava. Oh well, he was a gorss
character anyway, serves him right.

"FEAR CHAMBER" has plot holes in it that you can ride a horse
through at full gallop. The living rock is millions of years old
but it says it need human pheramones to live. What did it live
on before humans came along? How did it survive buried in
Earth? If it has to be linked to a computer to talk, how does it
communicate with its own kind? How does it know that humans
value gold and diamonds enought to tell us where to find them
and why does it want to help a species so alien from its own?
And why, oh why does that soooo very dumb idea to make the
rock shrink actually work? So, like what did you expect from the
man who wrote "SPIDER BABY"? Oh puh-leeze!

Of all the four Mexican Karloff´s, "FEAR CHAMBER" is the most
deserving of its R rating. There´s one or two scenes that I can´t
even describe in a family magazine like this; but Boris isn´t in
them so don´t freak. Perfomances are way over the top from
everyone except for Boris Karloff, who only overdoes it in the
fear chamber scene and that´s because he´s supposed to.
Verye Beirute shows how he become Mexico´s best brute
villain, and Isela Vega is real...uh...well I can´t say the word in
this magazine, but it rhymes with 'witch'.

"FEAR CHAMBER" was clipped of 5 minutes in the MPI home video
but is complete from Sinister Cinema.


Scary Monsters Magazine

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