When Karloff completed work on The Curse of the Crimson Altar for Tigon in the UK, many believed it would be his last film. He had spent some time in hospital during the shoot, and there were a few teary eyes when the shoot was finally over and he flew home. So imagine the surprise of everyone concerned when it turned out he was already contracted to appear in another four films! This group of Mexican horrors included such near-classics as The Fear Chamber, The Incredible Invasion, Isle of the Living Dead and House of Evil. These films were all shot in a matter of weeks, with Karloff's scenes shot in California, and the rest down in Mexico. He was obviously quite frail by this point. The majority of his sixties films featured him either in a wheelchair or at least sitting lying down for the majority of the time, and The Fear Chamber is no exception. Despite the obvious limitations however, he still puts in a great performance.
The Fear Chamber has one of the most ludicrous plots I have come across, which given the amount of "bad" films I've watched is really saying something. To summarize: a telepathic rock which feeds on the chemical produced by fear is kept alive by an ambitious scientist and his misfit band of assistants, including his insipid daughter and her heroic boyfriend, Mexico's answer to Tor Johnson, who from now on will be referred to as Lobo, a sex-maniac dwarf, a predatory lesbian with a predilection for torture, and some kind of turban-wearing hippy guru, reminiscent of a young George Harrison.
Now that sounds like a great basis for a movie, and it certainly starts off strong. Disguised as a refuge for women looking for work, the scientists force one after another into the Fear Chamber, which is what a bad acid trip in a ghost train must be like. It is full of cobwebs, snakes, skeletons and satanic rituals, and the women finally scream themselves into unconsciousness. The precious fear juice is then extracted in the lab and fed to the hungry rock. Carried back to their beds, they wake up believing it was all a bad dream. Meanwhile Lobo develops an obsession for diamonds and has some sort of telepathic link with the rock. He also sports a lobotomy scar, which leads you to suspect that the casting sessions for this film were held at the Mexican Insane Asylum.
Karloff's character sustains an injury early on in the film, conveniently (for him) leaving him bedridden until the final reel. This is unfortunate, as when he's off the screen the films dips low, and I mean really low. The assortment of unusual characters manage to entertain some of the time, but when the focus is on the burgeoning love story between Karloff's daughter and her boyfriend you feel yourself reaching for the fast forward button.
This film has been released on DVD before, but this is the version to pick up. Not only does it feature an excellent transfer and soundtrack, it also comes with a deleted scene (see a Mexican go-go dancer get savaged by a tentacled rock!) and an excellent commentary by the writer and director of the American half, Corman veteran Jack Hill.
So in a nutshell, this is a film worth purchasing as a)it stars Boris Karloff, who is worth watching in any old rubbish (which is just as well, as he never seemed particularly picky with his roles) b)It's cheap c)It's a fascinating insight into the world of low budget movie making and in case I forgot to mention it, d) It features half-naked Mexican women being tortured in the haunted house ride from hell.
Review by Adrian Smith from the Internet Movie Database.