Judge David M. Gutiérrez wishes that Karloff hadn't gone out this way.
"Yes, I know. I was able to see the cocaine—as well as the hashish—and the marijuana that was brought into this country so cleverly."—Mario
Retromedia has served up a double deuce of Boris Karloff on a single DVD with Island Monster/The Chamber of Fear.
Island Monster is aptly named if one goes into this film knowing that the "Monster Island" in question is not an island full of monsters but an island with a single monster (a gangster played by Karloff). He's a monster in that he's a sociopath, not in an outwardly horrific sense. In Island Monster, Karloff leads a drug mob, and his cronies kidnap Italian officer Mario's daughter. Mario then plunges into the seedy underworld of drugs in order to rescue his daughter.
According the back of the disc, Island Monster is the rarest of the Karloff films. I suppose for Karloff fans it's like finding bootleg sessions of Brian Wilson's Smile album. However, to a reviewer whose exposure to Karloff extends little outside of his Universal work, this film is a dud. Retromedia has little to brag about. On the back copy of the DVD, the only things they can come up with are that Island Monster is rare and was filmed where other classics such as The Crimson Pirate and Morgan the Pirate were. I assume more pirate-themed movies enjoyed the same shooting location.
It would be unfair to say that the Karloff rarity is without merit. This film taught me many things:
1. Do not trust loose women with thin, arched eyebrows.
This film is not unwatchable, but it's extremely boring. Sure, it's a crime film (a genre I adore), but it lacks any real punch or interesting characters. Karloff, the only reason anyone would give this a chance, just doesn't have enough to do. What little he does is underwhelming.
The sad thing I've noticed about dubbed films is the need to cram extra words in the allotted time allowed. Too often, dialogue spills over clumsily. This film would have made an excellent vehicle for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 clan. It's a shame I didn't get to see it with the benefit of their comments. However, this film encourages the viewer to come up with his own witticisms and biting remarks. I managed to log about sixty.
The film gets the full screen treatment. Considering its age and shelved life, Island Monster has held up rather well. I noticed very little scratching or wear on the film. At the very least, it's not visually frustrating. The film sounds good, too. Being a dub job, the movie shouldn't sound as decent as it does. Unfortunately, it's the things we hear that are hard to take.
Believe it or not, the above review is the gentler side of this disc. Also included is one of Karloff's last outings, The Chamber of Fear. Karloff plays a scientist, Doctor Mantel, who discovers life in the deepest sections of our planet. The intelligent life-form feeds off of a chemical generated by fear. Mantel decides to scare the living bejeezus out of ladies of the evening in his patented Chamber of Fear in order to sate his newfound discovery's hunger. Karloff won't kill the unsuspecting victims…but that doesn't mean the many-tentacled thing from underneath won't.
Man alive, is this movie terrible. For starters, the first ten minutes of Mantel's assistants Mark and Corinne venturing underground can be recreated in the privacy of your own home with some tin foil, a red light bulb and an empty garage. I usually applaud economic filmmaking techniques, but this is just pathetic. During this sequence, Mantel can communicate through hundreds of miles of rock and granite via telephone. Must be a special phone. I'm not sure, but I think Nancy Sinatra was being beaten and terrorized in during the opening credits. The creature is never clearly shown, which is probably fortunate for us. The foam tentacles do not inspire fear so much as they illicit head shaking and eye rolling.
Hazy camera work and colored lighting do not horror make. It should be noted that this film has a strong amount of gore, especially considering when it was made. It's the sort of thing you see if you've been at Phish concert too long.
This film will teach its viewer to beware of men in turbans and rounded sunglasses holding frogs. I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me some of the film's horror sequences were cut from The Magical Mystery Tour. What is it about a midget that somehow indicates a trippy dream sequence?
The logic in this film is puzzling. Where does a scientist like Martel get the idea to fake satanic rituals? Why does every film with these faux Satanists contain a fake raven on the set? I don't know much about the religion devoted to the First of the Fallen, but I really doubt Lucifer's followers scoop water out of a dry ice pot and throw it on their victims. But what do I know that a team of scientists disguised as Satan's worshippers don't?
Before the film actually begins, the viewer is strongly warned that the picture and sound quality is greatly lacking. At least Retromedia was honest. The film is blurry, with constantly bleeding color. The blacks are especially hazy. It's incredibly hard to see this film. The audio is far better than the film, but this is not difficult to accomplish.
Apparently Karloff's scenes were shot just days before his death. I doubt this is how he would have wanted to go out. While it could be the knowledge the guy didn't last too much longer after this film wrapped, Karloff looks pretty sickly. I wish he could have had a better send off than this. He deserves better.
Roger Corman and Jack Hill fans will like the bonus feature "Kickin' Back with Robert V. O'Neil." O'Neil handled props on this film and went on to helm a few others. His opening story about joints and Jack Nicholson is worth listening to.
Overall, I'd advise anyone to avoid these films. Unless purchasing this DVD is absolutely necessary to complete a Karloff library, there really isn't any point in watching Island Monster or The Chamber of Fear.
Island Monster/The Chamber of Fear is sentenced to life without any chance at parole. Retromedia is hereby sentenced to fifteen years and a hundred hours of community service. They also have to watch these movies every day for the rest of their lives.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• "Kickin' Back with Robert V. O'Neil" featurette
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