Boris Karloff Collection DVD Review: Viva Karloff! These Four Movies Not So Much

Legendary horror icon Boris Karloff makes his final silver screen appearance(s) in these four low- budget Mexican productions made shortly before his death in 1969. Known for such Universal classics as Frankenstein, The Mummy and numerous other ghouls. Karloff’s roles in these four movies are at a minimum and mostly as a professor or doctor but he does appear throughout not just for the first 10 minutes of the picture. Also featured is Mexican starlet Julissa along with a few other scantily clad 1960s hotties who shimmy, shake, and scream across the screen. So come along as I try to figure out what the hell is going on in these goofy, sometimes minorly creepy, laughable, horror messes assembled in this 2018 Boris Karloff Collection. 

Dance of Death (aka House of Evil aka Macabre Serenade) is a 72-minute long period piece that finds Karloff as an insane maker of killer toys, named Morteval. He’s seeking an heir amongst his younger living relatives including a niece played by Julissa. We’re led to believe that Morteval dies about 30 minutes in but does he? At this point, the family members start getting whacked by the toys; cannons fire deadly shots; life-sized mechanical dancing sheiks, armored knights, and soldiers begin to chase and stab people. Are they really toys?  Also someone is killing people and pulling out their eyes in the village and the organ Mort loved so much is still playing. This one is atmospheric, eerie, and a little creepy at times, especially as the demonic toys begin to come to life. The story is confusing (which becomes a theme throughout these movies) but the climax, full of burning chaos, is fun to watch. Edgar Allan Poe gets writer credit but I haven’t quite figured out why yet in this creepy, atmospheric, period piece. 

Torture Zone (aka Fear Chamber) has Karloff playing a doctor/scientist named Mandel whose crew, which includes his niece (another theme throughout) played by Julissa, discovers and studies a living, intelligent rock under an active volcano. The rock is kept alive by a hormone that can only be produced by a human in extreme terror, so Mandel puts young women in the “fear chamber” where he pretends to kill them so he can extract their adrenaline and keep the rock alive. The rock isn’t happy with this arrangement though so it starts to kill people itself with some tentacle it has hidden away. The rock lashes out at its victims, draining them of their life energy and leaves them withered and wrinkled. Before Mandel can figure out what’s happening and destroy the rock, his crew begins to use ladies of the night to satisfy the rock’s lust for lives. Lots of moaning and sadism in this one as hotties in lingerie fear for their lives. There’s even a topless stripper scene because why not? Seventy-one minutes of trippy and disorientating oddness but this one is mostly just a bad sci-fi monster movie. 

Alien Terror (aka The Incredible Invasion) set in 1890s Europe has Karloff as Professor Mayer who shoots a power ray beam into space alerting aliens that then come to Earth to check it out. They decide the beam is too powerful for Earthlings to have and that it must be destroyed. There’s no Julissa in this one but Christa Linder takes over the niece role. The aliens send a weird, wispy dude who gets instructions from a voice-over to do away with the devil ray. Meanwhile there’s a hulking sex maniac killing hookers. Mayer and assistant run around in hazmat bee suits while the wispy alien provides victims for the maniac to kill. The alien begins to take over the maniac’s, and then the professor’s, mind and body. After a bunch of confusing, nothing scene filler, Mayer shakes off the alien possession just in time to destroy the ray machine and save his niece and her boyfriend, a young scientist who does science in hope of advancing science. The alien then boards its spacecraft and flies off into space. 

Alien Terror is very cartoony with its weird, silver-suited alien, not-so-smart hulking sex maniac, standard pie tin UFO, deadly death ray, and scientist doing science, that’s almost literally what he says he does. Very reminiscent of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) because of the intelligent alien giving commands to an idiot and scientist doing science. The overdramatic score should have been replaced by Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” while the sexy women stumble around as Karloff ambles after them and the wispy alien chases him. It would have been a better movie than this 73-minute, alien period piece of poop (but I didn’t say poop). 

Cult of the Dead (aka Isle of the Snake People aka Snake People) seems to possibly be set in the 1920s and Julissa returns as another niece who comes to visit Uncle Karloff. This time he’s an eccentric scientist and plantation owner named von Molder (what’s with the “M” names?), who lives on an island and dresses like Colonel Sanders. He also employs a voodoo shake dancer priestess with intense piercing eyes named Kalea (played by Tongolele) as a servant. A police captain arrives on the remote island to crack down on its voodoo ways and puts a curfew in place that drives the people to revolt. Meanwhile, the voodoo priestess continues turning people into zombies in the name of the mysterious Damballah and a sadistic little person with sharpened teeth whips women. After numerous trippy scenes with snakes, we find out that von Molder is actually the voodoo high priest Damballah. Jack Hill must have missed a few scenes as Karloff’s stand-in needs to be dubbed a couple times between his actual spoken lines. Throughout the 71-minute runtime, scantily clad shake/snake dancer Kalea tries to make eyes like Bela Lugosi in White Zombie. This one is a Voodoo zombie flick that hit the screen too late as George Romero had recently changed the game in regards to zombie horror films.  

Because Karloff’s health was failing and he needed oxygen between takes, he couldn’t fly to Mexico City to shoot these movies. His scenes were filmed in Los Angeles by Jack Hill (Spider Baby Foxy Brown, Switchblade Sisters) then finished in Mexico by director Jaun Ibanez and producer Luis Enrique Vergara, who also died before all four films could be released. There are so many questions like why is there always a niece? Why does Karloff always have a last name that starts with the letter M? “M” for Mexico perhaps? Why so many title variants? Why are the title graphics from the 1980s and not the ’70s? And why don’t any of the runtimes match those listed on the DVD cover? Those are only a few of my ponderings but with no extras or special features, the world, read “I,” may never know. 

Not to be confused with The Boris Karloff Collection this Boris Karloff Collection is highly forgettable overall. These four features lack any real substance and are really only worth viewing as fun pieces to watch Karloff in his final roles. There are mucho laughs that come via voice-overs that sound like the guys from XMC and all four movies are prime targets for MST3K. Heck, I found myself adding lines for my own amusement as I sat through these stinkers but I couldn’t pass up the chance to watch them. They are, after all, Karloff’s last films, and I enjoyed them for what they are. Although I’ll probably never watch them again, at least not without mucho booze, I’ll never forget them either. Viva Karloff!

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Joe Garcia III

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