Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu (Part 3)

Posted in Lee & Cushing with tags , , on July 1, 2015 by monsterminions

TBOFM_Titles

Two separate Fu Manchu films? Naaah —Just different names for the same production. The U.K. and U.S. title was The Blood of Fu Manchu (1969), while the Spanish tilte was Fu Manchu y el beso de la muerte (Fu Manchu and the Kiss of Death). To add confusion, the U.S. TV release was titled Against All Odds. Here, I am reviewing a restored and gorgeous European print and Blue Underground DVD release of the first of the Jess Franco Fu Manchu films.

Kiss and Kill_Titles

I must admit I am only an occassional fan of Spanish director Jesús “Jess” Franco (1930-2013), much prefering his early entries into the horror genre, including The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962), The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), which is fairly graphic even by today’s values, Dr. Orloff’s Monster (1964), The Diabolical Dr. Z (1965), and Count Dracula (1970), starring Christopher Lee. I haven’t (yet) seen Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Venus in Furs  (1969), considered by some to be his greater achievements in film making.  I’ve dabbled in some of his 80’s films and quickly lost interest, although Oasis of the Zombies (1982) still escapes me.

I do believe him to be a true auteur (or schreiber [from the Yiddish for writer], if you accept David Kipen’s view that the writer is actually the author of the film) as his films do have a distinct feel and he has honed his craft.  One might be able to identify the last two Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films as having Franco DNA just by watching them. I’m gonna piss off every Jess Franco fan in the land and compare him to Edward D. Wood, Jr., not for the sake of drawing similarities in making bad films, but because they wrote and directed most of their films and they both followed a vision. Like Wood and some of Franco’s contemporaries (Bava, Argento, Ossorio, Romero), Franco has an ardent following as exemplified by unusual film making honored on various blogs HERE and HERE and others celebrating his career.

This all brings us to The Blood of Fu Manchu (1969). I think it is the weakest film of the lot, primarily because there’s too many characters buzzing around and the Franco-Harry Alan Tower’s screenplay lacks coherency. Actually, Tim Lucas from the VideoWatchdog penned an essay Exit Fu Manchu (BU DVD liner notes) that notes that the story is vaguely reminiscent of the first Fu Manchu novel The Zayat Kiss. Oh, and the score. It is horrid bad.

Franco and long-time cinematographer Manuel Merino are also a bit trigger happy with the use of zoom perspectives, which comes across as being amateurish. Still, the film is colorful and the change in location shooting from Ireland and Hong Kong to Spain and Brazil helps. I still think the film is a lot of fun and worth a peek, especially the Blue Underground pressing. It’s not nearly as bad as Christopher Lee may have led you to believe: “The series had really run down by this one….”

In TBOFM, Fu Manchu (Lee, of course) is hunkered down in the jungle with his daughter (Tsai Chin) and henchmen in what appears to be an Aztec lost city.  There they use snakes to consecrate a “kiss of death” upon 10 gorgeous women who are set to spread a global plague by kissing everyone.  Nayland Smith (this time played by Richard Green) and associate Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford, looking old) return, searching for an antidote for the deadly snake toxin.  There’s also some double-crossing and too many characters to follow. Why is there an archaeologist in the story? Along the way a few guest stars appear including Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger, 1964) as “Black Widow”. I could do a linear regression fit in the overlap of Fu Manchu – Bond film talents.  Be sure to watch the special feature “The Rise of Fu Manchu” on the BU DVD, where Shirley Eaton claims producer Harry Alan Towers heisted uncontracted footage of Eaton from Franco’s film Rio 70 (1969) for use in TBOFM.
TBOFM_Snake Kiss

In the end, we see yet another explosion and Fu Manchu exclaims:

The world shall hear from me again….

TBOFM_End Titles

Continue reading

Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu (Part 2)

Posted in Miscellania with tags , on June 30, 2015 by monsterminions

TVOFM_Titles

Christopher Lee’s third Fu Manchu outting features colorful photography, no doubt aided by the vibrant Eastmancolor stock, with location shooting in Ireland and Hong Kong, with interior shots at both the Shaw Brothers and Ardmore Studios.  The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) retains the talents of Douglas Wilmer (Nayland Smith) Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), and Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Petrie). Director Don Sharp moved on and this film was helmed by English director Jeremy Summers (The Saint TV Series, 1962-1969).  Harry Alan Towers also produced and very loosely adapted the screenplay from the second to last Sax Rohmer novel Re-Enter Fu Manchu (1957).

TVOFM_Lee

I like the story in this one.  Here we have Fu Manchu waging vengeance against old time advisary Nayland Smith and conjuring up a plan that involves creating surgically altered drones as replicants of heads-of-police in the nations of the world.  Interpol is introduced and there is a bit of intrigue added with agents from Scotland Yard, the FBI and the Sûreté investigating Fu Manchu shenanigans. Unfortunately, the duplication concept was better executed by director Byron Haskin in a memorable Outer Limits Episode The Hundred Days of the Dragon (September 23, 1963).  The main problem with this film is nothing really happens and seeing Fu Manchu blown up at the end (for the third time) has become tiresome.  Why not have Fu Manchu escape in a balloon (or anything), or as Christopher Lee pointed out use the original Sax Rohmer stories [endings]?

An amazing pre-CGI accomplishment: This man becomes an Englishman in a seamless transformation.

TVOFM_Plastic Surgery

TVOFM_Smiths Double

Nayland Smiths Double

Still, TVOFM is a lot of fun. The international cast helps. Horst Frank (seen in The Head, 1959) is a poor man’s Klaus Kinski, but he’s good as a criminal world representative and in this film he’s dressed like he should be in a Sergio Leone western. Lee and Chin are terrific together.  Tsai Chin ((周采芹) (b. 1936) is a fascinating talent with contributions in acting, directing, teaching, music, stage and writing, with a career spanning five decades.  She appeared in two Bond films (most recently Casino Royale, 2006), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), The Joy Luck Club (1993), in Michael Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), and recently in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014). Her recording the Ding Dong Song (1959) was also a No. 1 hit in Hong Kong.

Here, Fu Manchu reveals the undoing of Nayland Smith to Ronny Moss (Horst Frank).

TVOFM

TVOFM is worth a look especially if you have seen the first two films.  I doubt the movie would stand on its own as it assumes you are familiar with the characters.  My print came from a WB Archive Collection DVD. The print looks and sounds fine.  Portions of this film may be dubbed or looped. I noticed in some scenes a bit of lip action not synched with the dialogue.

This is the one Fu Manchu film I am certain that I had never seen. I don’t think it got air play in the 70’s and 80’s and it may have been one stored away in the WB vaults.  Up next I’ll take a look at the Jess Franco entries and the last two films in Lee’s Fu Manchu repertoire.

Re-Enter Fu Manchu_Cover

Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu (Part 1)

Posted in Lee & Cushing with tags , on June 29, 2015 by monsterminions

When the late Sir Christopher Lee is mentioned we immediately think of Count Dracula —the role he is forever linked to. However, he also portrayed other notorious literary villains. In celebration of Christopher Lee’s career, I’ll be taking a look at five of his films where he played the nefarious Sax Rohmer character and criminal genius Dr. Fu Manchu (first appearing in the novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu / The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, 1913).  The Lee movie series spanned from 1965, beginning with The Face of Fu Manchu and ended in 1969 with the The Castle of Fu Manchu.  I don’t entirely agree with most critics (and C. Lee) citing that the series progressively deteriorated. The final films directed by Jess Franco (to be reviewed in Part 3) are colorful campy fun.  In Part 2, I’ll take a look at the disappointing The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967). Starting the retrospective, let’s take a look at TFOFM (1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966).

The Face of Fu Manchu_Titles

I saw someone beheaded…

Commissioner Nayland Smith, Scotland Yard

TFOFM opens with the title character being beheaded in front of Nayland Smith. Later, we even see Fu Manchu’s death mask. It reminds me of the time 007 (Sean Connery) got swiss-cheesed in a roll-up bed in the opening moments of You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond film with an oriental setting.  TFOFM plays a lot like a Bond film, with diabolical villains and dashing heroes, dames in distress, kidnappings, escapism, rappelling monks, secret tunnels, weapons of mass destruction, action, globe-trotting, fancy cars and even a water-torture device.  Lee’s Fu Manchu is reminiscent of Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No —a role Ian Flemming recommended for Christopher Lee.

In the novel, Dr. No stole a million in gold from the Tongs, but they caught him and chopped off his hands, but Dr. No survived a shot to the heart, due to his affliction with Dextrocardia.  Lee played another Chinese villain and leader of the Red Dragon Tongs in the underrated The Terror of the Tongs (1961), which likely inspired casting of Lee as Fu Manchu. Coincidentally, a red dragon tapestry appears in Fu Manchu’s lair in TFOFM.

TFOFM has a terrific international cast. Interesting, actresses Karin Dor and Tsai Chin both appear in You Only Live Twice and TFOFM, with Chin reprising her role as Fu Manchu’s evil daughter Lin Tang in all of the Lee Fu Manchu films. Early on we are introduced to long-time Fu Manchu advisaries Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) and Nayland Smith of the Scotland Yard, played with vibrant gusto by South African actor Nigel Green (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963), who incidentally would have made a terrific Sherlock Holmes. Smith’s performance makes this one of the best of the entire series.

TFOFM has a fine story with Petrie and Smith investigating strange strangulation deaths by way of prayer scarfs linked to Dacoits and other Fu Manchu tomfoolery, culminating in the discovery of the virulent Tibetan “Black Hill” poppy toxin soon to be unleashed upon Western civilization.  I also like producer/writer Harry Alan Towers’ (Count Dracula, 1970) screenplay. Case-in-point: Carl Jannsen’s (Joachim Fuchsberger -who looks and sounds a lot like James Mason) escape from the Dacoits is all the more believable because earlier on we see him giving Nayland Smith his cookies.  Both scenes are superbly choreographed fight sequences with interesting photography worthy of a Bond film.

Here we have Lin Tang consulting with her father….

The evil Lin Tang and Fu Manchu

TFOFM was helmed by veteran director Don Sharp (1921-2001), who is recognized by horror and sci-fan fans for The Kiss of the Vampire (1963), Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), Curse of the Fly (1965) and others. He worked with Christopher Lee a total of six times, including the film Dark Places (1973), which I have never seen, and the Jimmy Sangster-penned The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), where Lee plays an eye-patched pirate captain! Christopher Lee enjoyed working with Sharp and described him as a “really brilliant chap who will soon do great things” and “[He] did a wonderful job directing. I’ve been fortunate in my association with him…” However, Lee wasn’t so happy about the dreary Irish weather  which was “damp and cold” resulting in a painful inner ear infection, and makeup appliances which were “unbearable. It took a minimum of three hours for my eyes”. (Johnson & Miller, 2004).

Here Fu Manchu has his hand on a valve that unleashes the Thames River into an iron water torture device.  Biochemist Professor Muller (Walter Rilla) and daughter (Karin Dor) are held restrained in horror….

Christopher Lee_Face of Fu Manchu

It’s a shame that Nigel Green didn’t reprise his role in any other Fu Manchu films.  Next to Peter Cushing he might have been one of Lee’s greatest foes.  Green comes across as competent and resourceful.  He’s a cerebral character, but also handles his own as a rugged field operative. Remember Green as Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts (1963)?  As film historian Danny Peary (Cult Movies, 1981) points out “Hercules, too, is portrayed (well, I think, by Nigel Green) as a man of believable strength and physical proportions” and “not as a musclebound hero but a man of average build who relies on his wits rather than his brawn.”

Nigel Green as Nayland Smith_Face of Fu Manchu

My print of TFOFM comes from a WB Archive Collection DVD. This is a no frills pressing presented in a wide angle letterboxed format.  The print is acceptable (better than countless bootlegs I’ve fallen victim to), but nothing to write home about, with a few minor splice jumps early on. The audio sounds fine through an Oppo BPD-103D player and Samsung HDTV. Continue reading

Coming Soon!

Posted in Miscellania on June 25, 2015 by monsterminions

I finally tracked down all of the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films! I think it’s time for a little tribute. 

RIP Patrick Macnee

Posted in RIP, TV with tags on June 25, 2015 by monsterminions

  

Body of Prey (1966), aka The Revenge of Doctor X / Revenge of the Venus Flytrap (1970)

Posted in Bad Films I Love with tags , , , on June 23, 2015 by monsterminions

Your father will be the rain! Your powers are lighting!

FLYTRAP

Wait a minute! This title credit isn’t from 1966 or 1970… This was done with a computer! What gives?

Oh my.  This is a hard one to write about.

About every ten years or so I discover a film so bad I am mesmerized and left stunned that such a film actually exists.  These are the films with inept dialogue, out of focus or poorly composed photography, terrible acting, poor production values and direction by people better suited for selling fertilizer.  In the 70’s I discovered The Incredible Petrified World (1957), which is my vote for the most boring film ever made. In the 80’s, brothers Medved introduced me to Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Robot Monster (1953), which are terrible films but at least entertaining. In the 90’s, I watched Bio-Drome (1996), which my dad called the worst movie he had ever seen — “El grande stencho“!”

Along the way I was introduced to a film called Manos: The Hand of Fate (1966), which was actually a government experiment levied upon the public to induce and assess narcolepsy in movie-goers. The millenium opened with Battlefield Earth (2000), which is my vote for the worst expensive film ever made, and Road to Perdition (2002), which along with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), the only films I have ever walked out on.  Now, in 2015, I discover Revenge of the Venus Flytrap (1970) on an Alpha Home Entertainment double bill DVD with Larry Buchanon’s In the Year 2889 (1967).  Revenge of the Flytrap?  What the hell is this?  Alpha notes the film was written by the notorious Edward D. Wood, Jr.  I quickly forked out $10 to one of Ron Adams henchman and was the proud owner of perhaps the all-time worst DVD double-bill ever pressed.

FLYTRAP ALL THE WAY FROM NORTH CAROLINAThe film stars James Craig (The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941; The Cyclops, 1957), who looks and barks like Richard Boone with a dash of pencil-thin mustached Lon Chaney, circa mid-1940’s Universal Inner Sanctum series.  Craig plays Dr. Alex Bragan, a high-strung rocket scientist who takes his boss’s advice and takes a break with a trip to North Carolina and later to Japan.  While in North Carolina he digs up (in a cattail marsh!) a Venus Flytrap specimen and carts it back home. There he nurtures it and takes it on a trip to Japan, where he expands his vacation as a mad scientist botanist who splices a Venus Flytrap with a Japanese marine flytrap (WTF) and some of his own blood and there you go.
BABY FLYTRAP

Before I get too far, I should point out that you won’t find an IMDb entry for “Body of Prey” (the films original title) or “Revenge of Doctor X” or “Revenge of the Venus Flytrap” (Alpha’s concocted title) or “The Double Garden” yet another release name. It is listed on IMDb as Venus Flytrap. There’s not much written about it, but internet sleuthing and a fine review by Dave Sindelar on the MKCHF, reveals the film’s rich and confusing production history.  Frankly, I am amazed it reached a DVD pressing.  I don’t know if this was penned by Ed Wood, Jr or not and it really doesn’t matter. This film is BAD anyway you look at it. Basically this piece of crap sat in a warehouse and was never finished. After being found (a found footage film!) various releases in the public domain were cut claiming different “talents” with artistic provenance (“directed by Eddie Romero”).  The dialogue is so strange I wouldn’t be surpised if the film is traced back to Wood —”Unless I miss my guess, my creation is so powerful now it could devour anything….”

FLYTRAP_GIANT PLANT

About the only thing noteworthy in this film is a few shots of topless Japanese diver girls and one insanely inept monster that looks like an onion blossom with dreadlocks on a human torso with red catchers gloves for hands. Wow.

FLYTRAP_NUDES

Still, Revenge of the Venus Fly Trap is a lot of fun, playing like a twisted amalgamation of Day of the Triffids, The Bride of Frankenstein, Mutations, Zaat (1971), and The Terror Beneath the Sea (1966). But don’t for a minute think that this makes for a good film. Don’t bite on this tantalizing image of a monster with an inverted rutabaga for a head. Don’t you do it. Don’t buy this DVD HERE for $5.99.

FLYTRAP_HEAD

Eat that goat!

FLYTRAP_EAT THE GOATFlytrap! Top 10 worst films ever made.

Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer), 1952

Posted in Cult Movies, Fantasy / Tolkien with tags , on June 22, 2015 by monsterminions

The White Reindeer_Titles

I have a soft spot for Scandinavian fantasy films, including recent films Troll Hunter (Norway, 2010), a wickedly satirical monster romp and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland, 2010), which the late Roger Ebert described as “an original, daring, carefully crafted film”, and older gems like Reptilicus (1961)(a guilty pleasure for me), and the inept Space Invasion of Lapland (aka Terror in the Midnight Sun/Invasion of the Animal People (Sweden, 1959), featuring a monster that looks like and predates Chewbacca.

With striking high contrast black and white photography and stark snowy landscapes, Valkoinen Peura (literally White Deer)(Finland, 1952) looks like a film that should appear in one of Danny Peary’s Cult Movie books. Yet, there is little written about the film and I see no mention of it in too many book on film to mention.  Somehow I missed it and only recently discovered the film through Ron Adam’s Creepy Classics archive.  Actually the film was well-received in 1952, and was later entered into competition at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and earned a special award for Best Fairy-Tale Film.

TWR_Landscape

In Finland, it garnered three Jussi Award winners for Best Actress (Mirjami Kousmanen), Best Cinematography (Erik Blomberg) and Music (Einar Englund).  Eventually when the film reached the United States, it was one of five films to win the 1957 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.  As of June 2015, IMDb gives the film a 7.1/10.  In tone The White Reindeer is closer in spirit to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), with pagan rituals, witchcraft and ancient ways, as opposed to the horrific resurrection themes explored in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960).

We have a linear story —a woman is born a witch, she falls in love and marries a Reindeer herder, while he travels she grows lonely, she sees a shaman or Noaidi who advises her poorly, she becomes a shapeshifter and she is unknowingly hunted by the man who  loves her. Along the way we see beautiful images composed to a haunting score.

When I initially glanced at the DVD-R case, the shadowy images of the lead woman reminded me of several Italian vampire films, including Black Sunday.  However, The White Reindeer is not really a horror film.  From the opening shots through a blurry lens we are led into the dreamy world of fairy tale.  We have Cocteau with a dash of Gunnar Fischer on camera. By comparison, The White Reindeer is closer to Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) than any of the Hammer horror productions.

TWR_Vampire

TWR_Fangs

Yet, there are vampire elements in the film, including shapeshifting, a girl with fangs (we never see a bite on the neck), a blood sacrifice, a pagan altar, and fabrication of an iron lancet by an artesian seeking to destroy the beast.  The film evokes Sámi Shamanism which emphasizes veneration of the dead and importance of natural objects such as rocks, trees, and plants.

The White Reindeer was directed by former documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Erik Blomberg.  At the time he filmed this movie he was married to Mirjami Kuosmanen, and he lovingly photographs her in several closeups.   She does indeed look a little bit like English actress Andrée Melly (Brides of Dracula, 1960), as indicated on the DVD-R liner notes.

A Sieidis… a focal place for Sámi Shamanism and a place of animal (Reindeer) sacrifice….

Sieidis

 

The White Reindeer….

The White Reindeer_1

This is a haunting film and a rare movie-going experience.  If you like Bergman or Cocteau give it a shot. Others might get bored and wonder what the hype was about.

FINNISH MYTHOLOGY

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