Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu (Part 3)
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.
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.
In the end, we see yet another explosion and Fu Manchu exclaims:
The world shall hear from me again….
And, Fu Manchu does return!
Jess Franco’s second Fu Manchu entry is only a slight improvement from TBOFM, but for some reason I like it and rank it a notch below TVOFM (who Tim Lucas calls “perhaps the best of the bunch”). I like the cartoonish feel and I wonder if Franco played some of it for laughs. I realize that I’m sticking my neck out much like Danny Peary did suggesting that Plan 9 from Outer Space was “significant” and Ed Wood was “critical of America’s government”. However, I like the look of this film with colorful laboratory scenes, and TCOFM uses striking scenery in Isanbul and Barcelona and has a wacky story with Fu Manchu figuring out a weapon using get this —crystals derived from opium poppies, to render sea water into ice, testing it on purloined footage of the R.M.S. Titanic in A Night to Remember (1959). After his display of power Fu Manchu gives the world two weeks to ante up or else.
Ha! Who writes this stuff? Answer: Jess Franco and Harry Alan Tower. Johnson & Miller (2004) called it “perhaps the most badly written and contrived film Christopher Lee has ever made”. It’s so bizarre that Joel Hodgson and friends spoofed it on MST3K (note the poor quality of the MST3K print, which doesn’t help reviews of this film).
Lee and Chin still delivered even though Chin noted for the fifth time around she didn’t bother reading the script (Johnson & Miller, 2004). Lee noted that he enjoyed Barcelona.
Here’s a cameo by Jess Franco as General Hamid….
The Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films are genre crossovers or hybrids. They’re not horror films. The MGM Karloff vehicle The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) certainly is horror, but the color films fall under crime-mystery-suspense with a dash of action. I’d rate them as follows:
- The Face of Fu Manchu
- The Brides of Fu Manchu, close second
- The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, distinct drop by the third film
- The Castle of Fu Manchu, Good for Laughs
- The Blood of Fu Manchu, for completists and Lee fans