Friday, March 25, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny,* (2) *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

For years I've heard it said that the last two "Christopher Lee" Fu Manchu films, both directed by Jesus Franco, were either (1) equally abominable, or (2) that the fifth in the series was the utter rock-bottom of the series.

That both are very bad, un-entertaining films should go without saying, and there's not much question that both director Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers (who made some contributions to both scripts) were merely grinding out the works without even keeping the illusion of doing a good job. The previous three films gave Chris Lee at least minimal opportunities to portray his stern, perpetually obsessed version of the devil-doctor, but here all of the actors largely walk though the proceedings with no particular focus or passion. A slight exception might be made for Richard Greene, who portrayed Fu's nemesis Nayland Smith in these final flicks. He has next to nothing to do in BLOOD, the most execrable of the lot, but at least CASTLE gives the former TV-Robin Hood some chances to swash a few buckles again.

BLOOD OF FU MANCHU is probably less descriptive of the film's content than alternate title KISS AND KILL, but either is better than the title under which I saw my first TV-print, AGAINST ALL ODDS. The script, credited in part to both Towers and Franco, involves Fu and his dacoits finding their way to a hidden city in the Amazon jungle. Along with them they take several beautiful women, all Caucasian as I remember. Fu relates to his loyal daughter Lin Tang that the former inhabitants distilled one of the most virulent poisons of all time-- and then, without further explanation, Fu proceeds to have his henchmen expose one of the girls to the bite of a snake. Why an artificial poison, distilled by long-dead Incans, would be inside a bunch of modern-day serpents is a question that Towers and Franco cannot be bothered to answer. Perhaps Franco just liked the image of having women bitten by snakes, as opposed to the more logical method of syringe-injection.

In any case, somehow the snakebites transform the women into "poison maidens," able to live despite having an immense amount of poison in their systems, and also able to kill anyone they kiss. Fu's plan to send these women out to kill off various enemies makes little more sense than his face-changing plot from VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU, but at least the plot in BLOOD might have offered more sexy scenarios, had it delivered the spectacle of the poison maidens going forth and killing multiple victims with their lips. However, possibly because this was such a cheap production, none of this potential is realized.

The film does show how one of the maidens beards Nayland Smith in his English home, and gives him the deadly liplock. She dies in a subsequent car accident, but Nayland Smith does not, though he does lose his eyesight. It's implied that he will eventually kick off if he can't locate Fu's jungle hideout and obtain an antidote, but there's no guarantee that he will last just long enough to make this formidable journey and confront the maniacal mastermind-- though of course, that's exactly what does happen.

Actually, neither Nayland Smith nor Fu and his aides appear much in the picture, possibly because the director didn't have the actors' services for the full shoot. So Towers and Franco cobble together some B-stories concerning (1) an archaeologist whom Nayland Smith sent to ferret out Fu's Amazonian project (rather an ambitious goal for a non-policeman), and (2) a South American bandit leader. Both of these characters are as dull as dirt. About the only interesting character touch anyone gets is that Lin Tang-- who was given a slight lesbian persona in FACE OF FU MANCHU-- gets to slap around one of the defiant maidens. Maybe there was a "European cut" in which she did more than that. But given that Franco had a long history of making sexploitation films, it's amazing that there's not even a hint of sexiness in the TV-print.

Most of the film looks murky and unfocused, and though I'll admit that I watched a TV print, I tend to think that Franco-- who was capable of better work than this-- was just going through the motions. There isn't even a big Nayland-Fu confrontation. Somehow the Brit-cop figures out that the blood of a poison maiden-- which one might consider one the film's "blood of Fu Manchu"-- can cure him, and it does. The good guys manage to destroy the lost city, with the usual caveat that Fu will turn up again.

CASTLE OF FU MANCHU is only a modest improvement. It's true that Fu's final Towers-authored plan-- to force the world's surrender by using a a freeze-ray-- is illustrated by stock footage of icebergs and some clips from BRIDES OF FU MANCHU. But at least the idea of a freeze-ray sounds like a plan that might impress the leaders of the world.

In order to supply the usual plot-complicated, the devil-doctor needs a large supply of opium to fuel his ray. This is a silly notion, but it's better than snakes that somehow contain artificial poison in their venom. In addition, the scientist overseeing the freeze-ray suffers from a heart-problem, so Fu has to kidnap a heart specialist and his hot daughter in order to keep the scientist alive. And Fu also has a conflict with the local opium-lord in Anatolia, where the titular castle resides.

The proceedings aren't especially exciting-- not even when Nayland Smith infiltrates Fu's castle to free the evil mastermind's captives-- but at least one can tell what's going on from one scene to the next. As a small bonus, while the music in BLOOD was eminently forgettable, the score by Charles Camillieri has a pleasant faux-Middle Eastern flair to it, making it a little more possible to engage with the bland storyline.

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