Sunday, 23 January 2011



Hopefully this will be my last Jess Franco movie. I know there are still plenty out there for me to wade through - I've now seen 32 and the IMDb lists getting on for 200 - but in all honesty I've had enough of his cack-handed techniques: the crash zooms into nothing in particular, the lousy acting, the overwhelming, all-consuming dullness, the rotten musical scores, the total lack of interest in story or character or dialogue. Even when he's constrained by something approaching a plotline and he's not allowed to just ramble randomly, he still can't make anything of it. There are a couple of other titles on my rentals queue but I'm not desperate to see them any time soon.

The Fu Manchu franchise of the 1960s had already enjoyed three generally acceptable outings, but Franco's first contribution to the series, The Blood Of Fu Manchu, was mainly terrible and it has to be said that things do not improve noticeably, if at all, with 1968's The Castle Of Fu Manchu, a frankly lacklustre entry which at the very least has the mighty Sir Christopher Lee once more putting on the droopy moustache and colourful Oriental robes as the legendary master criminal. This time he's working on a device that can turn water into ice and threatens the entire Earth with destruction unless they submit to his rule. Except that his machine apparently doesn't work properly so he kidnaps a doctor to keep the scientist alive long enough to give him the formula for the crystals that blah blah blah whatever.

It's cheap, dull and nonsensical. The best bits are actually a ship sinking and a dam bursting - both of which are swiped wholesale from other films (in the case of the pre-credits sinking, it's A Night To Remember tinted blue). Howard Marion Crawford is back again as genial old buffer Dr Petrie, and Tsai Chin again looks fabulous as Fu Manchu's evil daughter, but the Turkish locations are drab and it's never close to exciting. Then there's the outlandish lighting scheme which is positively Argentoesque in its use of dazzling bright colours. But while the opening to Suspiria grabs you so hard that you never stop to wonder where all that coloured light was coming from, much of this film is so thoroughly duff that you spend the time wondering why Fu Manchu insisted on having green, red and purple lights in all his underground tunnels.

Whether it's significantly better or worse than The Blood Of Fu Manchu is tricky although frankly irrelevant - it's like deciding which horse you'd prefer to be kicked in the head by. This one has much more of Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) in it, and it doesn't spend whole reels with sweaty jungle bandits. On the other hand, Fu's scheme for this movie is badly thought out and is also clearly scientifically impossible. The ending is too abrupt and unsatisfying, as Fu's hideout suddenly blows up very cheaply yet again; it's clear they simply didn't have the resources to do very much at all. Yes, it's always good to see Christopher Lee in pretty much anything (he's pretty much down to cough-and-a-spit deathbed scenes these days) and he's pretty much the only reason to see it (and the only reason it gets a second star), but the film is not a fraction as much fun as it needs to be. And the final voiceover, "the world will hear from me again", proved untrue as, apart from a Peter Sellers spoof, the world had indeed heard the last of Fu Manchu. A shame it was in the hands of Jess Franco.


You can inflict both of Jess' contributions upon yourself here:

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