BRIDES OF FU MANCHU
= Highest Rating
Home Video caught some flak this year when the company finally
released a number of long-requested catalog titles, but as "Best
Buy exclusives" —
the DVDs could be purchased only via that particular retail
chain. Problem was, the titles often weren't carried at many
Best Buy stores and were frequently listed as out of stock on
their website. Fortunately this rather odd marketing strategy
was amended with the wide release of these discs two months
after they appeared at (some) Best Buy outlets. Last week, on
December 9, the Warner Horror Double Feature DVDs issued
to BB in October were made available everywhere.
of the new Horror Double Feature discs pairs two movies
from 1966, Chamber of Horrors and
The Brides of Fu Manchu. A somewhat
unusual double bill, it must be said, considering that the latter
— the subject of this review — is definitely NOT a horror film...
It's a pulpy period adventure containing minor sci-fi elements,
the second of five features to star Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's
indestructible Asian supervillain. All of these '60s Fu flicks
were produced and written by European B-movie impresario Harry
Alan Towers (under the pseudonym "Peter Welbeck" in
the latter capacity), who should've realized the jig was up
well before handing directorial duties to Jess Franco
for series entries # 4 (The
Blood of Fu Manchu) and 5 (the astoundingly awful Castle
of Fu Manchu).
Now the only thing
worse than an indestructible supervillain, of course, is an
indestructible supervillain with a world-menacing superweapon.
In Brides the malefic mandarin
has constructed a huge underground power station amid the ruins
of an ancient temple in North Africa's Atlas Mountains. His
scheme is to send concentrated bursts of energy to remote wireless
stations, positioned near designated targets around the world,
which can then 'broadcast' this energy as a pulse of incredibly
destructive force — more or less a kind of sonic death ray.
To perfect and build the sending/receiving apparatus Fu forms
an involuntary brain trust of the world's top scientists, kidnapping
their daughters (the titular "brides") and threatening
the women with torture and death if cooperation isn't forthcoming.
Naturally Fu plans to strike first at England, home of his archenemy,
Scotland Yard commissioner Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer). An
international arms conference is to be convened in London, bringing
together the high-ranking generals and admirals of all the major
powers — in a single blow their military leadership would be
effectively decapitated. With his death ray so shockingly demonstrated
to the world, Fu can then announce his terms for global capitulation...
To be perfectly honest
I must admit to not being completely objective about this movie.
If I weren't such a big fan of Christopher Lee and the Fu Manchu
character (one of the all-time great pulp villains), I'd probably
have given it a lower Film Rating of "4". While Brides
isn't badly made — journeyman director Don Sharp (The
Devil-Ship Pirates, Kiss
of the Vampire) was too solid a talent for that, even when
working on budget-starved projects — it's rather ill-served
by a talky, cliché-riddled script overpopulated with extraneous
characters. Special effects range from cheesy to poor; some
nice 1920s period detail is offset by the cheap, TV show-quality
sets used for Fu's lair, both above and below ground. Attempts
to add a dash of lurid sensationalism come off as merely quaint,
even silly. Clearly relishing an opportunity to play the hero,
Douglas Wilmer (The
Vampire Lovers) makes a good Nayland Smith, but as a man
of action he's less believable than the dynamic Nigel Green,
who preceded him in the role in 1965's The
Face of Fu Manchu. Wilmer's major fight scene, in
which he thwarts a kidnapping at a hospital, is horribly botched
by the use of a stunt man who looks nothing like him.
Letdowns aside, there
are at least two things Brides
improves on in comparison to its predecessor: Lee's 'Oriental'
eye makeup is noticeably better, and Fu's dacoit henchmen are
actually played by real Asian actors this time. Ultimately it
is Lee's sinister, imposing presence that makes the picture
work (for fans like me, anyway), along with the returning Tsai
Chin as Fu's sexy but coldly sadistic daughter, Lin Tang.
As of this writing,
the first (and easily best) Lee/Fu flick, The
Face of Fu Manchu, remains unreleased on R1 DVD, which
makes this particular double bill even more inexplicable. The
rights to Face are also controlled
by Warner, so why not issue it and its sequel Brides
as a "Thriller" or "Adventure" double feature?
Oh well. Too late for that now.
MGM's beloved Midnite Movie line, these new Warner double
feature discs aren't "flippers" —
one doesn't have to eject the DVD and reload it to play the second
film. Unfortunately there are zippo extras included, not even
trailers. (Nor did they bother with basic scene selection screens.)
of Fu Manchu
sports an anamorphic 1.85 transfer taken from an 'as is' print;
there's some minor damage and speckling is noticeable throughout,
although colors are nice and natural-looking and detail sharp.*
The mono audio track is fine within its inherent limitations.
Distortion-free, there are no pops, crackles or dropouts and dialog
is always clear. (For its part, Chamber
of Horrors —
a handsomely mounted wax museum/psycho killer yarn undermined
by perhaps the most pointless, ineffective gimmicks in fright
flick history ["The Horror Horn" and "Fear Flasher"]
looks absolutely marvelous, with similarly pleasing audio.) 12/17/08
Don’t be alarmed by the condition of the film’s first minute.
This footage was lifted from the conclusion of Face,
which was shot 2.35:1, to create a pre-titles sequence. Thus it
was blown up and (badly) cropped to fit Brides'