U.K. - West Germany | 1966
Directed by Don Sharp
Christopher Lee
Douglas Wilmer
Heinz Drache
| 94 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD

Double Feature Disc / R1 - NTSC

Warner Home Video
Dialog from the film
Faceoff with Fu!
MP3 format - 0.9 MB
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Warner 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.
One 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.

Unlike 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.) Brides 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' aspect ratio.