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This film, almost impossible to find today, has received a bad rap since
day of release, and maybe before, since the distributors put it on the
bottom of a double bill with Lon Chaney's "Witchcraft." The temptation to
dismiss this film is strong, but its pedigree is impossible to ignore.
Genre master Terence Fisher is at the helm, during his unofficial
from Hammer Films; Ray Russell wrote the script; and the cast includes
Valentine Dyall from "Horror Hotel"/"City of the Dead", Andree Melly, one
the "Brides of Dracula" and British stalwart Dennis Price, just beginning
his flirtation with the horror genre.
So what went wrong?
The film's greatest offense is undoubtedly that it was made in black & white during the era when movies were going all-color in a big way. It's co-feature likewise; and that was a film that everyone liked and it still slipped into obscurity.
The casting of Pat Boone has stuck in the craws of many horror fans but, truthfully, he's as palatable as Tom Poston is in "Zotz" and 1963's "The Old Dark House". And Boone's boyish screen persona is just right for the kind of hapless hero he plays here. He does sing a totally unnecessary song, however.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this film is its similarity to two other films made about the same time: Hammer's "The Old Dark House", made the same year, and "What A Carve Up" (AKA "There's No Place Like Homicide") from 1962. The plot similarities, especially with the Hammer film, are so strong that it's a wonder how the persons concerned avoided lawsuits.
To call this modest British film low budget is the worst kind of
misrepresentation: the budget on creativity and skill at work here
that found in most multi-million dollar productions.
Filmed in stark black-and-white with virtually no visual effects, "Unearthly Stranger" relies on sheer dramatic power to tell its story of an alien plan to sabotage Earth's developing ability for space travel. The film is written and directed with care and performed with a conviction that brings across the suspense and humanity of this story in a way rarely seen in the genre.
Many of the filmmakers would soon be working on TV's "The Avengers", including producer Albert Fennell and director John Krish. Fans of that series will also recognize many familiar faces among the cast. The strongest performances come from John Neville, distinguished stage actor and teacher, and the almost-unknown and very beautiful Gabriella Licudi who, in the title role, brings the concept of interplanetary communications to an entirely new level.
The odd man out in this production is certainly scenarist Rex Carlton. On the basis of this film, it is almost inconceivable that he is the same man responsible for the lurid "Brain That Wouldn't Die" and "Blood of Dracula's Castle", among others. One is tempted to give credit to Jeffrey Stone, who penned the original screen story. But this is a claim that's impossible to support, because Stone was involved as a writer on no other films. So, one can only say that none of Carlton's other screen work would ever approach the level of this, his most subtle and affecting accomplishment.
It is well worth tracking down for any fan of fine science fiction or, indeed, any fan of quality filmmaking.
Based on several stories from the Book of Genesis, `The Bible' suffers from
the same problem encountered by most compilation films: maintaining interest
over what is basically a series of dramatically unconnected short stories.
Just about the time audience members become interested in a character or
plot, it's off to the next tale. Stretching the format over almost three
hours of running time does not help matters.
Compounding the problem is that the tales here---Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Noah, Sodom & Gomorrah and Abraham & Isaac---are so familiar to the type of person who will be interested in seeing the film, that the retelling of them should offer new insights. Directed at a respectful (read: lethargic) pace by John Huston, each story unfolds slowly, as if the filmmakers were so in awe of their subject that every movement bears the full weight of holy writ. The film is on for half an hour before Adam even bites the forbidden apple, and that's the first story (not counting the stock footage creation of the world).
Perhaps deliberately, the only tale that has any life in it at all is Noah, which stars Huston himself, who manages to imbue his character with quirky and charming life-like touches. Too bad he did not encourage his other actors to do the same. After Huston, the best performance in the film comes from George C. Scott, who brings the same kind of biblical brimstone to Abraham that Charlton Heston brought to Moses in the less faithful, but far livelier `The Ten Commandments'.
Although clearly well-intentioned, this Bible will please the devout, but not win any new converts. It's as deadly as a Sunday school class on a sunny day.
Hit and run independent film financier Harry Alan Towers made his bid for
the big time in 1965. Spending more money than he ever had (or would)
again, scouting attractive international locations, hiring respected
craftsmen and actors and launching a multi-million dollar publicity
to promote his pet project. "The Face of Fu Manchu", the unlikely
of all this attention, represents a plateau to which Towers would never
After publicly purchasing the pulp adventure novels of Sax Rohmer, Towers signed horror film icon Christopher Lee to a six-picture deal as the title menace. As director, Towers hired Don Sharp, maker of numerous elegant, effective horror films and probably the most talented director to put his name on a Towers contract. Writing the script himself under his nom de cinema Peter Welbeck, Towers ignored the plots of all the Rohmer novels and concocted his own. The film wisely retains the period setting of early-twentieth century London (which required shooting in Dublin, for the sake of authenticity), but alters the deductive tone of the books in favor of action sequences in the style of the James Bond films, which were then in their first flush of international success.
The finished film is beautiful to see, filmed in technicolor and cinemascope, it truly looks more expensive than it is. Encouraged, Towers launched an expensive international publicity campaign whose most notable stunt was wallpapering election-year New York City with oversized "Fu Manchu For Mayor" posters
In the end, "Face" failed to return enough money to justify the huge outlay spent in making and promoting it. The film seemed to please no one: fans of the series were outraged by the James Bondian gunplay, fights and car chases, while Bond fans were alienated by the period trappings (1920s cars just don't go that fast!). More likely, this type of film just did not have the potential to reach the mainstream audience needed to make it a success.
Although Towers continued the series, the films would steadily decline in quality, from the high point of "Face" to the home-movie calibre of the final entry, "Castle of Fu Manchu".
The fourth film in the revived Fu Manchu series from hit-and-run
international film producer Harry Alan Towers is the first one directed by
Jesus (Jess) Franco, a cult icon best known for the staggering quantity of
his films, as well as their usually appalling quality. In hindsight,
Towers and Franco were destined for each other. Both were specialists in
speedy international productions and each usually juggled more than one
project at a time.
"Fu Manchu's Kiss of Death" (the shooting title) was filmed back-to-back (or perhaps simultaneously) with the next film in the series "The Castle of Fu Manchu" and shows evidence of having been written on the fly. The script is loosely constructed and constantly sidetracks itself with multiple subplots and far too many characters. The most intrusive involves the a South American bandit chief, whose protracted exploits take up so much screen time that viewers just walking in would think they were in the wrong theater. Probably designed to show off the Brazilian exteriors, it is tempting to say that these sequences look like rejected scenes from "The Wild Bunch", but that would be giving Franco's footage too much credit.
As evidence that Towers was not above ripping off himself, the film opens with a sequence that is a remake of the opening of "Brides of Fu Manchu", with women chained to pillars in an underground hideaway. As in "Brides", one is led to a snake pit but, instead of being lowered in, she is gingerly bitten in the throat by one, thereby becoming the carrier of the title's kiss of death. The contrast between the lighting, staging and sets in these two sequences gives ample testimony of how low the series had fallen in just two years.
The ever-present Maria Rohm (AKA Mrs. Harry Alan Towers) shows up as a jungle missionary wearing a gaucho hat and red leotards. She gets involved in yet another subplot about a proto-Indiana Jones leading a medical expedition. Apparently, this plotline exists only to provide the hero, afflicted with the death kiss, with a miraculous cure at the last minute.
While the rest of the cast was having fun in the Brazilian jungles, stars Christopher Lee and Richard Greene never leave the studio in Madrid, Spain that was home to all the film's interiors. Guest star Shirley Eaton appears in one brief scene that appears to be an outtake from one of the two Su-Muru films she was making for Towers at the time. (The second was also directed by Franco.)
It's hard to believe that this film (retitled "Kiss and Kill") got major USA playdates in 1968 as a solo feature.
The film that was to be the final entry in the new Fu Manchu series from
international quickie film financier Harry Alan Towers made its belated
theatrical appearance four years after it was made. In the USA, it played
the bottom of the bill on the drive-in theater circuits. It crept into
theaters sheepishly, victim of the commercial and critical thrashing given
to its predecessor. The word in fan circles was that "Castle of Fu Manchu"
was a new low, even worse than what had come before. It would be years
before many of these same fans were able to see the film, which rapidly
disappeared into obscurity until resurrected from its public domain limbo by
the home video market. This film's non-performance at the world's box
offices effectively killed the series: the contracted sixth Fu manchu film
was never made.
On a technical level, "Castle" is a notch below even the low standards established by its predecessor. The shadows of the camera crew are visible in some scenes. Director Jess Franco's chronic zoom photography is more annoying and lazy here. Parts of the film are so technically shoddy, they barely achieve the level of the average home movie. The most professional scene in the film is a dolly shot of Maria Perschy crossing a Madrid street, and this was filmed by the second unit!
However, because its script is slightly better, this film can arguably be ranked above "Blood of Fu Manchu", although few fans would risk their credibility defending either film. At least "Castle" is concerned with Fu Manchu's current plot to conquer the world and does not pad out its running time with irrelevant subplots. What it does use for padding is stock footage. For its opening sequence, "Castle" lifts the entire climax of "Brides of Fu Manchu" and, incredibly, extends this sequence with footage of the Titanic from the 1958 film "A Night to Remember"! Using stock footage to supplement stock footage is either brashly clever or establishes a new standard of cheapness.
Perhaps the ultimate snub to the film came from the producer himself, who kept his wife Maria Rohm out of the cast.
The second film in producer Harry Alan Towers' Fu Manchu series is the only
one to be filmed entirely in England, and went before the cameras only one
month after "The Face of Fu Manchu" premiered in the USA. This compact
little thriller is harmed by some last-minute cost saving measures, made in
response to the disappointing boxoffice returns of the first film. It was
not filmed in cinemascope and was processed in eastmancolor, the cheaper
cousin of technicolor. The resulting film is dark and actually ugly-looking
at times; its predominant color is washed-out red.
Choosing to emphasize the sexual aspects of his story, Towers arranged an international beauty contest to find the world's most beautiful women to play the title roles. The contest, held after the film was already finished, was a publicity ploy to generate interest in the film as it sat on the shelf for almost one year before release. The "brides" were actually actresses and models, cast through standard agencies and for their willingness to appear in nude scenes for the racier European version.
A lesser film than "Face", "Brides" is still an acceptable diversion, especially considering the nosedive the series would take after this. It would be director Don Sharp's last film in the series, and his considerable contribution would become evident after his departure.
This is the third film in the revived Fu Manchu series from hit-and-run
international film financier Harry Alan Towers. It represents yet another
step down in this steadily deteriorating series. Towers' first mistake was
in replacing director Don Sharp with Jeremy Summers, a TV-director whose
only other theatrical credit was Gerry & the Pacemakers' feature "Ferry
Cross the Mersey". His next mistake was filming in less-than ideal
international locations, a characteristic of most of Towers' subsequent
Filmed in Hong Kong, the film manages to pass up every opportunity for location flavor; the cramped film could have been made on any soundstage in the world. For reasons unknown, Summers chose to shoot with live sound on Hong Kong's non-soundproofed stages and, in the sceneof a delicate medical operation conducted, supposedly, in the bowels of a Tibetan temple, construction noises and traffic sounds are clearly audible.
The part of nominal star Christopher Lee is essentially an extended cameo. Instead, the film highlights Maria Rohm, Towers' German-born wife, who has never made a film for anyone but her husband. Here, she has one of her showiest roles as a nightclub singer, wearing a variety of glamorous costumes and lip syncing two awful songs performed on the soundtrack by Samantha Jones.
Ironically, this would be the only film in the series given USA release through a major distributor: Warner Brothers. But they held it low regard: a number of release prints were struck in black and white and it played on the bottom half of a double bill with "The Shuttered Room".
Ken Russell's films are interesting even when they fail, except perhaps for
this misconceived production, made in reaction to the sugary romanticism of
"Pretty Woman". Russell wants to show the world of urban prostitution
without rose-colored glasses, and so fills his film with every kind of
unpleasant person and situation imaginable.
But too much in this film works against its attempted realism. Based on a play, the film employs lots of monologues spoken directly to the camera. Theresa Russell, usually a fine actress, overacts throughout here and seems uncomfortable (and unfamiliar) with the constant flow of filthy language she is required to speak. Russell photographs this world of moral squalor in gaudy, brightly-lit colors. Within this context, many of the sexual situations play like deliberate parodies, or bad "Saturday Night Live" skits.
With a film working so hard against itself, the end result becomes a bigger cartoon than the film it set out to debunk. "Whore" is probably the best cinematic argument possible against employing negative reasons as artistic inspiration.
This inoffensive little film, made as a clone of AIP's beach-party films, is
less affected than some entries in the official series and is notable for
being told from the female's point of view for a change.
The plot is forgettable fluff, but the film features more beautiful actresses on one beach than AIP could ever muster. The cast includes several familiar faces from television, including a grown-up Noreen Corcoran (from "Bachelor Father") and Lori Saunders (here billed as Linda Saunders and soon bound for "Petticoat Junction").
Music fans are also in for a treat: the film features the most extensive Beach Boys performance in any feature film, as well as appearances by Lesley Gore and the post-Buddy Holly Crickets.
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