Cast & Crew
From his Brazilian underground fortress, which is protected by a group of dacoits, archvillain Fu Manchu dispatches 10 native women, each injected with a deadly snake poison, to give their kiss of death to Fu Manchu's enemies, among them some of the world's most powerful figures. Celeste goes to London to assassinate Fu Manchu's longtime rival, Inspector Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard, but she succeeds only in blinding him and is run down by a truck while attempting to flee. As Inspector Smith and his colleague, pathologist Dr. Petrie, prepare to go to South America to find a cure for Smith and to destroy Fu Manchu, the archvillain turns his attention to renegade bandit and gang leader Sancho Lopez. Fu Manchu captures him and through torture extracts the bandit's promise to kill Smith. The treacherous Fu Manchu sends Carmen, who has been injected with the snake poison, with Sancho; her instructions are to kill Sancho once he has killed Smith. Carl Jansen, an undercover agent for Smith, joins Ursula, a nurse ministering to the natives, and they rendezvous with Smith and Dr. Petrie to decide how to destroy Fu Manchu. Carl, Dr. Petrie, and Ursula set off into the jungle, leaving Smith behind. Ursula and Dr. Petrie are captured by Sancho and taken to Fu Manchu's underground headquarters, but Carmen frees them. Ursula, Dr. Petrie, and Carmen hurry back to Smith when it is learned that Carmen's blood may contain an antidote with which to cure Smith's blindness. A transfusion is effected; Smith is cured; and he and Dr. Petrie return to the underground fortress to rescue Carl, who, having rigged the fortress with dynamite charges, has been overpowered by dacoits. Smith frees Carl, and they and Petrie light the dynamite charges. A series of explosions destroys the fortress, but from the rubble comes the voice of Fu Manchu promising that the world will hear from him again.
Loni Von Friedl
Isaura De Oliviera
Commonwealth United Corp.
Manfred R. Franco
Manfred R. Köhler
The Christopher Lee Collection
Three of the films in The Christopher Lee Collection are directed by Jess Franco, beginning with The Blood of Fu Manchu, the third entry in the series nobody wanted. Unlike the look of the financially strapped, shot-on-the-fly films he made in the post-70s, the two Fu Manchu features and The Bloody Judge show Franco working with a slightly higher budget, cast and crew than he's used to and the results are much closer to a mainstream commercial release than you'd ever expect from him. The downside is that these films also lack some of the unexpected wildness, perversity and artistic affectations of his best work (Eugenie (1970), Succubus, 1968, The Diabolical Dr. Z, 1966).
The Blood of Fu Manchu (first released in the U.S. in an edited form called Kiss and Kill) is arguably the weakest entry in the collection and comes across like one of those subpar James Bond imitations that flooded the film market in the early sixties. Filmed on location in Spain and Brazil, the movie does feature some stunning location work and has a great premise that is never fully realized - ten women are abducted and forced to serve as assassins for Fu Manchu's worst enemies. Their initiation isn't pretty; they are bitten by a poisonous snake and then transfer the snake's deadly venom to their victims by kissing. Absurd? You betcha. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough viper bites or poisonous kisses on display. There are way too many scenes of Fu's various female slaves literally "hanging around" their dank cells, suspended from their chains, and a subplot involving a sleazy revolutionary named Sancho Lopez is completely uninteresting. On the other hand, Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger, 1964) pops up unexpectedly in a brief cameo (listen to her comments about this in the featurette, "The Rise of Fu Manchu"!), Tsai Chin as Fu's evil daughter is amusing (though her performance mainly consists of slapping the hell out of the female extras), and there are moments of droll British humor. One favorite bit occurs when a bound English prisoner of Fu's complains, "My tea is in my thermos on my back and I can't get at it. It's getting cold and I need it." No matter how dire the circumstances, teatime must be observed at all costs!
A slight improvement over The Blood of Fu Manchu, though not by much, is The Castle of Fu Manchu which includes some nice location work in Istanbul and Barcelona and Eurotrash regular Rosalba Neri (Amuck, 1972) in a fun supporting role as a cross-dressing assassin for Fu who eventually becomes his prey. The storyline is a lot more outlandish in this fourth entry and details the arch villain's attempts to conquer the world with an invention that can turn water to ice. How this is supposed to bring every nation to its knees is never explained but we do get to see Fu sink a ship with a newly created iceberg; the destruction that follows are film clips lifted directly from the 1958 Titanic drama, A Night to Remember. Most of the film is a predictable game of cat and mouse between Fu and his nemesis, Scotland Yard inspector Nayland-Smith (Richard Greene), but the often inane, slapdash quality of it is redeemed by the striking day-glo colors (psychedelic greens and purples), cheesy special effects (the flooding of Fu's underground caves) and a cameo by Jess Franco himself as a Turkish police chief. Unfortunately, Lee, due to the very nature of the role and buried beneath mounds of makeup, is not a very threatening presence in manner or appearance and it's curious why he chose to continue in the series after the first one, The Face of Fu Manchu (1965).
A much more intriguing though minor role for him is Circus of Fear, where he plays a mysterious lion tamer (who remains hidden beneath a hood for most of the film!). Despite the lurid DVD packaging, this is a murder mystery, not a horror film, and the film opens with an armored car robbery and the criminal mastermind fleeing and taking refuge with a circus on winter hiatus. But life under the big top offers no safety net with various circus employees spying on, blackmailing and murdering each other. When a police inspector (Leo Genn) comes sniffing around in search of the stolen loot, the body count starts to go up. Overall, Circus of Fear is a fast paced, entertaining programmer that distinguishes itself from other carnival-based thrillers due to its eccentric casting, a fairly tense knife-throwing sequence and some colorful footage with live animal acts. Directed by John Moxey (The City of the Dead), the movie is certainly not an essential title in Lee's filmography but it's nice to see that Blue Underground has restored the color film to its original length and title after being exhibited for years on television in a black and white version called Psycho-Circus that runs only 65 minutes.
All of the above three titles are available for purchase individually but the final selection in The Christopher Lee Collection - The Bloody Judge - is only available with the purchase of the boxed set. Known in some quarters as Night of the Blood Monster (talk about a desperate attempt to attract audiences!) and distributed in various countries with three different endings, this is the fully restored, never-before-seen European version of Jess Franco's costume thriller based on the true exploits of Royal Judge Lord George Jeffreys (Christopher Lee). The latter was just as notorious as witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins (played by Vincent Price in Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm, 1968) and was responsible for hundreds of British citizens being accused of witchcraft, put on trial and executed with their property confiscated. While lacking the violent intensity and tight pacing of Witchfinder General, Franco's film does present a grim view of 17th century England and Jeffreys' deluded political ambitions but it's a very uneven film, one that is often overwhelmed by purely exploitive scenes that are ploddingly dull when they mean to be salacious or sadistic. Case in point, the so-called notorious lesbian encounter between the beautiful Maria Rohm and a shackled prisoner; as Maria daintily licks the bloodied thighs of her cellmate she looks like a squeamish junior leaguer sampling some distasteful cuisine for the first time. On the plus side, Bruno Nicolai delivers a rich, melancholy score, there's a well-staged battle sequence in the second half and Lee dominates every scene he's in despite his rather one-dimensional character. Leo Genn also lends the film a touch of class in a supporting role and Howard Vernon (dressed like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, 1974) is completely over the top as the clubfooted executioner Jack Ketch.
If nothing else, The Christopher Lee Collection deserves an A for effort; the transfer quality is excellent, the extra features are fun and informative, and Tim Lucas's entertaining liner notes will make you feel like you're seeing some lost masterpiece. Then the reality kicks in - but there are still moments you'll want to replay again and again on each DVD, particularly for Christopher Lee fans.
For more information about The Christopher Lee Collection, visit Blue Underground. To order The Christopher Lee Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
The Christopher Lee Collection
Exteriors filmed in Brazil and Madrid. Released in West Germany in July 1968 as Der Todeskuss des Dr. Fu Man Chu; running time: 82 min; in Great Britain caFeb 1969 as The Blood of Fu Manchu; running time: 61 min; in Spain as Fu Manchu y el beso de la muerte; running time: 88 min. British prerelease title: Fu Manchu and the Kiss of Death. Peter Welbeck is a pseudonym of Harry Alan Towers. Sources conflict in crediting music.