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The Fu Manchu Cycle 1965-1969 - The Fu Manchu Cycle 1965-1969( Blu Ray boxset) [Powerhouse Films - 2020]

The Fu Manchu Cycle is a Blu Ray boxset bringing together the five films released by maverick British producer and writer Harry Alan Towers in the mid-to-late 1960s. For those not in know Fu Manchu was an oriental super-villain created by English writer Sax Rohmer- in all between the years 1913 & 1959 he penned thirteen novels featuring Fu. The character & itís stories have very much of a pulp action/ adventure tone- the books and screen adaptions of the character are seen as racist- and to make it worse the Fu character has never being played by an oriental actor. For this take on the character, we have horror icon Christopher Lee playing the part of Fu- and on the whole, these five films are trashy & fun romps in pulp fiction, that turn slightly darker & nastier in the later films

This set appears on Powerhouse films, and as weíve come to expect from the label, theyíve pulled out the stops with the new prints of all the films, and loads of extremely neat extras- making for a boxset that will literally take you weeks to fully get through. We get a disc for each of the five films, with the finished set coming with a one hundred & twenty-page book, with the whole set in a classy card slipcase.


Appearing in 1965 The Face of Fu Manchu was directed by Australian born Don Sharp-who went from helming 1950ís family films like The Stolen Airliner & The Adventures of Hal 5, onto episodes of British noir series Ghost Squad in the early í60s, through to mid 60ís horror fare like the Kiss Of The Vampire & WitchcraftThe Face..is well enough scoped, and is an enjoyable-if-often highly improbable pulp romp/  boys own adventure put into cinematic form, shot through with mid-1960ís campness.

The film opens in meant to be Tibet( Ireland)- with Fu Manchu been lead out from a prison cell to have his head chopped off in a decidedly dramatic way- watching on is the series hero Nayland Smith(Nigel Green) a brill creamed, often brooding looking middle age Scotland yard officer. Flash forward some time and Smith is back in his London offices- he starts getting reports in of strangulations, and these seem to show the trademark of Fu Manchuís henchmen. Fairly soon Fu makes himself known from his underground secret base, which is below the river Thames. He has a plan to control the UK, and the world by distilling-then-freezing black poppy seeds that can kill a huge amount of people with only a few drops. What unfolds is a sort of crossbreed between Sherlock Holmes- Smith has a moustached like Watson Side kick Dr Petrie, early James Bound, and campy thriller. We get Lee really hamming it up as Fu- with his 1000 yard star, creepy-yet-authoritative manner, and single gold fake finger- which is a great prop. Green is effective as the classic glinting teethed Brit good guy, with the supporting cast doing good enough for this type of thing. We get lots of footage of the underground base, with folks been tied & tortured, or pushed-up into the Thames to drown. There are a few fairly good car chases- including a particularly memorable one, where Smith & his sidekick are chasing Fu through the city, then countryside- as someone drops bombs by hand from a biplane. Sure the whole thingís fairly practicable in both it unfold, and liberal race send-ups/ clichťs- but I think if you're picking up this boxset youíll be expecting both.

Moving onto the disc itís self- we get a new 4K scan of the film, this is nice & crisp- with a good colour balance through-out. We get a  commentary track from respected genre critics/ writers Stephen Jones and Kim Newman- here the pair go from talking about the early Fu Manchu incarnations, & the series of books written by Sax Rohmer. Moving onto talking about this being the most classy of the five films & itís Irish shooting locations, memories of when they first saw the film, and various double bills this & the other Fu Manchu films appeared on.Talking about the cast, and point out interesting scenes- so a most thorough track.  First out of the new featurettes is Underneath the Skin Ė this runs for forty-nine minutes and finds broadcaster, educationalist and author Christopher Frayling tracing the Fu Manchu characters history going from Sax Rohmer & his invention of Fu, and the thirteen novels he wrote with him in. Moving onto talk about the various episodic & big screen versions of the Fu story, with of course he talking in detail about the five-film series this box is based on. Along the way, he talks about the stories racist elements, and which of the adaptations is most endured to this trait. Moving onto to quoting interviews with cast & crew members he had about this series & more. A most informative &  an interesting overview of Fu Manchu's history.
We get a seven minute introduction from genre commentator Vic Pratt- here he moves from discussing the early on-screen incarnations of Fu, the films very English pulp tone, his personal memories of first seeing the film.    Of the archive stuff, we get a just over hour and a half audio BEHP Interview with the director with Don Sharp from 1993, another hour & half BEHP interview with the film's cinematographer Ernest Steward. We get a four-minute interview  with Christopher Lee from 1965 with Newsbeat in Dublin when he was filming The Face Of Fu Manchu- he talks about his focus on playing more horror genre characters, how he approaches playing roles in a very serious manner, and enjoy more villainess characters. Lastly there's a Super eight version, various trailers, and image gallery.

 

Appearing a year after Face, The Wifes Of Fu Manchu was once again directed by Don Sharp- and it feels like a sequel of both positive & negatives. On the plus side, Lee really seems to be getting his teeth into the Fu role, with some great moments of sinister-ness and rage, oh and he also has some great costume changes- with the film opening in a shimmering green smock. We get recognisable brit-Asian actor  Burt Kwouk doing one of his more straight roles as Freng- Fuís chief machine operator. Fuís hideout is neat- an Egyptian tomb, with snake pit- which is used to great effect when a women prisoner is hung over said pit by her hair, then a hypnotized fellow prison cutting her loose.  On the less positive side- we get a new actor playing Nayland Smith, Douglas Wilmer- who comes off rather bland, undramatic & a little stuffy- rather losing all of boys adventure heroism  & charming candour of Nigel Green. Some of the plotting points are rather convenient for the good guys, and we get a selection of very racial stereotypes- going beyond the normal yellow peril focus.

Plot-wise this time Fu is collecting, in his underground Egyptian tomb hideout, daughters of important scientists & engineers- to build a deathray which he hopes to focus on certain city to gain power/ control- and of course one of these is London. With Nayland Smith once more finding out that Fu is alive due to bubbling henchmen & the use of red scuff strangulation. On the whole, the film has enough pace & tension about it, and I did very much enjoy the great finale with lots of fisty-cuffs, machine meltdowns, and cheesy heroic rescue. On the whole, The Wifes Of Fu Manchu is a serviceable enough sequel- itís just a pity Fu did have a better nemesis.

Moving onto the extras- and first up we get a commentary track from film historians/authors Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby- here the pair give a very in-depth & entertaining track- they start off discussing the German & English versions of the film, moving onto how the opening appearance of Fu nods back towards Lee portrayal of Count Dracula. They move onto talk about a competition that was been run by the production company to pick a few of the brides, and the new actor playing Nayland Smith. They give detailed bios on not just actors, but important crew members, touching on the less effective elements of Lees make-up, and comment on-screen action. They talk about the rather roguish Harry Alan Towers, and the Hammer connection with the film, and much more- really a track you could play a few times over. Next up genre-film expert, critic and author Kim Newman turns up for a twenty-one-minute discussion about the Sax Rohmer Fu books, and the character's appearance on both the screen & page- as others followed on the Fu adventures in both novels & there was even Fu appearing in a marvel comic. Lastly of the new extras, we get a seven-minute intro to the film from Vic Pratt- here is talks about the pared back less epic feel of the sequel, the cast & that Burt Kwouk is one of the highlights of the film. Archive extras wise we get a good selection of stuff- the second part of the Don Sharp interview from 1993- this runs just over an hour & a half, the second part of the interview with the film's cinematographer Ernest Steward- again this runs around an hour & a half. We get an over hour & half interview with Christopher Lee from 1994- which is very wide-ranging.


 

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu appeared in 1967- and in the director's chair, this time was Jeremy Summers, whom between the early í60s & early í00s had sixty directorial credits to his name- sea trawler set drama Depth Charge, dark comedy The Punch and Judy Man featuring Tony Hancock in the lead, Liverpool set musical Ferry Cross The Mersey. In his later career, he went on to direct TV show episodes like Tenko, Howards Way, The Bill and Brookside.
For this film we find Fu hiding out in remote Asian temple, which heís shut off from the rest of the world by blocking the mountain pass that leads to his hideout. This time Fuís plan for world domination is using a plastic surgeon to alter the faces of mind-controlled slaves to look like respected police chefs- and first in his sights, of course, his arch-enemy Nayland Smith. Running alongside this we have  Americans most wanted criminal mastermind Rudolph Moss- played by German actor Horst Frank- rolling up at Fuís temple, to help him out in his world domination. 
This time around Lee is good enough in the Fu role, though he remains rather immobile sitting in his throne next to his daughter. Frank comes across rather like a Bond villain & nicely hams things up with a few torture rack scenes. Douglas Wilmer returns as Nayland Smith for the second time, and he is a little better than he was in The Wifes Of Fu Manchu. The temple setting looks fairly classy & grand, though the pace of the whole thing is decidedly plodding-though the resolve of one of the key plot points does keep you held into the whole thing.

On extras side we get another commentary track from the pairing of film historians/authors Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby- and here the pair begin by declaring this to be their favourite of the five films, as they say, it was the first proper horror film in the series, it had more unpleasant-ness, and it was a halfway house between the first two films Boys Own adventure tone and the nasty edge of the last two films in the series. As they move on they discuss the films cast, giving detailed bios & interview quotes, they move onto talk about the films split shooting location Ireland & Hong Kong, and many more interesting facts/ observations- another very worthy track. Next Jonathan Rigby pops-up again for the forty-nine minutes of Tall, Lean and Feline, here he gives a great overview of Leeís career up to the point he took the Fu part. Going onto talk about each of the five films, before discussing the effect it had on Lee career after the event- a really great & well put together featurette. Next, we get a seven-minute intro from Vic Pratt and a five-minute interview with first assistant director Anthony Waye. And if all that wasnít enough we get another full-length film in the shape of The Ghost of Monkís Island Ė a 1966 mystery made for the Childrenís Film Foundation by director Jeremy Summers.


 

The Blood Of Fu Manchu appeared in 1968, and it was directed by prolific euro cult master Jess Franco- this was one of four films he helmed this year. And as youíd expect with a Franco film this is rather different from the previous films in the Fu series- the tone is much more moody, nasty, and at points decidedly sleazed, with the character of Fu been much more believably sinister & sadistic. From the off things are much grim and unsettling as we get claustrophobic shots of a group of hooded & chained women been marched through the murky jungle towards Fu hide-out. As we move on we get barely covered & nude in the foreground female slaves strung-up, and Fu's new evil plan starts to reveal itís self. We find out that heís held up in a thought lost Mayan temple, and heís found a way of creating the ultimate female assassins- they take on the poison of a deadly snake, and then when the kiss their victim- their prey goes suddenly blind, then shortly after dies. Fu sends these female assassins around the world, and of course, we see the one sent to London to track down Nayland Smith. Here we get wonderful shots of creepy & fog-enshrouded house, with a taxi rolling up & the scantly glad assassin getting out- with Smith- played this time by Richard Greene- getting kissed in the doorway, fairly soon heís blind, so itís decided he Dr Petrie are to travel to jungles of South America to track down Fu, and hopefully the cure for his blindness. Running alongside this plot we have tubby, sweaty, dirty & nasty bandit Sancho Lopez is terrorizing the local town near Fuís hideout, so itís decided he must be controlled- one way or another.
Lee is on fine brooding & nasty form this time around, as is Tsai Chin once again playing his daughter Lin Tang. The film is an enjoyable blend of sweaty & grim jungle adventure, camp horror, light WIP sleaze, with edges of moody & at points gothic atmosphere pop-up here and there. All in all making this one of the finest of the this Fu circle.

On the extras front, we get a commentary track from critics and authors David Flint and Adrian J Smith- this is rather chatty & wondering affair, which along the way has some interesting points & facts. They start by discussing how Flint met Franco in London for lunch once, and that at that point Franco was going to try & get Iron Maiden to soundtrack one of his film- which of course never came to fruition. They move onto talk plot points and the way many of the films key characters are somewhat sidelined. Moving onto discuss fleeting actors bios, the roughish Harry Alan Towers, and Sax Rohmer- itís an ok track, though David Flint makes it very clear though-out he doesnít have much time for the film which does rather mar the track somewhat.
Next, we get The Men Who Killed Fu Manchu? Ė which is a forty-one-minute featurette with the always great Stephen Thrower, here he talks about how Franco & Harry Alan Towers started working together, briefly touching on the thirteen films they collaborated on together, going onto focus on the two Fu films- itís, as usual, a most fascinating & informed featurette from Thrower who really is the only go-to person when Franco knowledge/ assessment is needed. Next Vic Pratt returns for a seven-minute intro to the film and a ten-minute interview with the films clapper loader Ray Andrew. There is The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu: ĎThe Fiery Handí- which was part of one of the silent series from 1923- it runs thirty-seven minutes, and is either available silent or with a new score by the band Peninsula.

 

Last off we have the final film in the set The Castle of Fu Manchu- this was released in 1969, though it didnít appear in many territories until 1972. Back in the director's seat again we have Jess Franco, and this was one of seven films he helmed in 1969. Also returning we have Richard Greene as Nayland Smith- who this time around is given a little more to do than the last film, and heís not bad in the part- sadly this is one of the few positives with this film, as frankly, itís somewhat of a mess- with reused/ redubbed footage from the second film & wholesale stealing of scenes from other films, but whatís wrapped around these elements is not great either. The plot, as it is, finds a blend of Fu trying to take control of the world with a freezing agent, kidnapping two doctors to do a heart transplant on another captured Dr, & a sleazy opium king-pin. There are trippy/ psychedelic touches with the red, purple & blue-lit lair of Fu, we get one or two gothic touches like figures rising from coffins. Franco appears in a cameo as fez-wearing & floppy-haired inspector, and some of the settings have Francoís eye for great & distinctive architecture. On the negative side, thereís little or no gore/ sleaze, the atmosphere from the last film has all but dissolved, and both the cast and the story feel very tired. So all in all a rather sad end to the series- that will only will be of interest to Franco or Fu completists.

On the extras side, we sadly get no commentary on this one, but we once again get Vic Pratt returning for his around seven minutes talking about the film, and a thirteen interview with actor Rosalba Neri . On the archive side of things on this disc we a forty-five-minute interview with the series producer/ writer Harry Alan Towers- this is from 2008 and sees him covering his whole career. We get another one of the 1930ís Fu Series in the form of The Further Mysteries of Dr Fu-Manchu: ĎThe Coughing Horror- this runs thirty-one minutes, and once again can be watched with or without Peninsula soundtrack.

In conclusion, Powerhouse really have pulled out all the stops with this boxset- making it extras wise one of their most impressive yet, with each disc packed with content & the one hundred & twenty-page book- and with a price tag of around the forty-pound mark, itís very reasonably priced. Certainly, a set for fans of Mr Lee, trashy pulp, or 60ís camp adventure edged with horror elements.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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