Three Warner Archive Spooksters for Halloween: Sorcerers, Face of Fu Manchu, Confessions of an Opium Eater
October 7, 2012

Just in time for Halloween, Warner Archive has released three 1960s horror movies. All three have no extras on the disc, just some long-ago-made chillers.

The Sorcerers

The Sorcerers

An 80-year-old Boris Karloff stars as the hypnotist Marcus Monserrat in The Sorcerers (1967, 87 minutes, color). He has developed a machine for possessing people’s minds. It’s more than just controlling them, though; the possessor shares the sensations experienced by the “victim”. His wife, Estelle (Catherine Lacey), gets carried away by the possibilities, turning their experiment into something much darker. She goes from complaining that the feelings are too intense to seeking out ever more exciting emotions, spurred by theft and murder, without fear of consequences.

The Sorcerers tries to blend more realistic filmmaking, the sounds of the London of the time, and a more traditional “something is going to go very wrong” horror approach, and it’s only moderately successful. It looks like a TV movie, with dodgy color and lighting and unimpressive, claustrophobic sets. Today’s viewers will likely find the pacing slow and the suspense non-existent. Even at an advanced age, though, Karloff is always entertaining to watch, and the subtext of the old trying to live vicariously by manipulating the young is thought-provoking. I found myself too often waiting for something to happen, though.

Here’s a preview clip, showing Monserrat’s first hypnotism of Mike (Ian Ogilvy). Note the awful sound effects.

For more information, DVD Talk has more background on the film’s reputation, the legend of its director (Michael Reeves), and some images from the DVD.

Confessions of an Opium Eater

Confessions of an Opium Eater

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962, 85 minutes, black and white) stars Vincent Price as “two-fisted mercenary Gilbert De Quincey”. (I found this unbelievable. Price always strikes me as civilized evil, not a he-man adventurer type.) He tries to keep Tong drug lords from selling slave girls in 1802 San Francisco Chinatown, accompanied by an escapee (June Kyoto Lu).

Heavily atmospheric but clearly made on the cheap and relying on wordless action sequences (which play well all over the world), this is definitely an acquired taste. At other times, Price narrates in overblown fashion, although his voice is a pleasure to hear. There’s a certain amount of fascination with the Asian as exotic and mysterious, too, which some may object to, especially once we get to the girls kept in bamboo cages and later, the slave girls dancing for the buyers.

I did like the horse rescuing the runaway slave girl by kicking the bad guy off the cliff, though. If you’re a fan of Big Trouble in Little China, you might enjoy seeing a similar movie from a very different era. Black and white ages better than color film, by the way — this looks crisp.

The movie’s best known for its crazy drug sequence after Price takes the pipe, as shown in this clip, which makes opium seem like an acid trip made up of images from bad jungle adventure movies. That’s followed by a weirdly soundless chase scene.

The Face of Fu Manchu

The Face of Fu Manchu

The Face of Fu Manchu (1965, 96 minutes, color) opens with a bang, as the title character is executed. So we know how things are going to end — except that he is a near-supernatural crime lord of mythic proportions, so maybe not. A couple of investigators wonder, once people start ending up strangled to death. Fu Manchu is back, now trying to obtain a secret formula for a particularly potent poison.

This is all veddy British in tone and pacing, making for sedate suspense. Patience is required, especially since Manchu doesn’t properly appear until a third of the way into the film. This is the first in a series of five movies about the evil mastermind, all starring Christopher Lee as the title character (so, not terribly authentic), “the most evil and dangerous man in the world”. In this one, Nayland Smith, the Englishman who battles him, is played by Nigel Green.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, you might find it kitschy fun, but it’s very much of its time in filmmaking techniques and content. I wouldn’t call it horror so much as action/adventure with a period flavor. Here’s an example:

(The studio provided review copies.)

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