The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)
“Programmed to kill!”
Director: Jesus Franco
Cast: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford
Synopsis:Fu Manchu inoculates ten women with poison, to kill ten world leaders.
Any movie which begins with ten semi-naked women chained together with bags over their heads being guided through a South American jungle by Ninja-like men clad in black has got to be worth a look. Hasn’t it? Of course it has — who knows in what direction such an opening gambit will head? The girls, it transpires, have been abducted to perform the will of the evil Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee, with latex eyelids), who once again is planning world domination by means of another diabolical plot. You’d think he’d concede defeat at some point — after all, this is the fourth of producer Harry Alan Towers’ five movies about Sax Rohmer’s super villain — but Fu is nothing if not indefatigable.
This time he plans to eliminate his ten, as he describes them, ‘closest enemies,’ by having each girl kiss them to death. Now this might normally take some time to accomplish, so to speed things up he hypnotises each of the girls into acquiescence and then has a small, rather uninterested venomous snake bite them. Somehow, in an ingenious way that is so clever it needs absolutely no explanation, this succeeds in transferring the poison to the girls without killing them and makes their kisses poisonous. The poison strikes its victim blind within seconds, but takes weeks to actually kill them, which might just be a tiny flaw in Fu’s plan. Why he couldn’t just equip each girl with a knife with which to stab their allocated victim, which would have been both quick and effective, is perhaps a clue as to why he hasn’t yet achieved his ambition to rule the world. Anyway, Fu’s first victim is naturally his arch enemy Nayland Smith (Richard Greene). Like most men, Smith’s incapable of refusing a free snog from an attractive lady, and while he’s adjusting to suddenly being without his sight, his sidekick Doctor Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford) is chasing after the girl as she tries to make her getaway. Unfortunately, she’s mown down by a car driven by a masked man in black before he can question her. However, Smith recalls an Incan legend about a poisonous kiss and has heard rumours that his nemesis Fu Manchu is operating out of South America and, putting two and two together, instructs Petrie to get him to South America, where his Indiana Jones-like agent Carl Jansen (Gotz George) is already committing acts of derring-do.
Jansen, it turns out, has already located Fu Manchu’s lair, but when he rushes to the Governor’s mansion to enlist some official help in bringing down the nefarious villain he finds himself placed under arrest for murder and forced to play chess with the Governor for days on end. Meanwhile, Fu Manchu gets it into his head that local bandit Sancho Lopez (Ricardo Palacios, who looks uncannily like British actor Stephen O’Donnell, who played Spudgun in the TV series Bottom) is Smith’s agent and sends one of his poison chicks off to deliver a special kiss. At a drunken orgy, the girl performs a sexy dance for Lopez, but for some reason he’d rather shoot her than kiss her, which is what he duly does.
Eventually, these characters converge upon Fu Manchu’s remote hideout for a particularly dull climax, but by then you pretty much won’t care, you’ll just be glad the whole unsavoury ordeal is nearly over. The Blood of Fu Manchu is directed by Jess Franco, a man with 200 titles on his filmography, almost all of which are bad. To be fair, he only had 20 movies under his belt when he made this one, which might explain why the action sequences are so mind-numbingly bad, why he repeatedly lingers over sets from which his actors departed what seems like ten minutes ago, and why he sees nothing wrong with a point-of-view shot of a blind man. Nevertheless, all of Franco’s films are like the first draft of a novel: the key components of the story are all present, but in a crude, unpolished form. Back then, before he unleashed such atrocities as Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998) and Killer Barbys vs Dracula (2002) on the world, Franco still had some credibility as a mainstream director, which perhaps might explain why a major-league actor like Christopher Lee turns up here. Not that he has much to do. In fact, he’s absent for much of the movie, and you can’t help feeling that contractual obligations might have had something to do with his appearance.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of The Blood of Fu Manchu is the villain’s final words — ‘The world shall hear from me again’ — which set viewers up for The Castle of Fu Manchu which, incredibly, was even worse than this effort.
(Reviewed 18th October 2013)