Film Review: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

Also known as: Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (full title), Assignment Istanbul, Fu Manchu’s Castle, The Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu (alternate titles), Le château de Fu Manchu (France)
Release Date: May 30th, 1969 (Germany)
Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Manfred Barthel
Based on: characters by Sax Rohmer
Music by: Carlos Camilleri, Malcomb Shelby
Cast: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, Jose Manuel Martin

Balcázar Producciones Cinematográficas, Terra-Filmkunst, Italian International Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The formula. With this I can control all things – and all men.” – Fu Manchu

I love Christopher Lee but I have never liked his Fu Manchu movies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen all five of them and this is the only one I’ve seen more than once and that’s simply because it is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is the fifth and final film and it is said to be the worst one. From my experience with some of the others, none of them are good. But this one, in particular, is dreadfully boring and pretty hard to follow.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure if it’s hard to follow due to it being a clusterfuck of bad, nonsensical writing or because it was a real challenge to pay attention and not doze off to sleep or find myself daydreaming for spans of twenty minutes. I’d say that it’s all of the above.

Christopher Lee can usually carry movies, even bad ones. While he is the brightest spot, by far, in this picture, it’s not enough to draw you in or make you care. I think that even Lee was bored with these movies by this point. I don’t want to say that he dialed it in but this was probably just a paycheck and a way to work for a few weeks between Hammer or Amicus productions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fu Manchu character anyway, so I don’t have the same sort of enthusiasm for these movies as I do the DraculaFrankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Mummy and other classic horror and literary characters he’s made movies about.

This film is a complete waste of time unless you are an MST3K completist and haven’t yet seen the episode with this mind numbing dud.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: the other Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee but none of them are very good.

Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: Lemon (1969)

Release Date: 1969
Directed by: Hollis Frampton

Janus Films, 7 Minutes

Review:

Let’s do a little quiz, shall we?

Do you hate yourself?

Do you hate yourself to the point of torturing yourself for seven long minutes of excrutiating boredom?

Do you like pretentious bullshit art?

Do you like pretentious bullshit artists that think they’re changing the world by giving it absolute dreck of the lowest and most dumbed down caliber possible?

Do you like 1950s beatnik poetry?

Do you like eating dried up pieces of cat poop?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then you’ll probably connect with Hollis Frampton’s Lemon.

This “short film”, as some academic weirdos have called this, is very much like his other film Carrots & Peas, which I also reviewed some time ago (see here) and concluded that I would never watch anything with this guy’s name on it again. But alas, I lost a bet. So I was subjected to this seven minute train wreck that felt like seven days.

All this is, is staring at a fucking lemon for seven minutes as a light slowly moves around it. This is like some test footage an amateur trying to get into cinematography would do as a learning exercise but would never show the world because it’s just some bullshit test footage. But this motherfucker made it into fucking art and some USDA prime queef patties running museums and art exhibits let this guy play this thing on a loop.

Full disclosure, I am an artist by trade. This is the kind of art I fucking hate because it isn’t art. This is pretentious, no talent bullshit that a grade schooler would try to pass off to their teacher in art class and then get a “D” because you can’t give mentally handicapped people an “F”.

There really isn’t much else to talk about because this is just seven minutes of staring at a lemon. I can do that on my own with the right kind of drugs. You know, the kind of drugs that’ll just put me into some sort of stupor, as a I stare off into space… or at a lemon I strategically placed in front of myself before before popping the magic pill.

Below I added the entire movie sped up to seven seconds instead of seven minutes so that you don’t have to waste your time like I fucking did.

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Carrots & Peas, which is basically just staring at produce again. Also, chewing on earthworm jerky.

Film Review: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Also known as: Alerte Satellite 02 (France), Gangsters na Lua (Brazil)
Release Date: October 20th, 1969 (Denmark)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Michael Carreras, Martin Davison, Frank Hardman, Gavin Lyall
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: James Olson, Catherine Schell, Warren Mitchell, Adrienne Corri

Hammer Films, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 100 Minutes

Review:

“If we’re gonna play, we’re gonna play by my rules!
[flips the artificial gravity switch, so the bar fight is now happening in slow motion]” – Kemp

Moon Zero Two was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it isn’t as bad as such an honor would suggest. Sure, it is fairly terrible and bizarre and also, incredibly dated. However, it is a wee bit better than other schlocky ’60s space movies.

First of all, it was made by Hammer Films in the UK. The studio famous for their re-imagining of classic Universal Monsters characters. They gave us Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Mummy, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing and a slew of other offshoots, sequels and stylish gothic horror remakes. They also dabbled in straight up sci-fi too with the respected Quartermass films.

This film is also directed by Roy Ward Baker, who was hired by Hammer to helm several films. One of those being one of the Quartermass movies. Baker wasn’t as great as Terence Fisher but he was still pretty accomplished and had a lot of good experience under his belt.

I guess the real problem with Moon Zero Two and why MST3K had to take shots at it, is the overall style of the film. It is low budget, boasts shoddy effects, silly costumes, silly hair and looks like a retro-futuristic 1960s relic. But at the same time, those are also the things that make this movie kind of cool.

The film also stars one of Hammer’s scream queens, Adrienne Corri, who was fantastic in Vampire Circus and probably most famous as the home invasion rape victim in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Catherine Schell is also in this and she would go on to be in the similar styled television series Space: 1999. In fact, I think this movie had some influence on the style of that iconic British show.

Moon Zero Two came out at the height of the space race when everyone was lunar crazy. But it takes that and gives an interesting twist to a film that is really just about a real estate scam. This was also marketed as “The first western on the Moon”. I don’t really get the western vibe from it and IMDb doesn’t categorize it as such but I guess the Moon’s surface can look like the wilderness of the Old West if you squint and ignore the lunar rovers.

I like this hokey, groovy motion picture. I can’t realistically give it a good rating but it certainly isn’t going to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer either. It exists in this weird limbo between good and bad but with a peculiar stylistic panache that keeps its head above the muck.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Space: 1999, the Hammer Quartermass films, When Dinosaurs Ruled the EarthOne Million Years B.C. and At the Earth’s Core.

Film Review: All Monsters Attack (1969)

Also known as: Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki, lit. Godzilla’s Revenge (Japan)
Release Date: December 20th, 1969 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Tomonori Yazaki, Kenji Sahara, Machiko Naka

Toho, 69 Minutes

Review:

All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge is a film that a lot of people hate. And I’m not talking just people… I’m talking about actual fans of Godzilla. I guess because the film is just some little boy’s fantasy and most of the action is comprised of stock footage from the battles that took place in earlier films. Whatever, I still like this picture and I’ll explain why.

First of all, it’s a f’n Godzilla movie in an era where the franchise was the most magical and fun. Secondly, it’s about a bullied kid trying to work out his problems for himself, even if he becomes a bit of a dick at the end. Thirdly, the film is the boy’s fantasy but what young fan of the “King of Monsters” didn’t fantasize about the monster? Fourthly, aren’t all the Godzilla films just someone else’s fantasy, anyway? Fifthly, maybe the stock footage used in the boy’s fantasies is really just his memories of the battles he’s already witnessed, as we the audience have?

But I guess people hate Godzilla’s son Minya too but I’ve never figured out why. Sure, he’s goofy and odd. He looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy sans hat and covered in sculptor’s clay. But to a person that experienced the Godzilla franchise as a kid, he sort of represented all of us because which kid din’t want to go into battle alongside Godzilla? And if he wasn’t bizarre enough to begin with, he actually shrinks down to human boy size and talks with the kid in this movie. In fact, they become quick chums, as both are trying to deal with their own bully.

This is also one of those Godzilla island movies, which are some of my favorite because I’ve always loved the style and culture of the Pacific Islands and the Tiki aesthetic overall. Sure, these films were done in this style for budgetary reasons, as crushing giant cities in every movie became really expensive, but the style of these pictures has always worked for me and made them more fantastical.

This is a silly movie but that’s okay. The Godzilla films weren’t all that serious after the first one, anyway. This is also a really short picture at a meager 70 minutes. But it packs in a lot of action, has the kid foil the plot of bank robbers and overcome his bully nemesis.

Now I can’t say that this is a great movie or even a very good one but I enjoy it almost because of its cheapness, its flaws and its oddness. I can see why people dismiss this film but I like feel good stories and I’ve watched all of these films so many times that the stock footage bits sort of just happen without it really pulling me out of the story. And with all of this happening within a little boy’s imagination, actually makes the stock footage material work.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla island movies: Son of GodzillaEbirah, Horror of the Deep, etc.

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.