1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror.  Christopher Lee’s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped Jess Franco to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off! Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by Victor Fleming) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. Peter Cushing is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

 

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema

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About Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is fine arts painter, filmmaker, and has a masters degree in theology. He currently lives in Portland, oregon with his wife: Aja Rossman-Gray.
This entry was posted in Drive-In Double Features, Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

  1. What a brilliant idea for a series of post Sir Blue. I really enjoyed reading that.
    The whole drive through experience from beginning to end. With adverts thrown in, much fun.
    “Today, we’re interviewing a stomach” hehe
    Will pop and read the others in the series soon.

    • Alfred Eaker says:

      Hey Wolfie! Thanks and btw, how’s this eclipse going to affect you? Hopefully it won’t tax your hirsute prowling

      • Luckily it’s not hitting the UK because last time it was a messy affair. I woke up in a field having half eaten a cow, to be found having turned half back into my human form, naked and covered in blood with the farmer standing over me with a shotgun! Lucky the half metamorphosis had left my legs lycan and I managed to run through the field at speed dodging bullets! Gonna stay in next time, for sure!

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