Sax Rohmer's The Blood of Fu Manchu AKA The Blood of Fu Manchu AKA Der Todeskuß Des Dr. Fu Manchu AK [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (8th October 2020).
The Film

In 1965, maverick British producer and writer Harry Alan Towers (The Bloody Judge) scored a hit with The Face of Fu Manchu, a thrilling revival of Sax Rohmer’s super-villain imperiously portrayed by Christopher Lee (The Terror of the Tongs). Over the next four years, Lee and Towers would collaborate with directors Don Sharp (Psychomania), Jeremy Summers and Jesús Franco (Venus in Furs) on four ever more delirious tales of attempted world domination (The Brides of Fu Manchu, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, The Blood of Fu Manchu, The Castle of Fu Manchu), each pitting the criminal mastermind against his arch-nemesis Nayland Smith, as played variously by Nigel Green (Play Dirty), Douglas Wilmer (Sherlock Holmes) and Richard Greene (The Adventures of Robin Hood).

Now, all five classic Fu Manchu films are presented on Blu-ray for the first time, newly restored from original negatives and containing a wealth of new and archival extras, including critical appreciations, cast and crew interviews and audio commentaries. This stunning collection is strictly limited to 6,000 units, and is presented with an exclusive, fully illustrated 120-page book, featuring new writing by Tim Lucas.

Video

The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

* The Film: With original reel three framing (zoomed to crop damage)
* The Film: With complete reel three framing

First and far and away the best of the five '60s Fu Manchu films; all of which are very entertaining to varying degrees. It's the only one that could be construed as being a relatively lavish and expensive production.

It's also the only one shot in a 2.35:1 format, specifically Techniscope; a mostly a 35mm format although The Legend of Boggy Creek was shot in 16mm on the format. This was a cheaper alternative to genuine anamorphic Scope (= 2.35:1) formats like Panavision or CinemaScope which utilised the full 4 perforations (native ratio 1.37:1) alongside each frame of film. In an effort to use less film, Techniscope was a 2-perforation format with a native ratio of 2.35:1 which cut the 4-perf 1.37:1 frame in half creating a slim 2.35:1 image. As a consequence, the Techniscope image tends to be grainier and solfter. However, there have been a large number of recent Techniscope restorations that look fabulous and they can hold their own pretty well against 4-perf films.

Colours favour a naturalistic but warm palette with healthy flesh tones. Black levels are very satisfying and work well in concert with the contrast to create a fairly magnificent image given the source elements which are in fine condition. Detail is ever present as is grain which tends to be reasonably course, especially in darker scenes. There are times when this could be mistaken for 4-perf anamorphic; it looks that good. The encode is peerless, the print blemish free and I saw no signs of digital tinkering.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 96:13

The Brides of Fu Manchu

* The Film: UK theatrical version
* The Film: US theatrical version

The second film in the series is not up to the first but is still a solid if a tad stolid, more studio bound entry in the series. It was shot flat in 35mm and finished in the matted theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. Consequently fine detail is sharper and more defined than the 2perf Face of Fu Manchu and the grain less course although this being a hastily shot low budget affair it does have it's course moments.

The colour palette is richer and more solidly defined than in the first film but that's by design I think; this being a kore studio bound production means that greater control was afforded over lightning. This one looks most like a contemporaneous Hammer gothic horror. Not surprising as returning director Don Sharp made many Hammer films. Black levels and contrast ensure that shadow detail is exemplary allowing detail to really kick out on all focal plains. Once again, the encode is extremely supportive and I saw no signs of print damage or digital manipulation. A very organic, film-like transfer.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 94:16, 94:55

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)
The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)
The Castle of Fu Manchu (1968)


On "Blood of" we get two seamlessly branched presentations ...

* Sax Rohmer's Blood of Fu Manchu
* Sax Rohmer's Kiss Me to Death

On "Castle of" we get two seamlessly branched presentations ...

* The Castle of Fu Manchu
* Assignment: Istanbul

The final three entries were shot 4perf, flat 35mm and finished in the matted aspect ration of 1.66:1. Vengeance is the strongest due to higher production standards and budget than the two Jess Franco films to follow. In all ways my comments on Brides apply here; rich, warm colour palette, healthy flesh tones, deep rich blacks with no crush and plenty of shadow detail. Contrast is supportive and no blowouts. Encode is strong, no print damage or tinkering.

Vengeance is a livelier less studio bound entry than Brides with much greater use of location work, which is spectacularly colourful. That said, it does bog down a tad in the middle and the pace suffers before a lively wrap-up. The two Franco films are pure pulp poppycock and have been unfairly lambasted over the years. The period detail gets more dodgy and Franco's wilder, more fanciful mentality takes over with crazy Mexican Bandidos (Blood) and hot action chick, gun toting heroines (Castle) coming to the fore at the expense of Nayland Smith who takes a slight back seat. Blood also features nudity which feels unusual and out of place given that the other four films either side don't.

Technically they're cheaper and grainier although the colour palettes are largely similar to Brides and Vengeance. Both have lovely velvety blacks and layered contrast. Detail is extremely pleasing and are light years ahead of the awful upscales that Blue Underground foisted on fans a couple of years ago. En odes are again as good as can be and the prints are spotless and left alone as regards digital manipulation.

Image on all five is as good as can be shy of 8K restorations as all are from new 4K scans and as good as can be really. Even then, the human eye can only see so much and viewing these at 10 feet on a 55" 4K display these are - again- about as good as we can expect.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 91:17, 93:39, 92:15

The Ghost of Monk’s Island (1966)

A bonus sixth film on the Vengeance disc is a standard definition presentation of a breezy, agreeable Children's Film Foundation adventure. It's in no where near the same condition as the five Fu flicks with a muted colour palette, acceptable black levels with a reasonable amount of shadow detail, decent contrast and plenty of grain. There are some minor print issues with some speckling gut it's barely noticeable and no digital gubbins. The encode is exemplary. I'm assuming that this is largely unrestored and from a print source.

NTSC / MPEG-2 / 1.37:1 / 92:29

Audio

Each film has it's own clear Blu-ray Keepcase and all five are housed with the book in a hard card slipcase.

Extras

Audio commentary on The Face of Fu Manchu with genre-film experts, critics and authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (2020)
Audio commentary on The Brides of Fu Manchu with film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby (2020)
Audio commentary on The Vengeance of Fu Manchu with film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby (2020)
Audio commentary with critics and authors David Flint and Adrian J. Smith (2020)


If you've heard a track from Jones & Newman you know what to expect; chummy, chatty and packed with trivia about the film. Both are old hands and very learned in their knowledge and affection for the film ... indeed films as all get a mention. I was most interested in the observations about how each film was made in a different country and their thoughts on how the filmmakers made sure it was hard to tell they were shot in countries unrelated to where they were set.

The Lyons-Rigby track is similarly authoritative although a tad less lively in so far as the two are a little less more reserved; still, a great track packed with interest and contextual added value. Anyone who's heard tracks from Lyons and or Rigby before know that what they don't know wouldn't fill a flea's codpiece (to paraphrase dialogue from a classic 1972 Hammer horror).

I've not heard Flynt and or Smith do a track before (at least not that I recall) but they both get on well and pack it with plenty of value; I hope they do more.

"The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Don Sharp, Part One: From Hobart to Hammer - Conducted by Teddy Dervas and Alan Lawson on 2 November1993" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (on The Face of Fu Manchu - 95:40)
"The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Ernest Steward, Part One: The BIP Years - Conducted by Roy Fowler on 29 March 1990" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (on The Face of Fu Manchu - 95:53)
"The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Don Sharp, Part Two: A Director of Substance - Conducted by Teddy Darvas and Alan Lawson on 2 November 1993" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (on The Brides of Fu Manchu - 94:53)
"The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Ernest Steward, Part Two: From Teddington to Carry On - Conducted by Roy Fowler on 29 March 1990" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (on The Brides of Fu Manchu - 93:04)
"The British History Entertainment Project (BEHP) Interview with Jeremy Summers: Conducted by Darrol Blake on 19 March 2001" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (on The Vengeance of Fu Manchu - 71:48)


BEHP interviews are always well worth listening to and filled with plenty of detailed information about their subjects careers and the films they worked on; working with various members of cast and crew etc. Hours and hours of great contextual added value.

"Christopher Lee Interviewed in Dublin During the Filming of The Face of Fu Manchu" conducted by Des Keogh and broadcast on Teilifís Éireann on 24 February 1965 (3:54)

Vintage TV interview with the great man on the set of the first film; a fascinating little piece of vintage ephemera. Lee seems more laid back and garrulous in this chat.

"The Guardian Interview with Christopher Lee Conducted by David Robinson: 6 November 1994 National Film Theatre London" (86:49)

Substantial mid '90s piece with the star on great form as he holds court with Robinson keeping it all lively.

"Vic Pratt Introduces The Face of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (6:48)
"Vic Pratt Introduces The Brides of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (6:33)
"Vic Pratt Introduces The Vengeance of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (7:01)
"Vic Pratt Introduces The Blood of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (7:13)
"Vic Pratt Introduces The Castle of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (6:53)


Pratt has obviously got a lot of love for these films and his short discussions add great contextual value from the point of view of someone who is a fan and knows the film's history.

"Underneath the Skin: Christopher Frayling Examines the Origin, History and Reputation of Sax Rihmer's Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (48:32)

Substantial piece with the great Christopher Frayling covering the the history of Rohmer and his oeuvre. I could watch and or listen to Frayling analyse a documentary on stock portfolios. Long may the great continue to contribute to extras like this! (on The Face of Fu Manchu disc)

"Pages of Peril: Kim Newman on Sax Rohmer and the Fu Manchu Novels" 2020 featurette (20:37)

Newman on great chatty form waxing lyrical about Rohmer et al. Excellent as expected. (on the Vengeance disc)

"Tall, Lean and Feline: Jonathan Rigby on Christopher Lee and the Fu Manchu Cycle" 2020 featurette (49:18)

Rigby has written a book or two on Lee and knows his onions. He also got very acquainted with Lee in real life So there very few as qualified as he to discuss the star.

"The Men Who Killed Fu Manchu?: Stephen Thrower on Jesús Franco and Harry Alan Towers" 2020 featurette (41:05)

Chunky featurette from one of my favourite contributors on recent DVD and or BD releases; the one, the only Stephen
Thrower who wrote a superb two-volume book on the work of Jess Franco which is likely to remain the standard on the director for some time to come.

"The Cheque’s in the Post: First Assistant Director Anthony Waye remembers Harry Alan Towers and Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (5:00)
"Any Way to Save Money: Clapper Loader Ray Andrew remembers Harry Alan Towers and Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (10:58)


Brief pieces from two crew members giving their two penneth on the dodgy Towers and his own wild - unpaid - ride working on the Fu flicks.

"From Alicante to Istanbul: Rosalba Neri remembers Jesús Franco, Maria Rohm and The Castle of Fu Manchu" 2020 featurette (13:10)

Neri, one of the most prolific genre actresses working in European genre cinema at the time gives a lively chat about working in Castle.

"An Interview with Harry Alan Towers: Conducted for the Archive Film Agency by Cy Young in 2008" 2008 featurette (44:43)

The fly Towers gives a good account of himself and his colourful career a year before he died.

"The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu: The Fiery Hand" 1923 serial episode (36:18):
- Play with score
- Play Silent
"The Further Mysteries of Dr. Fu-Manchu: The Coughing Horror" 1924 serial episode (30:31):
- Play with score
- Play silent


Interesting early adaptations of Rohmer's work presented in 1080/24p and with the option of silent or with a new score. The first is on The Blood of Fu Manchu disc, the second on The Castle of Fu Manchu.

The Face of Fu Manchu Alternative title sequences:
- US Titles (1:38)
- Le Masque de Fu Manchu de Sax Rohmer (French titles and closing credits) (2:38)
- Sax Rohmer's El regeso de Fu Manchú (Spanish title insert) (1:38)
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu Alternative Philippine Title Sequence (3:20)
The Blood of Fu Manchu Alternative Title Sequences:
- Kiss Me to Death (pre-release titles) (1:37)
- Against All Odds (US video titles) (1:31)
- Fu Manchú y el beso de la muerte (Spanish theatrical titles) (1:32)
The Blood of Fu Manchu Colour Tests (0:45)
The Castle of Fu Manchu Alternative Title Sequences:
- Assignment: Istanbul (pre-release title) (2:09)
- El castillo de Fu-Manchu (Spanish video title) (2:09)


Nice to have alternate credits sequences plus one colour test done on the set of The Blood of Fu Manchu.

The Face of Fu Manchu Super 8 versions (16:08)

Early home video version.p; as per usual, an edited digest of the film.

The Face of Fu Manchu Theatrical trailers:
- UK Trailer (2:34)
- German Trailer (3:03)
- French Trailer (Textless version) (2:33)
The Brides of Fu Manchu Theatrical Trailer (2:25)
The Brides of Fu Manchu TV Spot (0:22)
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
The Blood of Fu Manchu UK theatrical trailer (2:57)
US Kiss and Kill Theatrical Trailer (The Blood of Fu Manchu) (1:40)
The Castle of Fu Manchu Original Theatrical Trailer (2:27)


Vintage promo pieces.

The Face of Fu Manchu Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (97 images)
The Brides of Fu Manchu Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (76 images)
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (66 images)
The Blood of Fu Manchu Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (88 images)
The Castle of Fu Manchu Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (39 images)


Substantial HD galleries with plenty of interest.

120-page liner notes book by Tim Lucas, a look at the career of producer / screenwriter Harry Alan Towers, an examination of the work of Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, new writing on The Ghost of Monk’s Island and the Stoll Pictures’ Fu Manchu silent serials, archival newspaper articles on the films, extracts from the films’ pressbooks, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Another chunky tome to accompany this magnificent boxset that brings huge amounts of contextual added valie.

Limited edition exclusive double-sided poster and five replica production stills

These were not provided for review.

Packaging

Each film has it's own Digipack and all five are housed in a hard card slipcase. Each Digipack has original art on all sides.

Overall

What can I say about this magisterial set which is certainly going to be on many a best of list for 2020. Image and sound are as good as can be and the extras package gives new meaning to the term comprehensive. A "must buy" release but get it before it's sold out because I guarantee copies will be selling for more than all the gold in Fort Knox nicked by Fu
Manchu!

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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