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  Castle of Fu Manchu, The Shock Ice
Year: 1968
Director: Jess Franco
Stars: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Günther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, José Manuel Martín, Werner Abrolat, Tsai Chin, Burt Kwouk
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: International criminal mastermind Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) announces to the world he has not only conquered the continents of Planet Earth and all their secrets, but he has moved on to the oceans too, so to demonstrate he puts into practice a machine that will create ice from sea water. He needs this to be impressive, so sets his henchmen to work on building a huge iceberg which crashes into an ocean liner, sinking it and sacrificing one of his more sceptical underlings in the process when he claimed the machine could do no more. Now he needs a scientist who will apply this to further goals: holding the world to ransom with his ice threat, but can he be stopped once more by his nemesis Nayland Smith (Richard Greene)?

Fu Manchu versus Robin Hood is not a story for which the world is ready, but the closest thing you could get to it would be the two entries in the Sax Rohmer franchise which guest starred Richard Greene, as he became a huge television star in the nineteen-fifties as the arrow slinger in his Lincoln Green (not that you could make that out in black and white), but thereafter only appeared sporadically on screens large and small, with horse breeding taking up some of his time instead. Nevertheless, producer and pseudonymous screenwriter Harry Alan Towers needed a name for his Smith role, and given he didn't have to do very much, Greene was happy to step in, not that series star Christopher Lee was offered much of a workout either.

One notable aspect of these sixties Fu Manchus was that after the first, not bad at all instalment, the supporting cast got a lot more to do, freeing the supposed stars to only work a few days which would be more economical on Towers' budgets than hiring them to appear in just about every scene. That said, Lee did have slightly greater screen time than some of his previous efforts for this producer, although the makeup used to starch his eyelids for that Oriental look (was anybody fooled?) can't have been much fun to wear. However, if you thought giving the lead villain a more active part of the plot was going to make for a more dynamic affair, then you would be let down to discover the two most exciting sequences in this were lifted wholesale from other movies.

So when Fu Manchu sinks the ship at the start using means beyond our ken as far as science went, or logic went for that matter, it's footage of the British classic A Night to Remember tinted blue we are watching, making the master fiend responsible for the Titanic disaster. Similarly, when he orders a dam destroyed, it's a setpiece from Campbell's Kingdom we are seeing, making that two fifties films Towers had raided for stock footage, and both sticking out like a sore thumb. Other than that, ostensibly we were in Turkey, although those in the know will tell you it looks a lot like Spain, which made sense because that was where director Jess Franco hailed from and while many will tell you he was one of the worst directors in the world, he still has a fair-sized cult following.

Both down to his distinctive, jazz-influenced methods and that reputation for being dreadful. In this case, it was difficult to defend his choices as they were consistently lazy throughout; you could reason he was only able to work with what meagre resources he had, but that didn't really excuse the lacklustre plotting and perfunctory staging, neither of which stood up to much examination. At times this crafted an oddly surreal experience as it followed the pattern of a dream, from the major plot points such as Fu Manchu's plan to freeze the oceans (had Towers recently read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and been impressed?) which would surely wipe out all life on Earth, himself included, to him making a rigmarole about capturing a scientist with a heart condition, spending three yawning minutes of screen time on the transplant operation, then going ahead without his reluctant help anyway. As with all these entries, the villain is heard to claim we would hear from him again, but not in this incarnation we wouldn't, though Peter Sellers was no improvement.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Jess Franco  (1930 - 2013)

Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.

Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.

 
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