Blood of Fu Manchu, The (aka Kiss and Kill)
Europe 1968
Directed by Jess Franco.

Fu Manchu meets Pancho Villa, sort of, in this, the unspeakably bad yet strangely compelling fourth outing for Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. Jess Franco directs, in his own inimitable style.

When I first watched this film, I cannot describe how much I hated it. But then, as I do for all films that I write about, I watched it again. And something strange happened. I liked it. Perhaps, the first time I saw it, my head was filled with scenes from the prior three Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies (The Face of Fu Manchu, The Brides of Fu Manchu, and The Vengeance of Fu Manchu). Each was crisply directed, the first two by Don Sharp, the third by Jeremy Summers, and had the Hammer Studios look to them (in fact, the first two were shot at Bray Studios, where many of the Hammer films were made). I was expecting something similar.

But Kiss and Kill is nothing of the sort. Poor film stock, odd angles, bad sound, faded colors, almost everything shot in actual locations instead of in studios, this film is the opposite of the earlier Lee films in almost every way. And it is directed by Jess Franco, auteur of over a hundred cheap horror and soft core euro-trash films. Apparently producer Harry Alan Towers had to scale back, way back, if he wanted to get another Fu Manchu picture made. He did.

This time around, Fu Manchu tries to take over the western world from his base in South America, of all places. There, he has discovered an ancient, Incan poison. He plans to apply it to the lips of a dozen beautiful women, who will go out and kiss key people in the governments of the world, thus bringing them to their knees and forcing them to accept the rule of Fu Manchu! As he explains to his first victim, "Centuries ago, an ancient race conquered this continent." He's referring to the Spanish, I suppose. The women are tied up against a bunch of pillars in the central throne room. If they disobey, he disposes of them in a pit of snakes. Apparently Fu has a thing for tying up beautiful women and feeding them to snakes, having already done the exact same thing in The Brides of Fu Manchu.

Fu sends the women out to kill. He gets a little poetic. "The moon is full. The moon of life. Let her taste the kiss of death." Of course, he sends one out to his foe, Nayland Smith, this time played by Richard Greene, the third Nayland Smith in four films. Pretty soon they'll have to start explaining why Nayland Smith changes his appearance so often, perhaps reincarnating like Doctor Who. The woman comes and kisses Smith, but he doesn't die. He just goes blind. Of course, Nayland Smith has heard the legend of the Incan poison, even though his expertise is supposed to be of Burma. He knows just one man who can help them -- their operative in South America, Carl Yansen (Gotz George).

Carl Yansen in South America finds Fu's lair, then rushes to the Governor's mansion. Just when you think he's going to be the hero, he gets stuck at the Governor's playing chess with him for days. The Governor himself is a strange, fat man who peeks out from behind trophies in the room and in general behaves very oddly.

We are left with the bandit, Sancho Lopez. Far from being a hero, he rides his fat sweaty ass all over the country killing, looting, and drinking. Fu Manchu gets it into his mad little head that Sancho is Nayland Smith's operative, and sends a poisonous woman to do him in. She arrives at Sancho's camp and does a seductive dance, while the camera shoots her in what I can only describe as "Sancho-vision," a camera lens which Sancho Lopez appears to have smeared his sweaty forehead on.

Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford) arrive in South America, and with the help of Carl Yansen, Sancho Lopez, and pencil-eyebrowed Ursula (Maria Rohm) are able to defeat Fu Manchu's silly new scheme. As they escape from his citadel, Sancho shouts, "there are 1000 of barrels of fuel under the lost city!" How convenient.

Kiss and Kill was shot partially on location in Brasil and partially in Spain, and it becomes clear early on that Christopher Lee never sets foot out of Madrid. All of his scenes are set in his lair, mostly in his throne room. He is usually so darkly lit its hard to tell Lee is even there. In fact, they could have propped up a Manchu mannequin and had Lee tape record his lines from his home in London, and no one would have been the wiser.

The rest of the cast traipse through the Amazon, and it is here that Jess Franco's artistry really shows itself. He has a habit of setting up the camera and taking a long, stationary shot. For emphasis, the quick zoom! Another interesting technique is to set up the camera somewhere that is partially blocked by foilage, furniture, or something nondescript, then leaving it there while the action takes place somewhat off camera. At first, it was just annoying and bad. It has since moved on to being interesting. I am still somewhat short of saying that the direction is good. Although the entire film has a sleazy feel, it is solidly PG. Apparently Jess shot a bunch of exploitation footage of topless killer women, all of which ended up on the cutting room floor.

I can't in good conscious recommend this film to anyone except die-hard Jess Franco or Christopher Lee fans. Fans of Fu Manchu need not apply. The removal of Fu Manchu from his proper London location, then further removing him from the orient entirely, removes much of the drama. The story of Fu Manchu is one of the yellow peril threatening western nations with their polluting presence. South America just doesn't fit in. Amusingly, it's really a gang of local thugs led by Sancho Lopez that do the most to dislodge Fu from his new hideout. A similar thing would happen again in the final installment of Christopher Lee's Fu Manchu movies, The Castle of Fu Manchu.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 28, 2004.

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