Directors: Hy Averback, Don Sharp
Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video’s new “Horror Double Feature” series (initially being sold as Best Buy store exclusives) is making available a handful of 1960s horror films, some which have never been available on home video before. Although Warner released THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU on VHS in the 1990s, it’s making its Region 1 debut here, while CHAMBER OF HORRORS has never been available until now. Both films are most welcomed on the digital format and help illustrate why the 1960s is one of the most colorful decades in horror movie history.

Commencing with the climax of FACE OF FU MANCHU, where the evil mastermind and his cohorts were left for dead, THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU wastes no time in its exploitive incentives. With no explanation as to how he escaped unblemished, Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) along with his daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin), his engineer sidekick Feno (Burt Kwouk) and a small army of black-garbed thugs sporting red headbands, are up to no good again. In a hidden, elaborate underground dwelling, Fu is kidnapping the daughters of various top scientists to blackmail the fathers into working for him, including Michel (Carole Gray, CURSE OF THE FLY), beautiful sibling of Frenchman Jules Merlin (Rupert Davies). Fu’s plan of world domination this time depends on the completion of a death ray, and with his arch rival Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) and his assistant Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) on his tail, that’s not going to be easy. Fu does manage to outwit Smith on more more than one ocasion.

With the Fu Manchu series, producer Harry Alan Towers (who also wrote the screenplays under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck) utilizes a standard formula, that of a monstrous madman set on world domination, the individuals he must abduct and abuse to do so, and the lengths that Scotland Yard will take to stop him. BRIDES is no exception to this, but as far as the series goes (and I might be bias here because I even like the final two entries directed by Jess Franco), this is one of the better ones. Director Don Sharp returns for his final Fu, and injects the proceedings with a lot of fights, various James Bond-style espionage, car chases and more. Although the story is convoluted and recruits too many supporting characters for its own good, a good cast of familiar faces and the fact that such ingredients as a deadly snake pit (used to dangle hapless young women over, one hung by the knots of her own hair) are included for no good reason other than looking good on celluloid, makes this all very watchable.

Playing Sax Rohmer’s infamous Asian super criminal for the second of five times, Christopher Lee isn’t given much to do except stand around and give orders, but as always, he delivers his lines with authority, looks great as Fu and still manages to be the central appeal of the film. Although Nigel Green is often considered the best Nayland Smith of the series, Douglas Wilmer is able to step into the character’s shoes just fine, and he would play him one more time in the following year’s VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU. Upon BRIDE’s release, Castle of Frankenstein magazine ran a story which included a nudie photo of several of the actresses from the film, claiming that it was a scene deleted from the American version. Whether this was just a publicity pic or not, or that such a scene actually exists is questionable, but nothing of the sort is present in this video version. If the “Horror Double Feature” series continues, hopefully Warner will pair FACE and VENGEANCE together some time in the near future.

In 18th Century Baltimore, the successful owners of a wax museum (exhibiting assorted murders through the ages), Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova) and (Harold Blount) Wilfrid Hyde-White, spend most of their spare time as armature sleuths. With the blessings of the police, they help track down a suave murderer named Jason Cravatte (Patrick O'Neal) who just killed his fiancée, marrying her corpse immediately afterwards. Caught in action at the local bordello, Jason escapes police custody but is forced to remove his own hand in the process. No problem there: he obtains a device which enables him to interchange various hooks, hatchets and other dangerous pieces. Luring a buxom New Orleans streetwalker (Laura Devon) into assisting him, Jason is bent on getting revenge on those responsible for sending him to prison, and his plans for his victims’ body parts is more than mildy macabre.

Owing a lot to Warner Brothers’ own HOUSE OF WAX (the museum here even boasts that moniker), CHAMBER OF HORRORS has an interesting history. It was originally intended as a pilot for a period detective show (yes, to be titled, “House of Wax"), but it was considered too intense for the small screen and brought to theaters instead. Also, the gimmick of the red “fear flash” and the loud “horror horn” (both explained in a prologue before the Warner logo) were added as a warning before four of the murderous occurrences, none of them at all graphic. It’s most likely that the implied themes of necrophilia and dismemberment is what kept this from being a telefilm, that and the perverted psycho that is Jason Cravette.

Though some of the camera work is stilted and several scenes drag on a bit, CHAMBER OF HORRORS does have a stylish look to it, with remarkable period sets and costumes (resembling an American Hammer clone), so I’m sure no one leaving the theater in 1966 felt cheated. If this was to be TV series, it’s obvious that the producers had something along the lines of “The Wild, Wild West” in mind, but it no doubt would have been a failure. Cesare Danova and Wilfrid Hyde-White are ok in the lead roles, but they don’t have much chemistry and the characters appear too bland and one-dimensional to succeed week after work. Their dwarf sidekick Pepe (José René Ruiz, here billed as Tun Tun) has more personality and probably would have been a standout character if included in the series. It’s actually Patrick O’Neal’s film, as his turn as the conscious-less, womanizing hand-hooked murderer Jason Cravatte is quite memorable, and as sleazy as he is, it’s hard not to root for him. CHAMBER OF HORRORS has a great supporting cast of familiar actors including Jeanette Nolan, Marie Windsor, Berry Kroeger and future “M*A*S*H” star Wayne Rogers as a young police sergeant. Watch closely for a quickie cameo by Tony Curtis during a card game!

Presented 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic, THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU looks very good here, if not great. The opening shots from FACE OF FU MANCU (which was shot 2.35:1 scope) are in pretty bad shape and awkwardly cropped. Once the new footage sets in, the film has stable colors (though they don’t exactly pop out of the screen) and decent detail, though some scenes look a tad dark. The elements obviously weren’t kept in that good of shape (could this be the reason we’re still not seeing FACE or VENGEANCE on DVD?) as evidenced by the scattered speckling on the print source. CHAMBER OF HORRORS is also presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and looks terrific. The elements here are in excellent shape, as evidenced by this pristine transfer which has rich detail and offers the original Technicolors very nicely. Note that this is the uncut 99 minute version of the film. Both titles have excellent English mono tracks with optional English and French subtitles. (George R. Reis)