323. The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

An MST episode I hadn’t seen till a few days ago. My mind is blown. So much pain in this picture. It’s off the charts. Easily one of the worst experiments in the show’s run. If watching James Bond were going to the dentist, you’d have this. Memories of seeing Castle the first time or thoughts? Where does Fu Manchu fall in MST history?

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It’s awful. It’s racist. I can’t believe that it was not only a whole series of novels but a whole series of movies. And that Christopher Lee went along with it. In an interview about his appearance as Dracula, he said the reason Dracula doesn’t say a single word throughout the entire movie is that the script was so terrible he refused to speak the lines he was given.

And yet he was perfectly fine doing Fu Manchu. And it’s not like he was any further along in his career. Both Dracula and Fu Manchu were ongoing movie series at the same time.

Eventually, people started to move away from the blatant racism in Fu Manchu. At least a little. And that’s when Sumuru came in. Same writer, but he decided to have blatant sexism overshadow the blatant racism. (So you have that to look forward to this season…)

I do think such things make for good MST3K fodder because there’s just so much going on. The incoherent plot, the terrible acting, the racism, the poor dialog, etc. etc. It’s a solid ep, especially for the early seasons. And I’ll be interested to see how their second crack at Sumuru comes out.

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It is the most confusing movie they have ever done. For a long time I didn’t like it but now I find its incoherence fun.

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Oh man, this one. I remember catching it unriffed on tv years ago, thinking “hey, Christopher Lee!”, but the only real memory that stuck with me was how bad and utterly boring it was. That put me off watching the MST3K version for years, but I finally forced myself to watch it, and it was as bad as I remember. How did they manage to take so many elements that should have been good and boil them down to such a pallid mush? It’s nearly as inexplicable as Manos.

In this case I don’t think the riffs pointing out how bad and dull the movie is helps it. It needed some more high energy, positive riffing to pull you out of the mire. Maybe the soul-sapping dullness of the movie overwhelmed the writers’ room.

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You’re definitely not alone in finding it one of the worst movies. Fu Manchu regularly comes up on multiple people’s lists when you ask them either what the worst riffed movies are or which episodes they find unwatchable because the movie is so terrible it overshadows the riffs.

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The most telling commentary in this episode is Crow’s assertion that Fu Manchu’s “Not really evil. He’s just DULL. A twisted bureaucrat in silk jammies.” Which… yeah. Thankfully, a Nineties audience was at least somewhat less steeped in anti-Asian racism than they would’ve been when the film was made. Or when Rohmer’s b.s. stories were new. So a guy just hanging around pretending to be Chinese was supposed to be nightmarish enough to terrorize an audience. Because being Chinese would be inherently scary and threatening. But if you don’t feel threatened by every Chinese person you see, the central conceit is… kinda’ hollow.

This has a parallel in The Atomic Brain. One reason that movie’s so godawful and laughably bad is that it insists that Mrs. March is terrifying and all-powerful. Which would be true if you genuinely believed that an aged woman with no husband and no kids is an innate threat. If you’re skeptical on this point, though? Then she’s just some mediocre-minded, spoiled, narcissistic twit who anyone could subdue with a pillow, or some sleeping pills in her Cream Of Wheat™, or a firm shove down the stairs. There’s no legit reason at all for anyone to be scared of her.

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I’ve not watched a lot of Fu Manchu movies (because there’s a whole lot of entertaining non-racist junk out there to get to first) but I feel confident in saying this is the Thunderball of Fu Manchu movies. It’s dull, pointless, and feel like it lasts an entire week.

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In Being from Another Planet, Tom asserts over the end credits that it’s the worst film that they’ve ever had to sit through. Joel and Crow proceed to name almost every film that they had seen up to that point and Tom just kept saying “Worse.”

Until Crow says Castle of Fu Manchu. Tom acknowledges that that is the worst film that they’ve seen.

(Personally, I think that Tom was being too hard on Being from Another Planet.)

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It used to be my least favorite episode, but I watched it a few months ago and realized it’s actually quite hilarious. (The secret: don’t even TRY to follow the plot of the movie, just listen to the riffing).

That the skits are all about how badly the Mads want to BREAK Joel and the Bots makes this a really good newbie episode.

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He actually grudgingly accepts that Castle of Fu Manchu was only equally as bad as Being from Another Planet. I’ve said elsewhere that Servo’s reaction to that movie is a little, erm, exaggerated!

Another factor that counts against Fu Manchu (I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet), is that the print quality is shockingly bad. I know they had to use things as they found them in those days, but from a purely visual quality perspective this movie is absolutely abysmal, and that’s before you even start to consider any of the problems with the actual content.

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I’ve heard there are some Fu Manchu films that never even bother to give the slightest hint of what he’s trying to do, and we’re expected to just accept as obvious that a genius Asian person is evil and needs to be stopped. Maybe if the show gets more seasons, they can dig into those.

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The first time I watched it I had to keep rewinding it because I couldn’t follow what was happening. I guess I need to rewatch it because I have almost no memory of it. Other than confusion. I remember being confused.

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It’s bad but it’s not Lost Continent bad.

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It’s bad, but some of the riffs are great. I still laugh at the “Bob Hope?!?” line.

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I have vague memories of this episode, but other than remembering it wasn’t a good movie, there isn’t much else. Also, I’m not entirely sure those vague memories aren’t at least partially from Time Of The Apes.

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Oh, I don’t know. An overprivileged, rich old white person who’s willing to casually sacrifice other people’s lives in a selfish drive for a delusional future? Sounds pretty terrifying to me.

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But she’s physically frail, and even her allies are only there because she pays them. None of them like her even a little. She’s also in a giant empty house where it’s easy for plotters to work in places where they wouldn’t be readily discovered. It would be easy for one or all of them to do her in. Eaton tries, but she’s never able to make me believe that she’s powerful enough to hold them all in the palm of her hand without even breaking a sweat. It’s just ridiculous. Hence the snarky sing-song of “She’s old… so old… she creaks…” etc. while she wanders around and around in the house for what feels like three years.

I wish the script had taken the more obvious but also more effective tack of having the other people in the house be actual family members. I think I’d swallow their loyalty/fear more easily then. Because, yeah… a lot of people will stay forever with a horrible parent or spouse, no matter what.

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I haven’t watched it in a few years, either. My memories of it are also rather vague. And since it’s the 5th in the series, audiences are expected to already be familiar with the main cast. Not just evil scheming supervillain Fu Manchu but heroic British superspy Neyland Smith and his associate, Doctor Petrie.

But, using Wiki to refresh my memory, it seems the plot is this:

The evil Fu Manchu wants to freeze the world’s oceans. (Just like in Mighty Jack…) To do this, he’s built a machine that creates intense cold on a massive scale. For some reason, the machine runs on opium. (I guess because opium makes you super chill?) So he makes a deal with local crimelord Pasha and uses Pasha’s men alongside his mercenary henchmen to take over the governor’s palace in Istanbul (not Constantinople). Despite being a genius mad scientist supervillain, the specific intricacies of turning opium into an endothermic bomb requires the expertise of inventor Dr. Kessler, so Fu Manchu has kidnaped him and tortured him. That has the side effect of setting off Kessler’s heart condition, so Fu Manchu has to perform heart surgery to save him. Too late, Pasha realizes that Fu Manchu has double crossed him. So Pasha changes sides and works with Smith to bring down Fu Manchu. They sabotage the device so that it only freezes the castle corridors and not the entire ocean, but the wily Fu Manchu, as always, has found a way to escape certain death so that he can plot again in the next movie.

On that level, it’s on par with your average Bond film, really. It’s just that it’s so poorly written and made as to be nigh incomprehensible. It just throws these characters at you and jumps between subplots almost at random and none of it seems at all convincing.

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I’ve watched it recently and my memories of it are vague.

The whole thing is like a heavy sedative, it leaves you confused and tired. One of the absolute worst movies they ever did on the show

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I saw it on one of the movie channels before it was riffed and under its original name of Timewalker and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s really not that bad for a low-budget horror movie.

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