It’s great to be able to finally see “Confessions of an Opium Eater” in a decent print via DVD. It’s been obscure and unavailable for a long time. All I knew was that it existed, and a memory of some stills from this weird little gem in “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine.
Ah, 1962. Producer/director Albert Zugsmith evidently met his Muse and cranked out this gleefully un-PC look at the Yellow Peril in San Francisco 1902. Zugsmith, despite some legitimate credits on his resume, wallowed in exploitation for the most part. COAOE somehow escaped Zugsmith’s penchant for low-level production and rose above what should have been a Z-list production. What resulted was a real oddity, a bastardized version of Thomas De Quincey’s late 1800s drug tale. This movie bears little resemblance to De Quincey’s fable. The screenplay is more Sax Rohmer/Fu Manchu than anything else.
This drive-in classic has it all folks. Enigmatic fortune cookie wisdom, secret passages out the yin-yang, a sultry Dragon Lady named Ruby with world domination on her mind, a wisecracking Chinese Munchkin sing-song girl, Polynesian twerking, firecrackers, Tong warfare, every Chinese actor in Hollywood, Vincent Price as a moody poetic sort of action hero…and yes, opium. Price’s opium dream is a real hoot for fans of late 1950s Allied Artists horror/sci-fi flicks. After nodding off on the pipe, Vinny gets visited by a host of critters from other AA pics in short cameo appearances. He sees the “eyeball hand” from Invasion of the Saucermen, crawling along. He sees the monster tarantula from The Spider. He sees the “voodoo woman” from Voodoo Woman. He sees the skull from Screaming Skull. Also lots of Chinese masks and fish-eye lens howling people. Zugsmith really raided the AA vaults to put this trip together.
The famous slo-mo scene, done in complete silence, is still pretty effective. It’s surreal, dreamy, and unexpected. Also of note is the “girl auction” in which captive gals from the United Nations perform native dances for the Mandarin crowd and their impressive wisdom hats. Watch for Miss Polynesia, who really does twerk, in addition to writhing around to a soundtrack that switches from ersatz Chinese to SF North Beach beatnik coffee bar free form jazz. Tasty!
Well worth seeking out if you’ve heard about this. It’s short and to the point. Also extremely weird. The ending is unexpected. Over fifty years later, a movie like this could not be made. There are racial stereotypes presented in an unapologetic manner, strictly due to the time in which it was made.
Anyway, how can you resist a movie that owns the line: “NO! Use the velvet whips, they don’t mar the body!” Delicious.