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CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER (1962)
Vincent Price faces the death of 1000 cuts in this delirious pulp adventure directed by Touch of Evil producer Albert Zugsmith. Returning to San Francisco after a long stay in the Orient two-fisted mercenary Gilbert De Quincey (Price) finds himself caught in the midst of a Tong war. Descending deep below the surface of Chinatown he plays one side against the other in a daring attempt to break up a human trafficking ring where slave girls are auctioned for opium. A surreal rip-roaring yarn packed with evil drug lords secret passageways illicit opium dens and more Confessions of an Opium Eater is a "claustrophobic fever dream one of the most bizarre beautiful and poetic Z-films ever made" (Chicago Reader)!
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There's no dialogue for the first eleven minutes, it's more like a graphic novel than film, ripe with pulp novel imagery regarding Chinese slave women abducted for auction at the turn of the century San Francisco, mythic Tong wars running rackets, seaports, opium and slavery, and Asian stereotypes from said time-frame (which is excusable at the time the film was made as well as what little we Americans knew of Asians back in the early 1900's, as they were known for both furtive secrecy and non-assimilation, like most immigrants then). And there's that symbolic, surreal white horse that plays a pivotal role in that first beach scene; later recognized as a well-known metaphor for heroin, derived from opium. Whew. And from here it only gets stranger. Much stranger.
Enter Price, a sea-faring roustabout both penniless and on an odyssey, sorta like a turn-of-the-century Charles Bukowski spewing cryptic Charlie Chan-isms to rightfully untrusting Chinese comic book characters each more deceitful than the last. But I don't insinuate for a second that these remarks are unbecoming, rather they add a flavorful flair of the phantasmagoric that lends much to what would otherwise be a dreadful viewing experience. Equal parts film noir, pulp novel, theatrical drivel, racy melodrama, European fumetti and no budget action flick - if it was made a few years later, it would have been a great Jess Franco flick.
So as Price, a descendant of Thomas DeQuincy's a hundred years later (and the only thread of continuity to the film's title), attempts to save a young woman from the impending slave auction that takes place later that night where women are bartered for opium, he encounters more trap doors and secret passageways than a hundred spy films while meeting odd characters and savage henchmen brandishing huge swords, bamboo cages with slave girls who must dance provocatively for their potential buyers while a few red herrings are tossed our way, none believable but all enjoyable. Does any of this make sense? `Doesn't much matter, you'll either love it or hate it, the latter group probably ceased reading a while ago.
It's a two star film for the Criterion snob, four stars to those who appreciate cinematic oddities, cult, camp and the transgressive taste buds. A poppy for your thoughts...
Shot on a shoestring budget by exploitation producer Albert Zugsmith (SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ADAM & EVE) and also directed by him, this OPIUM EATER is not an adaptation of the famous Thomas De Quincey work but rather a reimagining of it. Price plays Gerald De Quincey, a descendant of Thomas who 100 years later in 1902 becomes involved in a Tong war in San Francisco over the selling of Asian brides. Vincent plays a philosophical action hero (?!) who waxes poetic as he attempts to free the captured women. While the Chinese characters speak in Charlie Chan English, they are at least played by Asian performers who give commited performances in spite of the dialogue.
Originally released by low budget specialists Allied Artists (formerly Monogram Pictures), the movie is now being released by Warner Archive as an MOD (made on demand) DVD-R. Whether it's for the film's 50th anniversary I'm not sure but whatever the reason, I'm glad to have finally caught up with it. Although awkward and cheesy in some places, there are several moments which stand out long after the film is over such as Price's opium dream and his escape from his pursuers across the rooftops of Chinatown which is done in slow motion and without sound. Producer Albert Zugsmith was also responsible for THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and TOUCH OF EVIL and there is something like those movies especially the latter in this one. Not a good movie but a fascinating one.
"I think you wear more faces than there are stars in a gutter after the rain."
That i just a small portion of the weird Confucianism's that are peppered throughout this movie. Basically a war between the Tongs and the Drug & "Bride" traders, Price's De Quincey is a mercenary who is siding with the traders until he gets close to one of the "Brides" and decides to help her escape.
It's a very slow and meandering movie where a chase scene is all in slow motion because Price is stoned from opium. It never really gets into 2nd gear and even the ending takes to long to get to it.
Don't get me wrong, I love this movie. Not quite as strange as I remember it, but, then again, it's been decades since I last saw it.
The 1:66 anamorphic picture is grainy and shows it's B movie budget but is still looks great for a 50 year old film.
Here's where I usually drop a bomb and blast this to bits. However, I really don't have any negatives to say at all. Very grateful to Warners for releasing this.
If you haven't seen this then you won't get much out of it. If you have then this is a must.
Nice transfer by warner archive picture is sharp and the sound is great
One of the greatest drug trip sequences ever shot Bravo Warner for making this available.