13 December 1999 | Gothick
A Palace of Pleasure for Bad Movie Buffs Everywhere
This (like Satan in High Heels, Myra Breckinridge, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) is one of those unknown delights produced by the Fab, Mod, Decadent Decade of the Sixties. The child of twisted, tacky sleazemeister Harry Allan Towers (sort of the UK's answer to Russ Meyers--somebody really ought to do a book on Towers--his collaboration with Spanish schlock artist Jesus Franco alone is worth some sort of award for the pinnacle of filmic tackiness), this movie has very little to do with the original novels by Fu Manchu's father, Sax Rohmer. The novels are well worth seeking out--try any online auction site. The best of them is probably The Return of Sumuru and it's pretty easy to get hold of. The original novels were rife with racist attitudes left over from the bygone era of British imperialism, with some new Cold War hysteria and anti-feminist paranoia thrown in for good measure. Sumuru, who was really the heroine, spent most of the novels lolling around nude on mink rugs smoking endless cigarettes or stalking around in high heels sipping liqueur and pondering how ugliness was the root of all that was wrong with the modern world. Rohmer came from an era when homosexuality simply wasn't mentioned so some of the lesbian implications of Sumuru's paradise were glossed over with almost unbelievable naivete. Trust Harry Allan Towers not to let THAT moxie slip past his capable paws. He even includes Klaus Kinski as a gay man marked for death by Sumuru--perhaps because he couldn't be seduced by any of her agents (though I'm sure he would have LOVED to have helped her with her wardrobe, had she given him a chance).
As Sumuru, Shirley Eaton chews up the scenery with tremendous eclat, and gets fantastic dramatic mileage out of that cigarette holder. Check out her new autobiography for some behind the scenes anecdotes about the filming of the two movies (and the true story of how Towers shamelessly grabbed footage from the Rio film and inserted it in the Blood of Fu Manchu without Shirley's knowledge). Frankie Avalon, George Nader and Wilfred Hyde-White are all ridiculous as Sumuru's opponents, which is exactly as it should be. Of Sumuru's agents, my favorite would have to be Helga, as incarnated by the zaftig Maria Rohm (a regular of various Towers productions--I think she was his girlfriend).
It is truly tragic that this movie is ONLY available as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Something this sublimely awful deserves to be savored in pristine form. Picket YOUR video store today, and demand Sumuru movies now!