A far weirder-than-average potboiler from the sixties. It’s a druggy
adventure set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, starring the one and only
This obscure 1962 film is probably better known under
its alternate title SOULS FOR SALE. It’s actually an adaptation (of
sorts) of Thomas DeQuincey’s hallucinatory classic CONFESSIONS OF AN
ENGLISH OPIUM EATER. The film is also something of a precursor to John
Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, another Chinatown-set
The producer-director of this film was albert zugsmith,
who’s best known for producing classics like HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL!
and Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL. As a director he was drawn to outré
material like THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ADAM AND EVE (1960), the infamous
Mexican production THE CHINESE ROOM (1968) and this film.
San Francisco, circa 1802: Innocent women are begin
smuggled into Chinatown aboard an ordinary-looking steamer. During its
most recent docking several of the slave women are killed in an epic
Thomas DeQuincey is a thrill-seeking Englishman
stationed in San Francisco who speaks in erudite monologues about the
limits of experience and the seductiveness of evil. He discovers a young
woman in an apartment room, one of several Chinese slaves illegally
imported to America, and rescues her. In this way he gets involved in a
war amongst rival Chinese gangs--or tongs.
The tong mayhem gets so bad DeQuincey heads for an
opium den to trip out. All that results, however, are scary visions of
skulls, spiders, lizards and other such “monstrous phenomena,” and
capture by tong members who put him in a cage. He’s let out by a midget
woman, and both escape, their captors distracted by scantily-clad slave
women dancing seductively.
From there DeQuincey and his diminutive companion blow
the evil den up, which isn’t too hard: this being Chinatown, there’s an
ample supply of fireworks on hand!
This film is far form great, being awkward and
unnecessarily drawn-out. It begins extremely slowly, with the struggle
between the slave women and their captors allowed to drag on for nearly
a full ten minutes. Nor is the final action showdown, which is nearly as
drawn out, anything special. Furthermore, the proceedings are filled
with silly 1930’s-era Fu Manchu-ish Asian stereotypes.
However, Vincent Price’s character is interesting. As
one character intones, “Good and evil often walk the same road,” which
is especially true with Price’s DeQuincey, a morbid and disturbed
individual given to lengthy voice-overs (taken directly from the real
DeQuincey’s text) who’s also the hero of the film.
Director Albert Zugsmith had a real talent for creepy
weirdness. The music is often downright trippy (listen for Theremin
intonations) and the visuals packed with as many demonic masks and
designs as Zugsmith can fit into the frame.
The film’s claim to fame is a lengthy opium trip
sequence in which Vincent Price, following a montage of freaky imagery,
does an eerie slow motion dash through a largely soundless dreamscape.
It’s a triumph of near-experimental hallucinatory filmmaking, and
followed by a nearly-as-bizarre sequence in which attractive Chinese
women dance seductively, only to have their hair yanked from their
(completely bald) heads! Truthfully, this isn’t much of a movie, but as
an exercise in weirdness it’s worth a look.
CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER (SOULS FOR SALE)
Photoplay/Allied Artists Pictures
Director: Albert Zugsmith
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Screenplay: Robert Hill
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Editing: Robert S. Eisen, Roy V. Livingston
Cast: Vincent Price, Linda Ho, Richard loo, June Kyoto Lu, Philip Ahn,
Yvonne Moray, Caroline Kido, Terence de Marney, Geri Hoo, Gerald jann,
Vivianne Mankie, Miel Saan