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CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER

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 Vincent Price.

The Package
     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 phantasmagoria.
     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.

The Story
     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 scuffle.
     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!

The Direction
     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.
 

Vital Statistics

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  

     

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