16 September, 2021

ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN (James Lee Johnson, 1986)


                                                               Vintage Spanish VHS

ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN: With direction credited to James Lee Johnson, screenplay to David Khunne, and even taking the space to note that it's based on a story by Sax Rohmer, Esclavas Del Crimen is a double joke from inveterate trickster, Jess Franco.  This candy colored obscurity is a deliriously filmed erotic adventure that updates Sax Rohmer's Sumuru ethos (Rohmer receives screen credit, as "S. Rohmer") to a contemporary Asian region. It's doubtful that the actual story, what little there is of one, is based on any actual Rohmer story.  Lina Romay appears as Fah Lo Suee, the daughter of  a Fu Manchu style Oriental villain, made up with exotic eye mascara to appear Oriental, with an equally Asian wardrobe and hair style. A title card explains it takes place "in an exotic corner of the distant east, [a] paradise of the drug and corruption." The double joke is that it's a parody of Sax Rohmer's universe played straight, if not sober. Romay does a lot of elaborate exotic dancing in her hotel nightclub, located in a jungle high rise guarded by heavily armed female security personnel. It's also typical of the kind of budgetary restraints the director faced that most of the action is staged within convenient hotel rooms.

Members of the Rocky Walters rock band are approached by seductresses at an Asian tourist resort where they are drugged, tortured, and forced to sign over bank accounts and other financial holdings.  This criminal enterprise is investigated by a karate fighting investigator and an Interpol agent who wears a pink shirt. The movie climaxes with an air strike carried out by the agent flying a Harrier Jump-Jet delivering a napalm payload into the encampment. Franco obviously spent a lot of time on creating his personal atmosphere of male enslavement in a jungle hideout ruled by Alpha women.

This amusing if sometimes opium-paced trifle is most interesting for the eye-popping color filter effects, which fill key scenes with bright primary color patterns which appear as odd halos, sometimes obscuring the action. The female bunch are a sexy and imposing army of Amazons that recall Shirley Eaton and her followers in Franco's THE GIRL FROM RIO/ FUTURE WOMEN (1969).  Only in this post hardcore-Franco feature the female army parade around the tropical headquarters in the nude. Following the final assault on the hidden jungle headquarters Lina Romay gets to repeat the trademark Fu Manchu standard: "The world will hear from me again!"


Every so often in his massive filmography Franco returned to the Far East to stage supposed Sax Rohmer/Edgar Wallace tales. The ones produced by Harry Alan Towers in the late 1960s were the most adequately resourced, despite the outrageous use of stock footage in THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969), including the sinking of the Titanic via Roy Ward Baker's 1958 black and white docudrama A NIGHT TO REMEMBER intercut with more lifted footage from the 1966 THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU, directed by Don Sharp! This isn't really an official Sumuru film, the female villain played by Romay is just a variation on Rohmer's characters and themes. 


Franco's 1985 VIAJE A BANGKOK, ATAUD INCLUIDO was also credited to Edgar Wallace material, although it turns out to be an remake of THE 1966 Franco Eurospy, CARTES SUR TABLE. Then there was the similar BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (1985), a colorful mixture of martial arts, drug smuggling thriller and kidnapping for ransom melodrama, featuring Lina Romay as a Thai pirate, filmed in the Canary Islands. The visual style in that one features comic book style frames with dialogue balloons. With the aid of his ace collaborator, cinematographer Juan Soler Cozar, Franco was obviously having a lot of fun with these Far Eastern-set pulp fictions.

This Herminio Garcia Calvo production followed a series of hardcore features such as EL MIRON Y LA EXCHIBICIONISTA and ENTRE PITO ANDA EL JUEGO (both 1985). It's another return to the Franco-verse take on the Sax Rohmer-Fu Manchu franchise which he explored in the late 1960s with THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU, and THE GIRL FROM RIO, all produced by Harry Alan Towers. It signaled the final part of that Jess Franco phase before he helmed such bigger budgeted, late 1980s, Eurocine-produced action films as FALL OF THE EAGLES, DARK MISSION, and ESMERALDA BAY. 

Unlike Franco's earlier Sax Rohmer related epics, ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN has yet to have an official DVD or HD presentation in an English friendly or any version in North America or elsewhere. This review was based on  a VHS dub of the Spanish video pictured at the top of this post. 

Yet another supposed Edgar Wallace adaptation was Franco's 1983 adventure SANGRE EN MIS ZAPATOS, based on an actual Wallace novel, "Sanders Come from the River"

(C) Robert Monell, 2021