Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Confessions Of An Opium Eater (1962) movie review

Confessions Of An Opium Eater (1962)

Joe Dante is mostly known for directing the mega hit Gremlins, but he has also directed many other films of note.  Recently BAM (The Brooklyn Academy Of Music) did a retrospective of his films :

Joe Dante at the Movies

and TV work, plus offered to show some films that Joe Dante was a fan of, or that influenced him.  There were multiple double features, and some pretty great stuff was shown.  He even showed up for some screenings, did a Q&A after a showing of his work print of Gremlins, and introduced a couple of screenings as well.  I got to meet him and chat with him, and he is not only a great guy, but very down to earth, personable, and very aware.  Talking with him felt like talking with any of my other movie obsessed friends, except that he has been amazingly successful, unlike the rest of us!

This double feature shown did not include a film that Dante directed, but instead included two lesser known works with famous actors, one with Vincent Price and the other with Anthony Perkins.  Confessions Of An Opium Eater is based on a famous book by Thomas De Quincey.  It revolves around a slave girl auction in San Francisco's Chinatown around 1902.  Vincent Price has been called in to help stop the auction, he is supposed to be the Arnold Schwarzenegger type, the one who is good at his job so he will clean up the mess.  The truth of the matter is he ends up much more like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble In Little China.  In fact in some ways this movie seems like the precursor to Big Trouble, and I am guessing that John Carpenter saw this when young and this one influenced Big Trouble.

The film starts off with the unloading of some slave girls in California.  First off, if you're going to be transporting slaves, you should at least have a system in place to do so!  This was the most haphazard slave transport I have ever seen.  The girls were running back and forth, trying to get away, there weren't enough ship crew to handle them, and the transfer from ship to ship was comical at best.  When the girls are finally brought to land, it does not go much better.  Chinese come to kidnap them, and a fight ensues where the girls try to get away again.

Cut to Vincent Price arriving in Chinatown, where gang wars are about to start due to some issues with the slave trade.  He wanders into Chinatown looking for his contact, only to find out his contact has been killed.  He meets someone mourning his death, who happens to be pro slave trade, so Vincent Price is definitely confused.  He breaks into another building and finds a runaway slave, and vows to help her.  They escape, only to be caught in the sewers and Vincent Price receives his first of many blows to the head which render him unconscious no matter how lightly he seems to be hit.

He is eventually saved by an Asian midget, and with the help of the midget, gets into the room where the slaves are being held.  Now, this is all in the first part of the film.  It carries on from here, and without giving away too much, he gets captured a few more times, gets saved a few more times, he gets high as a kite on opium, blows some shit up, etc etc etc.  There is even some twerking during the auction, loads of proverbs uttered back and forth, an opium nightmare sequence, a port opium chase scene, and one more midget.  Although it is only about 90 minutes long, it feels longer and packs a lot in the 90 minutes.

Let's go over the good stuff.  This movie has some really fun, wacky scenes.  The film looks good for much of it, though the print I saw was very old.  The nightmare sequence is a lot of fun, and the post nightmare bit is insane and weird.  The sets are great, with trap doors, hidden rooms, and all the trappings of a Chinatown thriller.

The bad stuff isn't so bad that it makes the movie unwatchable, in fact, some of the bad stuff is why this one is so good.  The acting is either not great, or just badly directed.  Vincent Price is an inept hero, to say the least, though you have to wonder if it was intentional or not, though I think not.  The script, at least the first have, seemed to be written by just using one proverb after another, like opening a whole box of fortune cookies one after the other.

All in all I found this thoroughly enjoyable, faults and all.  You do not see films like this anymore, possibly for some good reasons, but I am glad this one still exists!

8 out of 10.

Location : BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) , theater 2, Brooklyn, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 22nd, 2016 at 8:30 PM
Format : 16mm, faded and pretty worn, but still very watchable.
Audience : about 60 people, I know a bunch of people there that enjoyed it