Confessions of an Opium Eater DVD Review: Would You Like a Side of Beef, or a Side of Man?

By 1962, motion picture producer Albert Zugsmith had been far removed from the Universal science fiction classics that he will forever be remembered for with “serious” moviegoers (i.e. The Incredible Shrinking Man) and returned to what was best at: making cheap, independent exploitation flicks. The Allied Artists release Confessions of an Opium Eater is a prime slice of beef (or is it a slice of man, to mock a corny philosophical conversation that takes place within the confines of the film) wherein we learn one truly important thing: casting Vincent Price as a “good guy” action hero was a sure sign of some drug use in itself.

Not that he’s really a good guy (or an action star) in Confessions of an Opium Eater, mind you. In fact, he’s more of an anti-hero — especially when you consider his character is a drug fiend. The tale — very loosely based on the 1821 biographical publication Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey — finds Price (as the author) spewing narrative soliloquies left and right as he attempts to free some girls sold into slavery, all the while evading both factions of a tong war in 1902 Chinatown. Of course, he takes time out to take a toke off the ol’ pipe, creating one of the most memorable (if not only) Vincent Price freak-out sequences in cinema history.

As if that wasn’t enough, how ’bout the sight of Price as an action star — getting into a hatchet duel with some thugs in a dimly-lighted sewer? Or having one of his many theoretical tête-à-têtes with a female Chinese midget locked in a mobile bamboo cage? The film as a whole is a pretty cheaply-made affair, with some rather laughable special effects — while the fact that every Asian character in the whole damn film speaks with a broken accent adds that certain enjoyable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons factor. Imagine if the folks from Hammer Studios made a trippy American take on an old Monogram film noir and you might come close to describing the sights and sounds to be found here.

Naturally, I recommend it for that very reason. Plus, Price actually gets to kiss an Asian girl onscreen — something that certainly didn’t happen very often during the segregationist days of cinematic yore. Yvonne Moray plays the part of the little person in (yellowface), Philip Ahn is also featured in the film, as are Richard Loo, Linda Ho, and June Kyoto Lu. Victor Sen Yung and Terence de Marney also contribute their talents to this underground favorite.

The folks at Warner Archive have once again shown b-movie connoisseurs a little love here, releasing this long sought-after gem to DVD-R along with two other hard-to-find titles (The Sorcerers with Boris Karloff, and The Face of Fu Manchu with Christopher Lee) for Halloween 2012. Sure, Confessions of an Opium Eater isn’t much of a horror film for today’s whacked-out generation, but I’m sure it must have scared a conservative-minded prude or two back in ’62.

The barebones disc’s 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a pretty solid affair, though the print used for the transfer does show more signs of wear at some times than others. Of course, if you get as high as Price does in the film, that will only add to the charm. In fact, I think I’m going to go track down one of the local dealers in town so I can see how cool this film is with the assistance of a psychotropic substance.

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Luigi Bastardo

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