Next week at TFH features a trio of trippy films gathered together under the banner “Just Say No”. They include Requiem for a Dream, The Trip, and the subject of today’s Saturday Matinee, Confessions of an Opium Eater.
Producer Albert Zugsmith was a consummate exploitationist, launching his career in 1952 with the berserk red-scare screed, Invasion USA starring Gerald Mohr and Dan O’Herlihy. He would spend the next twenty years rattling off a memorably lurid series of titles stoked by the hottest of hot-button topics, including teenage sex (High School Confidential), collegiate sex (Sex Kittens go to College) and interracial sex (Night of the Quarter Moon). There’s a pattern here if you look real close.
An amiable self-made millionaire who seemed to thrive on the low-down pleasures found on the other side of the tracks, Zugsmith’s first directorial efforts (College Confidential, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve) barely squeaked by on their vaudevillian salaciousness and 1961′s Dondi quickly sank into a sea of puerile sentimentality. So nothing could have prepared us for Zugsmith’s next film, an hallucinatory mix of Borges and Sax Rohmer with the disorienting twists and turns of an Escher print.
Starring Vincent Price, 1962′s Confessions of an Opium Eater was Zugsmith’s sixth film as a director and, there’s no way around it, represents some kind of cock-eyed artistic awakening. Helped in no small part by Eugene Lourie’s claustrophobic set design, a disorienting maze of sliding doors and smoking sewers that conjures up an undeniably stoned atmosphere helped along by the peculiar, out-of-sync rhythms provided by the editing team of Roy Livingston and Robert Eisen. It’s a Vincent Price movie that comes with a contact high.
A most unlikely action hero, Price stands in for DeQuincy himself who takes to the San Francisco underworld to rescue some runaway slave girls victims of the Tong war. Turned out in a tight-fitting pea coat and sailor cap, Price narrates the film in a whispering echo chamber reminiscent of Lon Chaney’s tormented Inner Sanctum voice-overs. Just three years earlier Price had dropped acid for Columbia Picture’s The Tingler but Confessions of an Opium Eater, with its stock scare footage from Invasion of the Saucer Men and Earth VS the Spider, is the kind of trip more befitting the reigning star of American International Pictures.
Warner Archives has put out a good looking dvd with the film’s evocative sets nicely framed in anamorphic 1:85. There are no extras, but who needs them when you have TFH!!