Thursday, September 27, 2018

Terror of the Tongs (1961)

I saw this one on Talking Pictures TV a couple of months ago - it's one of those Hammer movies which rarely seems to surface on TV.  A hybrid of horror and historical movie, Terror of the Tongs is basically a reworking of Hammer's earlier surprise hit, Stranglers of Bombay, but in colour and with a name horror star headlining.  While the earlier film was a highly sensationalist account of the nineteenth century Indian Thugee cult, Terror of the Tongs was a similarly sensationalist account of the activities of the Tongs in nineteenth century Hong Kong.  Not surprisingly, the budget didn't stretch to location filming in Hong Kong, with the colony instead recreated at Bray Studions, including a wharfside featuring a docked paddle steamer.  Directed by Anthony Bushell - a one time lead actor in pre war British films turned director (he's probably best remembered now for playing Colonel Breen in the original BBC production of Quatermass and the Pit) - the film features plenty of brutality, with numerous stabbings, poisonings and severed hands. 

Despite not sparing on the gore and violence, Terror of the Tongs is a far less effective film that Stranglers of Bombay.  Possibly this is because it is such a calculated attempt to replicate the earlier film's success - it feels too formulaic and lacks spontaneity.  Although Christopher Lee gives a typically menacing turn as the chief villain, to contemporary eyes the sight of him wearing 'oriental' make up is jarring, (to be fair, it is less exaggerated than the make ups he wore as Fu Manchu).  Indeed, as was the custom at the time, the majority of the Chinese characters are played by white British actors wearing dubious make up.  The decision to cast Burt Kwouk, an actor genuinely of Chinese descent in a brief, but key, role simply serves to highlight the inadequacy of the other casting.  Very much in the film's favour is that it only runs seventy six minutes or so, meaning that it doesn't really have time to outstay its welcome.  But, although mildly diverting, providing some crude thrills and violence, the studio bound sets and casting ultimately make Terror of the Tongs  a somewhat inadequate entertainment.



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