The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

[6.5]

Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) headlines this matinee adventure flick about a group of British archaeologists who fight to keep the recently discovered sword and mask of Genghis Khan out of the hands of the evil Fu Manchu, who would harness the items into deadly weapons against humanity. Karloff plays the evil Fu Manchu with indelible glee, supported by an equally creepy performance by Myrna Loy as Manchu’s sadistic daughter.

The most memorable parts of The Mask of Fu Manchu are the scenes of torture inflicted by Karloff’s and Loy’s characters. When one strapping young Brit (Charles Starrett) is captured by the evil duo, Loy has him stripped and whipped while she yells, “Faster! Faster!,” seemingly getting her rocks off from the infliction of pain. The poor man is then strapped nearly nude to a table surrounded by Adonis-like black men on pedestals and injected with a mind-controlling serum that will make him Fu Manchu’s willing slave.

While the film isn’t especially well directed, the sets and costumes are interesting. There are also some nifty proto-Saw torture rooms involving collapsing spiked walls and alligator pits. Whether you enjoy these old serial-type movies or not, The Mask of Fu Manchu certainly offers modern audiences something special in regards to camp value, racism, homo-eroticism, bondage, and sadism. Gotta love that pre-Code Hollywood naughtiness.

With Jean Hersholt and Lewis Stone.

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