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Sampo & Erhardt

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Visit our archives of the MST3K pages previously hosted by the Sci-Fi Channel's SCIFI.COM.

Goodbye Sci-Fi

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett reflect on MST3K's final broadcast.

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Episode guide: 323- The Castle of Fu-Manchu

Movie: (1969) Evil mastermind Fu Manchu has a new plot to destroy the world, but his arch-nemesis Dr. Nayland Smith is on the case.

First shown: 1/18/92
Opening: J&tB sing “We’re on the Satellite of Love.”
Invention exchange: The bots have developed a useful telephone transducer chip, while all Joel has is the big head (again); The Mads demonstrate the Joe Besser “Stinky” Bomb
Host segment 1: Crow decries “The Miss Saigon Syndrome,” J&tB become distraught, which pleases the Mads
Host segment 2: The Shriner flying carpet sketch collapses into weeping; the Mads are delighted
Host segment 3: The bots are inconsolable, Joel tries to cheer them up with the story of Fu-Manchu, but the pain is too much; the Mads celebrate
End: J&tB are utterly beaten, the Mads toast their victory but then get a little too cocky
Stinger: Monkey pile on the castle guard!
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (151 votes, average: 3.74 out of 5)


• I know, I know, this movie is terribly painful. I’m sure there are some among you for whom it is just too painful. But I’m just going to come out and say it: I LOVE this episode! The host segments are uniformly funny and the riffing is top-notch. In a perverse way, this would be an excellent starter episode, since it’s one of the shows that most explicitly deals with the premise of the Mads trying to drive J&tB crazy with bad movies. The movie, no question, is terrible: it’s drab, confusing, clumsy and poorly shot. And I imagine the cuts the Brains made didn’t help matters. But compared to some of the movies we’ll get later, it’s seems like a breeze.
• This episode is included in Shout!Factory’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Vol XXIII.”
• The opening is one of the best ever. My daughter, as a youngster, fell in love with that song and sang it constantly for about two long weeks, especially the “dumpy overlords” line and the part about not wearing our underwear. To a 7-year-old, that’s great satire.
• The song is loosely based on the theme song of a 1960s TV show, “The Funny Company,” even stealing the line “Stories! Songs! Toys!” The line at the end, “Warriors of the World–by Marx!” apparently refers to ads for the “Warriors of the World” line of toy soldiers from all historical eras by toy maker Marx.
• Joel’s line “…uh, I’ll be right back” in the invention exchange segment was sampled by some MSTie and it became a very popular–and useful–chat room sound file.
• Local reference: the piano bar at Nye’s.
• When Crow and Tom do their invention exchange, there’s a closeup on Tom’s hand. Sheesh, couldn’t they have repainted it for the closeup? It looks terrible.
• We get the third and last appearance of the Big Head.
• Dr. F. lights the fuse on the Stinky Bomb and the sparks look like they almost put Frank’s eyes out. Yeesh.
• Then-current references: “Filmed in Oakland” (a reference to the massive firestorm that hit the city in 1991); Crow parodies the now-forgotten “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and also mentions “Doogie Hauser.”
• Movie comment: The ship sinking footage at the beginning is from 1958’s “A Night to Remember.” And the whole opening section of this movie was spliced in directly from “The Brides of Fu Manchu.” So it’s twice-reused footage. The dam bursting scene is footage taken from “Campbell’s Kingdom. You can even see stars Dirk Bogarde (green checked shirt) and Stanley Baker (red shirt) in the footage.
• VERY naughty riff from Joel: “I didn’t mean to but, uh, the new seat covers…” Tom and Crow are scandalized.
• Crow mentions “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.” It would come up again.
• J&tB enter the theater with their Shriner costumes on. Joel removes his, then Crow’s, then turns to remove Tom’s fez, and either can’t do it or thinks better of it.
• Callbacks: “Glen Manning get off that dam!” (Amazing Colossal Man), “I can remember a thousand wonderful hours…” (Rocketship XM), Tom hums the Catalina Caper theme, Hikeeba (Women of the Prehistoric Planet).
• Who drew those “artist’s renderings”?
• In the theater, at different points, both Tom and Joel get irritated at Crow and tell him to shut up or stop. Kinda testy!
• When those cakes of ice float to the surface of the water, Joel makes an odd pantomime that looks a little like he’s picking his nose. I watched it a couple of times, and then it hit me: he’s miming snorting coke.
• Love the slam on Toastmasters (an organization full of very nice people who think they’re witty, but usually aren’t).
• Cast and crew roundup: Producer Harry Alan Towers also produced “Outlaw (of Gor)” and “The Million Eyes of Su-Muru.” Under his pen name Peter Welbeck, he also wrote the screenplays for them.
• CreditsWatch: Kevin’s name appears along with Mike’s under “Additional Music Written and Arranged by.” Maybe he helped on the opening song?
• Favorite riff: “Look at this shot. They should never have let Shatner direct!” Honorable mention: “Feed him to the clam!”

115 Replies to “Episode guide: 323- The Castle of Fu-Manchu”

  1. Sitting Duck says:

    @ #98: Really? Well you learn something new every day.


  2. littleaimishboy says:

    The MSTed movie needs to have some fun stuff going on. Compare “The Deadly Bees”. Stupidity and unlikeable characters abound, and it’s still a great MST3K episode.

    This movie – this CoFM thing – offers us nothing.

    It sneers at us.

    “Here’s some swill, pigs – lap it up!”



  3. A.J. (A Jerk) says:

    I like this episode more than Pod People. In fact, I like every episode more than Pod People, although there are some that are just as bad, if not as bad as it. Fu Manchu is not one of those. It is simply mediocre.

    Try to wrap your heads around that, ya frickin’ nerds.


  4. Mega Weapon says:

    I don’t think I ever saw this one in its entirety during the CC run; so it mostly slipped into the haze of memory, and pretty much out of mind. That all changed with the DVD release. This one has vaulted into one of my personal top ten episodes, primarily because I’m a sucker for movies that drive Joel, Mike or the Bots to the edge of sanity(See: Red Zone Cuba or Invasion of the Neptune Men). I love how Servo is openly weeping by the end credits, and Frank’s flop sweat when the Mads fail at riffing, just always cracks me up.


  5. AFFA says:

    I had a hard time hearing all the words of the song in the beginning (probably because I watch everything I can with the closed captioning on and have become lazy!) Surprised that the lyrics aren’t posted in Ward E. Would anyone mind posting them here?

    Staying out of the controversy over how bad of an episode this is :-)

    For some reason the line “Check out the staring contest there on the left” cracked me up!


  6. thequietman says:

    “He just injected it into the mattress!”

    I was bracing myself for watching this one again, expecting it to be a slog. Admittedly the riffing seems to run out of steam in the second half, but I was pleasantly surprised at how funny the first half is and the host segments were out-of-the-park terrific.

    I don’t often get pedantic about the riffs, but at one point over a shot of an English passenger train Joel says “Oh, it’s Thomas the Tank Engine!” Well, since the locomotive was an A3 Express engine designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, the more accurate joke would be “It’s Gordon the Big Engine!”

    Anyway, I also thought while watching this that Joel’s abortive ‘artist rendering’ sketch was sort of the reverse of Dr. F’s ‘hard pills to swallow’ invention from an episode or so ago, with the bots’ whimpering throughout. “No, not Appleton, Wisconsin!”


  7. Cornjob says:

    Yes this movie really sits on my head and crushes it like no other. The host segments are outstanding. Especially Servo’s breakdown on the magic carpet.


  8. Sitting Duck says:

    Sampo’s Theorem rears its head on the final host segment. Most of the people here seem to think highly of Joel’s big speech. But as for me, I found it intensely corny in the negative sense.

    An oddity in the opening scene which may not have been immediately apparent is when Fu Manchu shoots one of his henchmen. The reason it’s odd is because in the books, Fu Manchu is disdainful of firearms and neither he nor his henchmen use them.

    Finally, the scene where Dr. Kessler and Ingrid declare their love is shot so as to give the impression that we’ve come in post-coitus, but it’s not the case. On one hand, I’m sure many of us were disappointed over not getting to see Ingrid nude. On the other hand, I’m sure most of us are glad we didn’t have to see Dr. Kessler nude.


  9. Turquoise Plastic Pith Helmet says:

    This one made my brain try to escape through my left nostril. Good thing I was congested at the time. Liked the host segments though.


  10. Tad Eustace Ghostal says:

    Hmm. This one… I’m glad that the comments are open for this show, because I think it’s one of the
    most fascinating episodes to discuss.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a longtime reader and new poster on this wonderful site, it’s that the old Sampo’s Theorem/Your Mileage May Vary rule is very much alive and well, and that’s what makes discussing MST3K so fun! We all love Joel, Mike, Frank & Forrester, Pearl and Bobo (well…kind of), Sci-Fi and Comedy Central, it’s just a matter of preference sometimes.

    If we’re dealing strictly in Joel years, I’d say this episode is the flip-side to the “Manos: Hands of Fate” coin. For an entire year, it served the same purpose as Manos: we’re (almost) closing out a prominent season with a movie that is SO bad that it’s actually shaking the faith and mental well being of the otherwise puckish and playful SOL crew. The always optimistic Joel is having a breakdown and even the Mad scientists are taking note of the grisly nature of their work. That said…”Manos” is beloved, and “Fu Manchu” is infamous, renounced by its riffers in real life (Frank’s intro on the Shout! DVD is almost as painful as Mike’s for “Kitten With a Whip” – it’s like ‘Why are you watching this episode?’).

    The difference between the two films is that “Manos” is interesting to watch, and therefore funny to riff on. “Fu Manchu” is so dry, boring and confusing that the writers themselves lost interest and just fired the best joke they could think of at will, regardless of the lack of cohesiveness in the plot (hence you get a heavier focus on the Burt Young riffs and several other non-sequiturs). If you objectively look at the riffing for what it is, I would say it’s top-of-the-line, grade A material. They are, in fact, “Firing on all cylinders” with this one. But it’s still not funny to watch.

    I’m sure this has been mentioned before, but I think the MSTie community at times underestimates the power of these bad films, and how much more we really like these movies than we think we do. One of my favorite episodes, “The Killer Shrews”, is probably as bad as this film. But it has an edge to it, something special that makes it ALMOST a good movie, that makes me love watching it with the companionship of Joel & the bots. I’m a biker movie fan…so I enjoy watching Mike and the team take on “The Girl in Gold Boots.” My favorite episodes, “Catalina Caper” and “Red Zone: Cuba” are both films that I genuinely love on their own. I can’t stand “Beginning of the End” but Sampo is apparently a big bug movie fan and enjoys that show. If “Fu Manchu” is enjoyed by some people here, I honestly think it’s because there’s something in the film that they can relate to or follow along with. The commentary is really secondary when it comes to watching this show, in my opinion, and I think that’s where you get Sampo’s Theorem! Just a thought.

    I also think the segments in this one are not as great as some people say. They feel a bit overwritten and tedious to me. But the level of skill demonstrated throughout the show is very promising of the shows to come in future seasons!

    So bottom line: I don’t really care for this episode.


  11. Daniel says:

    Just finished watching this one. The movie itself is indeed quite drab and messy, but it somehow fit my mood today (perhaps this is one of those episodes you just have to be in the right mindset to enjoy). The riffing seems slightly above par for season 3, I thought. I’ve never seen any of the other Towers/Lee Fu Manchu films, I’m somewhat curious how they compare to this particular entry in the series.

    Also, the “mime” looked to me as though Joel was adjusting his mic/earpiece (if he’s wearing one, can’t really tell – even on the Shout DVD the picture gets a little blurry in some parts).


  12. Ray Dunakin says:

    I just have to say that this is probably my least-liked episode. The movie is just so freaking dull, drab and boring that it’s incredibly difficult to sit through even with the riffs.

    The other two eps that I have trouble with are Mighty Jack and Stranded In Space. Both movies just sort of sprawl across the screen like 90 minutes of the words, “HERE’S A MOVIE”. Yet they are still much less dull, drab and boring than CoFM.


  13. mnenoch says:

    My god this is a dull movie. The ironic thing in my mind is that the plot itself is fairly easy to follow, even with the confusing bit about the kidnapped scientist and his doctor to replace his heart, its still a pretty easy plot to understand. However, because of the god awful editing, acting, direction, etc etc the movie is so bad that it is barely watchable. I will say that I was reserved about watching this one again but I found the riffs to be pretty good and kind of hold the episode together.


  14. Mr. Krasker says:

    Not my favorite episode, not my least. It’s always interesting to see how much opinions differ regarding episodes like this one.


  15. Slartibartfast, maker of Fjiords says:

    Due to multiple requests (or two, if I can count that high), I am answering the question that inquiring minds need to know: What film of Jess Franco do I consider a good movie. Prior to answering that question, I need to include some fiats. The first is that the definition of a good movie is based on the criteria of the horror/sci fi genre, not that put forth by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. My criteria is whether it is watchable, has a reasonable plot that can be followed and is entertaining. I have watched a few Jess Franco films that were not.
    So, my film nominee for best Jess Franco film is “The Awful Dr. Orloff.” The plot is the same as we see in multiple movies, Dr. Orloff is harvesting young ladies in order to bring his dead wife back to life, and it is the duty of the lead detective to find the perp and bring him to justice.


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