Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Historical Drama
- Vincent Price Films
This once-difficult-to-find exploitation flick by producer/director Albert Zugsmith is beloved by nearly every mainstream critic, with Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader claiming it’s “not to be missed”, and Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine referring to it as a “beautiful and often bizarre little gem.” While I’m not quite sure it deserves such explicit praise, Confessions is certainly an unusual and atmospheric B-flick, one which merits a second look simply to understand what’s happening throughout its convoluted script. Based in-name-only — think AIP’s Poe “adaptations” — on Thomas De Quincey’s 1821 memoir, it follows the adventures of a mysterious mercenary (a descendant of De Quincey) who discovers a labyrinthine underworld of human slave trafficking in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and decides (we’re never sure why) to try to rescue a desperate young woman from her salacious fate. Meanwhile, he’s seduced by the allure of an opium den — he insists he “doesn’t like the pipe”, but continues puffing away anyway — which prompts the film’s most celebrated sequence: a truly surreal nightmare montage which segues into a slow-mo chase scene.
Vincent Price’s unusual turn here as an “action hero” is less flamboyant than what fans are used to, but he’s perfectly suited for intoning the stilted lines in Robert Hill’s pulpy script (many of which sound like fortune cookie quips):
“Maybe you’re the one who should find out if you’re a side of beef or a side of man.”
“Man’s view of good and evil is like water boiling in a box: open the package to the east and we flow east; open the package to the west and we flow west.”
The campiest sequence by far, however, is voiced by Linda Ho as the film’s wily femme fatale, Ruby Low: while seducing Price, she alludes to sex as “swimming in the forbidden waters”, and tries to convince him that they are meant to be with each other by insisting:
“It is not many times in one life a man and a woman found [sic] the other half of themselves. When I see you for first time, I felt it — as if, long ago, we… whispered to the wind… together… and the moon… shone on us… and you… and me…”
Equally enjoyable is feisty Yvonne Moray (best known for her poorly acted role in The Terror of Tiny Town) as an aging “Chinese midget” who has given up hope of finding happiness outside the confines of her dungeon, but remains remarkably cheerful nonetheless; the decades seem to have mellowed Moray, and turned her into a more confident performer. The best aspect of Confessions, however, is its overall atmospheric ambiance: we really believe we’ve been submerged into the bowels of a unique form of hell, and wonder how — or if — Price’s character will be able to escape.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Vincent Price as Gilbert De Quincey
- Yvonne Moray as “the Chinese midget”
- The infamous “opium trip” slo-mo sequence
- Atmospheric sets and cinematography
Yes, simply for its cult-like status.