The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Harry Alan Towers

  About Harry Alan Towers:

Born in England in 1920, he attending acting school at a young age before finding work for BBC radio in the 1950s. Business instincts lead him to set up his own radio company, Towers of London, selling radio shows overseas. Inevitably he progressed into the early commercial television stations in Britain, producing a number of low budget series which would then be sold overseas to the American and Oceanic markets. The market for television productions was still rather limited in the early 1960s, but cinema was as popular as ever and Towers used his tried and tested exploitation techniques to make films quickly and cheaply, but with enough draw that they would sell widely. To this extent, he filmed all over the world to find the cheapest, but best looking locations, and appreciating the pull of a marquee name, always made sure to have at least one big name in the cast - his internation co-production deals meant that he tried to get cast members from all of the funding countries, leading to some unique partnerships. It was during this time that Towers met a young Austrian actress called Maria Rohm, looking to make her break into cinema - they married, and for over a decade she starred in over twenty of his films, before moving behind the camera as an associate producer. Towers was a big literary fan, and from his first films Coast of Skeletons (1962) and Death Drums Along the River (1963) based on Edgar Wallace characters, he would base almost all of his productions (many of which he scripted himself) on an incredibly eclectic mix of writers, from iconic names like the Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan Poe to pulp adventure writers like Sax Rohmer, Edgar Wallace and H. Rider Haggard.

Through the 1960s, Towers placed himself firmly at the centre of exploitation cinema, making lucrative co-production deals with some of the big international studios. The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) was his first large scale production, working with the German company Constantin Film, and was a reserved sucess - enough to mark Towers as a new name on the European cinema scene, but not enough to secure himself as a major player, and he would rarely get to work on such a large scale again. A lot of the film's success was contributed to the casting  of British horror icon Christopher Lee in the starring role, and they would go on to work together on 11 more films until the end of the decade. A variety of films followed, from a pair of Fu Manchu sequels, to the Victorian space-age comedy Rocket to the Moon (1967), until Towers met the Spanish director Jess Franco, who's film Succubus (1968) recently gained international acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival. Franco was familiar with low budget environments, well read and was happy to explore the opportunities that increasing liberalisation offered for exploitation cinema. He was quickly put to work on the forth Fu Manchu film, The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), and effectively proved his worth. Eight more films followed, and and alongside some noticably commerical productions like Count Dracula (1970) and Marquis de Sade:Justine (1969), Towers gave Franco free reign to experiment with free-form erotica, leading to Venus in Furs (1969) and Eugenie (1970) - films that heralded many of Franco's later works.

After pushing exploitation cinema to its limits at the turn of the decade, Towers' next productions were unexpectedly family friendly. However,  Treasure Island (1972), Call of the Wild (1972) and Ten Little Indians (1974) showed Tower's continuing adherence to his old rules - shot on the cheap (Indians was filmed in pre-revolutionary Iran), they still boasted marquee value Anglo-American names (Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Richard Attenborough respectively) along with a supporting cast of European actors who would carry name value in their domestic markets. He continued to produce some mass market films, including an incredibly loose adaptation of H.G.Wells' The Shape of Things to Come (1979), but also started to return to the adult markets with Black Cobra (1976), starring Jack Palance and Laura Gemser (Black Emmanuelle) and The End of Innocence (1976), which marked the final appearance of his wife and frequent leading lady Maria Rohm. At the start of the 1980s he found a luctrative niche in low budget, soft-core adult movies, intended to be shown on US television - titles like Black Venus (1984) and Love Circles (1985) are rather tame today, but memorable for a generation of young men growing up in the days before the internet and cheap home video.

It was the rise of home video in the late 1980s that saw a big rise in demand for low budget films, intended primarily for the VHS market. Towers quickly showed that he had lost none of his form - trash action movie Skeleton Coast (1987) was filmed in South Africa on a tiny budget, yet it starred Oliver Reed, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Vaughn and Herbert Lom. More films followed including a trio of low budget Edgar Allan Poe tales shot on the cheap in South Africa, and an elaborate adaptation of Phantom of the Opera (1989) starring slasher movie icon Robert Englund, and a follow-up, Dance Macabre (1991). Re-uniting with Christopher Lee, Towers produced a pair of television movies starring the actor as Sherlock Holmes, with Patrick Macnee as Watson. Alongside such notoriously bad films as Delta Force 3 (1991), he managed to secure actor Michael Caine to play his classic Harry Palmer character (from The Ipcress File (1965)) in a pair of espionage thrillers shot in Russia. This form continued until the end of the decade and into the 21st Century with an increasing variety of low budget, straight-to-video productions, including a revistation of the works of Sax Rohmer in the space fantasy Sumuru (2003), and High Adventure (2001) which saw the introduction of Chris Quartermain - the grandson of H. Rider Haggard's character Allan Quatertmain. He died in July 2009, while working with British director Ken Russell on an adaptation of Daniel Defoe's classic novel Moll Flanders.

DVD Reviews: Films produced/written by Harry Alan Towers

Black Venus (1983)
Private Screening Collection Region 0 DVD
A classic of softcore cable-TV erotica this film is rather too cultured and plot based to appear to modern porn fans.
Partly Recommended.
Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)
Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
Simply a bad movie, this fourth entry to the series boasts a completely inane plot and terrible pacing.
Not recommended.
Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)
Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
The second film in the series fixes many of the problems of the first with a decent storyline and generally enjoyable.
Partly recommended.
Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)
Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
One of the worst films ever made, it suffered from bored acting, dull direction and a pointless storyline.
Not recommended.
Eugenie (1970)
USA Blue Underground Region 0 DVD
A clever updating of a work by De Sade with impressive direction and a good cast.
Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
The first film in the series has a rather flawed storyline, but boasts some good action and impressive production on a low budget.
Partly recommended.
Five Golden Dragons (1967)
Passworld Italy Region 2 DVD
Shot in Hong Kong, this is a well made Edgar Wallace thriller with an impressive cast.
Lady Libertine (1984)
Private Screening Collection Region 0 DVD
A beautifully cultured bit of late-night TV porn from the 1980s, it is rather short on the sex aspect.
Partly recommended.
Skeleton Coast (1987)
Prism UK Region 2 DVD
Ernest Borgnine leads a big name cast including Oliver Reed and Herbert Lom in an ultra trashy action flick.
Partly recommended.
Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)
Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
An interesting twist on the story line makes this third entry to the series one of the best and most enjoyable.
Partly recommended.
Venus in Furs (1969)
Blue Underground USA Region 0 DVD
One of Jess Franco's best films, but commercial pressures reduced his original vision.
Highly recommended.


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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - February/March 2006.
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