Monday, March 25, 2019

San geng ban ye gui nao fang (1985)

... aka: 三更半夜鬼闹房 (on-screen title)
... aka: 半夜三更鬼闹房 (what most websites list)
... aka: Ban ye san geng gui nao fang
... aka: Demon's Apartment
... aka: In the Middle of the Night: The Ghost Room
... aka: Three More Midnight Ghosts
... aka: Three Nights in the Ghost Room

Directed by:
Yao Fung Pan (Feng-Pan Yao)

I reviewed the IFD cut n' paste mash-up DIAMOND NINJA FORCE (1988) here a few years back. That release basically just added ninjas and new subplots to a preexisting horror film and changed the plot via dubbing. At the time, I didn't know where the bulk of the original footage came from... but now I do! And I was surprised to discover the original non-IFD'd version had also been released with English subtitles on VHS. Where we run into a bit of trouble is trying to come up with an accurate release year and original release title as no two websites seem to have the same information! Let's start with what we do know. The on-screen title for the VHS release (which differs from the IMDb listing and poster art I found) is 三更半夜鬼闹房, which a translator tells me means San geng ban ye gui nao fang, or (loosely) "Three More Midnight Ghosts." The director was Feng-Pan Yao, who's virtually unknown here in America, even to genre buffs, despite making around 20 horror films and being one of the Top 10 most prolific genre filmmakers of the 70s and 80s. According to the Hong Kong Movie Database, his final film as director was a 1983 schlock action film called Golden Doll. As of this writing, the database doesn't even list this particular title on his filmography.

This is sometimes listed as a 1985 or 1986 release, but just as often a 1977 or 1978 release. Some sites give the alternate title of 13号鬼屋 (Haunted House #13), but that appears to be another film from 1975. I then stumbled upon another site that gives the alternate title of Can Deng You Hun San Geng Tian and release year of 1977, which IS listed under Yao's filmography on HKMD. However, we run into some more problems here. For starters, that seems to be the alternate title for another Yao film called The Old Lock, or it may be another film entirely. Two other things make me doubt this is the same film: 1. It has some plot similarities to Poltergeist, and 2. It uses stolen music from Grammy-winning composer Harold Faltermeyer and several other 80s sources. In other words, this really couldn't be from the late 70s because the swiped music was released as late as 1984 (some is from the film Thief of Hearts) and, of course, Poltergeist was released in 1982. Going by what I've uncovered, I'd say this was filmed around 1984 and released the following year.

A construction crew unearths human remains on a burial ground with a bulldozer, but the boss pays them off to keep quiet and keep working. On top of the burial ground, some luxury condos are built. Soon after, the boss is visited by a green-faced ghost in his limo and dies of a heart attack. 

Just moving back to Taiwan from the U.S., a young yuppie couple; architect Shang-Chih Yuan and his emotionally-fragile wife Man Chun, plus their little son Hsiao Pao, end up being shown one of the homes by a realtor. In lieu of outright buying it, he allows them to rent it, which is a good thing since this is one mortgage nobody's going to want to own. The wife immediately has bad vibes and finds the home "very grim" but hubby talks her into it. Their first night there many strange things happen. A black cat seems to materialize out of thin air, newly-purchased flowers wilt and turn black, chicken bones from dinner end up scattered all over the floor and Man Chun has visions of a decapitated head in a laundry basket and a ghostly face in the mirror. The son has his own visions of ghosts, including an old woman he starts calling "Grandma." Typical first night in a haunted house, I'd say.

Shang-Chih has to go to work the following day, leaving his constantly-shrieking wife alone with the son. While trying to prepare dinner, she has "illusions" of mice, a dead frog leaping out of the refrigerator, snakes in her hands and cracked eggs filled with blood. The son starts seeing another, younger female ghost around the house, who also scares off a plumber by making him envision maggots pouring out of the faucet. Despite the many weird things happening and the son growing ill / anemic due to a blue-faced old ghost drinking his blood while he sleeps, Shang-Chih takes Man Chun to see a doctor. Naturally he tells her it's all in her head and prescribes medication that keeps her zonked out most of the time.

In her human life, Huei Chuan (the younger female ghost / succubus) was abandoned by her lover after he knocked her up and died in a bloodbath after attempting to give herself a clothes hanger abortion. Now she has her sights set on Shang-Chih. She watches the couple have sex and then, due to the wife's drug-induced low energy, lends a helping hoo-ha by possessing her and using her body to have sex with Shang-Chih. The horny ghost then lures him outside for more sex near the ocean. The next day, Man Chun finds him drained of energy and passed out on some rocks. Will he finally believe their new home is haunted? And will they take up the plumber's offer to let his priest friend come exorcise the house?

Here's a sentence I thought I'd never have to type: If you must watch, watch the IFD version instead. At least it had some action and chopped out most of the worst parts. This original is a derivative, unscary, low-budget bore missing most of what usually makes Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema so much fun. There's next to no plot, nearly all of the characters (especially the wife and son) are highly annoying, there's little in the way of visual style, lame ghost makeup, no notable fx and dreadful forced comedy. On top of that, there are a number of overlong bits that will really try your patience, especially a scene where the husband, his brother "Fatty" and two other guys are playing Mahjong and their game keeps getting interrupted by a ghost. It's not the least bit funny and goes on for TEN excruciating minutes.

I was actually looking forward to seeing this due to finding the footage used in the Diamond cut somewhat amusing. Boy was I mistaken. While it certainly didn't help matters that the only available version is in poor shape this wouldn't have sucked any less in remastered form. And I certainly hope this isn't typical of the director's other films since I have about twenty more to view! The soundtrack of stolen music also includes Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene Part 4" (1976) and Pino Donaggio music from Dressed to Kill (1980).

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Wu du tian luo (1976)

... aka: 五毒天羅
... aka: Five Poisonous Days
... aka: Im Todesnetz der gelben Spinne (In the Death Net of the Yellow Spider)
... aka: Web of Death, The

Directed by:
Chu Yuan (Yuen Chor)

Members of a sect of fighters called the Five Venom Clan, or Spider Clan, call for a meeting. Due to several other clans recently rising to prominence and expanding their empires while they remain stagnant, several members suggest they attend the Mid-Autumn Festival to compete for the title of "King of the Boxer World." Claiming he's interested in restoring their status, Liu Shen (Lieh Lo) asks leader Chief Hung (Hsieh Wang) for permission to use the clan's nearly-invincible weapon: The Five Venom Spider. The normal-sized though immortal tarantula roars like an elephant (!), is capable of shooting out vast amounts of electrified wire webs that can kill large groups of people at once and has other special powers. However, the spider has been hidden in a secret location for a century now and the chief is refusing to tell anyone its whereabouts. Due to its power, he feels it's in the best interest of humankind if the weapon stays buried forever. For if it falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to the destruction of the entire world. Several of the clan members disagree with the chief's decision but are unable to convince him otherwise.

Liu Shen, who's already carrying on an affair with the chief's wife Yi Liang (Angela Yu Chien), decides to conspire against his leader as a power grab. As far as the other clans are concerned, the Five Venom Spider no longer even exists. However, Liu Shen floats around a rumor that it does, which results in representatives from the other clans convening to map out a course of action just in case. They decide to send skilled swordsman Ying Hsiung Fei (Hua Yueh), of the Wudang Clan, to the Fujian region, home of the Spider Clan, to look into matters. While in the area he's to stay in the safe zone of the sacred San Xiu Tai temple, where he has allies.

Upon arrival, Ying Hsiung crosses paths with a dirty, mischievous beggar in a restaurant who's trying to skip out on the bill. After deciding to pay it himself to stop the ensuing fight, he learns that the beggar, whom everyone assumes is a teenage male, is actually female. She - Susu (Li Ching) - follows Ying Hsiung to the temple and offers to help him out. She claims to have a friend of a friend of someone in the Spider Clan, so she'll be able to get insider information that way. In actuality, she's the trouble-making (though good-hearted) daughter of the Spider Clan chief. She goes to her father and gets him to admit that he knows exactly where the Five Venoms Spider is: hidden in a tomb that's off-limits to all. Eavesdropping on their conversation, Yi Liang relays the information to Liu Shen.

Deciding he's going to need help finding the Spider, Liu Shen enlists the aid of the rival Holy Fire Clan and sends them a map to the tomb's whereabouts. Once they get there and various members are killed by the booby traps (a falling spiked gate, a pit of acid), the men flee. However, Ying Hsiung's brother Yingjie (Chung Wang) shows up and decides to risk it. While he manages to evade the booby traps, Susu and her servant Xiao Cui (Mei-Hua Chen) catch him and hit him with a poison dart. Once Susu discovers she's critically injured Ying Hsiung's brother, she hires Security Chief Xie (Yang Chiang) and his men to transport both Yingjie and a package to Mount Wudang where they'll both be safe. However, on the trip there, Xie discovers the spider is in the package. He massacres his crew, leaves Yingjie for dead and takes the spider right to Liu Shen. Unwilling to share power, Liu Shen kills him and the rest of his men and takes the spider.

Liu Shen immediately uses his new power to kill the Five Venom Clan leader and take control. After a quickie impromptu wedding, Susu and Ying Hsiung manage to escape back to Mount Wudang. There, she sparks the ire of the jealous Qiuxin (Lily Li), who's in love with Ying Hsiung, while trying to conceal the fact she injured his now-crippled brother. And, as if things couldn't be any more complicated, both Susu and Ying Hsiung are falsely implicated in all of the killings that Liu Shen and his cronies are responsible for. But the truth will finally come out when all of the clan leaders show up to get to the bottom of things and Liu Shen swings by with the Five Venom Spider and attempts to kill everyone.

Sound confusing? It IS! Characters run around constantly referring to entities like the "3 Heroes of West Moon," "7 Buddies of Heisong" and the "Saint of Wudang" without bothering to explain what any of that is. There are numerous clans with numerous masters and a descending pecking order from there. The Spider Clan, for instance, has ranking members with scorpion, toad and centipede designations, but we're never told what any of that means. There are bad apples in several clans who are aligning with bad apples from other clans, each with their own agendas, and the resulting double-crossing, lying, spying, false identities and backstabbing, only makes things more confusing. All of these needless characters ensure the numerous fight sequences are a clusterfuck where you often can't tell who is who, what is what and why they're even fighting in the first place. I had to constantly stop the DVD and jot down notes as this went along for fear I'd be unable to provide a coherent plot synopsis otherwise!

While I had a hard time dealing with the first half, this finally settles into a more coherent groove for the rest of the duration and ends up being pretty fun. There's plenty of smoke, sparks, fire, wind, laser effects, explosions, sword fights, stunts and blue, red and green lighting, plus lots of silly reverse shots of characters jumping backward tens of feet onto things like ledges, bridges and rooftops.

The bewildering eight legged secret weapon results in some memorable moments when it's used, but the absolute best thing here is the production design. The sets are all fantastic, especially the amazing Five Venom Clan headquarters, which has a big gold throne with dragon heads, trap doors, secret passageways, spider-stamped stone walkways over a pool of bubbling acid, fire-breathing statues and a giant red spider with green flashing eyes. Exactly like with Hammer in the UK, even when Shaw Brothers aren't at their very best, at least you can count on the production values to be solid.

The cast also includes Miao Ching as the Wudang Clan leader, Feng Ku, Shen Chan (RETURN OF THE DEAD), Norman Chu (SEEDING OF A GHOST) and Fei Ai (BEWITCHED) in an early, non-speaking role. The director also made The Ghost That Was Not (1961), A Mad Woman (1964), Bat Without Wings (1980), the troubled anthology Haunted Tales (1980; Chor actually filmed his contributions back in 1975), Black Lizard (1981) and The Enchantress (1983).

There have been a number of releases for this one. Both the 2003 Celestial DVD and the 2007 United DVD come with English subs. Well Go USA then offered both a DVD and Blu-ray which has the film in its original version with English subtitles but also the English dubbed audio track. It was released under the "Sword Masters" banner. Since I avoid dubbed Hong Kong movies whenever possible, I viewed the Mandarin language version with English subs.

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