Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Xie qi (1981)

... aka: Curse of the Wicked Wife
... aka: Wicked Wife

Directed by:
"King Ming" (Kuang Hui)

A young woman (whose hair is covering her face) is almost raped three different times during the opening three minutes (!), seems to turn into a tiger and then kills her would-be attackers in quick succession. Master Kin (Hsieh Wang), a supposed philanthropist and pillar of the community, then sends a kind and charitable young man named Jen-hu (Liang Shew-Sun) out to investigate. Since all of the victims were patrons of a bar and whorehouse called "The Red Pearl Saloon," Jen-hu becomes a regular customer there in order to get to the bottom of things. He eventually catches eye of the beautiful owner / madam of the establishment, Miss Red (Lu Sen-Len), and learns a rumor that she supposedly is driven to kill every time there's a full moon. While out walking through the forest one evening, Jen is approached by Miss Red, who tells him "I was chased by some drumkers and I get lost." Yes, this one has those kind of subtitles throughout... Is Miss Red really some kind of tigress (literally!) who has been killing innocent men, or is something else sinister afoot? If you chose Option # 2, then congratulations, you win! You'll be receiving one warning to avoid this absolute cluster-fuck of a confusing movie.

Aside from Miss Red's shenanigans, this has a secondary possible antagonist in the form of an old, bearded, long-haired wizard named Shan-fei. He has a gang of bandits lurking about to do his bidding (most of them are useless drunks) and the special ability to kill by throwing handfuls of poisonous centipedes at victims that burrow under the skin. But there's a slight problem with this cat. Either the script-writer or the subtitle-writer forgot to give him any kind of tangible motivation for his actions. What exactly does this guy want... aside from just generally being a prick? Well, as it turns out, no one aside from our hero is really who they claim to be. And that includes Jen's possible love interest Da-nieu, who is gracious enough to treat us to a cheese-licious ballad ("The butterfly is flying... The bees is working...") and lots of whiny pining before her true colors are finally revealed. There's also a red masked man with a whip (who seems to be Miss Red's protector), two cartoonish gay men (one of whom turns to the other and says he wants to take a bath with him) and lots of obnoxious drunks (one of whom karate chops a sleeping prostitute in the head while she sleeps so he can rape her) to provide incessant comic relief throughout.

So yeah, this thing makes absolutely no sense. It tries during the very end to let the tiger out of the bag, but it's too little, too late. I don't like spending over an hour scratching my head saying "WTF?" at the events unfolding on screen only to get no less than three major revelations tacked-on during the final three minutes. Not that it really matters, because my head would explode if I even attempted to try to deconstruct this film's plot. I could say that it's an hour into the film that our hero reveals his "fiancé" (who's he's never even met!) has gone missing, that Miss Red has a flashback where her employer (who may or may not be the evil wizard!) tried to rape her and then murdered her mother, that there's a Scooby Doo-style reveal moment with the wizard, that one of the female's chief objectives is to steal a centipede poison antidote, that the 'transforming into a tiger' angle is a complete cheat and that anyone who is killed and not immediately buried returns to life as a clumpy-faced ghost bent on getting revenge on whoever killed them... but what's really the point?

If things couldn't get any worse, this is also victim to an abysmal editing job that makes matters even more confusing. Stock footage is used during the majority of the tiger attack sequences. There's an out-of-nowhere 'mondo' scene of three tigers killing and eating a goat. Then there's the startling image of a tiger leaping at, mauling and knocking down a terrified little boy. The quality of this footage, as well as most of the other footage of the tiger, doesn't match the rest of the movie. I looked around online and came across the same images from a 1977 film from the same director called Tiger Love (which was also released as Kung Fu Zombie vs. Tiger Claws [!?] in Germany) so the scenes here were swiped from that one... and I now have yet another film to add to my never-ending index. One scene that probably is original is the one where the villagers take jabs at an obvious stuffed tiger head.

The film's only saving grace are a few lively fight sequences. The leading actress does some impressive stunts; doing flips, high jumps, kicks and splits while taking on her opponents. She's also game enough to put live centipedes into her mouth and puke them up into our hero's hand at one point. So I'd like to salute Lu Sen-Len (in what may be her only film appearance) for going beyond the call of duty to try to entertain us. Nice try there.

It was released on VCD by Ocean Shores a long time ago and I believe that was it.

1/2

Child's Play (1980)

Directed by:
Amy Rose Bloch


Here we have a middling 28-minute short that was financed by The American Film Institute, made its TV debut on the PBS series The American Short Story and made its VHS debut as part of Monterey Home Video's Short Story Collection (where it's paired with the 12-minute short THE OPEN WINDOW). It's based on the story 'Sredni Vashtar' by Saki (the pen name for Hector Hugh Munro). To many scholars, Saki / Munro is considered a master of the short story. Born to British parents in Burma, he relocated to England for studies, worked as a journalist there, served a spell for the Imperial Police in India and joined the British Army at the age of 43 to fight in World War I, where he was killed in 1916 by a German sniper. Aside from his stories, he also has two plays, one short novel and other works to his name. Munro is probably best known for the aforementioned story 'The Open Window' (a staple of high school literature classes), but this macabre tale of abuse and revenge has actually inspired more adaptations. It was also filmed in 1950 (as part of the Danger TV series), 1962 (as part of a UK mini-series called Saki), 1981, 1995, 2003 and even as recently as 2009. The tale also inspired the feature-length genre flick THE ORPHAN (1977), which was later annoyingly re-titled FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE ORPHAN to try to cash in on the Jason Voorhees saga.

Lonely orphan Conrad (Paul Schoeman) not only had to suffer the loss of both parents in a drowning accident, but is also stuck in a home at the mercy of the icy, evil and cruel Miss DeRopp (Savannah Bentley). Mostly forced to stay indoors, denied friends and kept sickly and frail by his new guardian (who it's strongly hinted at also sexually abuses the poor boy), Conrad's only companion is his beloved pet chicken Cackler. A neighborhood boy (Bill Barrett) might have the solution to his problems, though. For two silver candlesticks, he promises to give Conrad a rare, vicious, growling and cunning animal with supernatural abilities, which supposedly was coveted in the past by Egyptian pharaohs, Borneo pirates and even Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Eventually the trade is made, Conrad gets the creature (it's basically just a barely-seen, small black dog) and - after Miss DeRopp kills Cackler and serves him up as dinner - uses it to get revenge.

Seeing as how this story was written at the turn of the Century, I can see it being a pretty influential work as I've seen the same concept used numerous times before. However, that doesn't make this particular adaptation anything special. It's flatly presented, ordinarily directed and very predictable, but my primary gripe is with the weak, one-note performances. But hey, I can at least use this opportunity to pimp another American Short Story / Short Story Collection Monterey release; THE MAN AND THE SNAKE (1972) / THE RETURN (1973); a pair of well-done Ambrose Bierce adaptations worth seeking out.

★★

Man and the Snake, The (1972)

Directed by:
Sture Rydman


Ambrose Bierce (one of 13 children from an impoverished Meigs County, Ohio family) was a fascinating figure who not only was a prolific short story writer, but also a newspaper editor, critic, satirist, poet, journalist and soldier who served in the army during the Civil War. He dabbled in both business and politics, was nicknamed 'Bitter Bierce' because of his caustic, sardonic wit, traveled and worked abroad and famously disappeared never to be seen again sometime during the Mexican revolution (the 71-year-old was last seen in the presence of rebel troops). Bierce is perhaps most famous for his 1891 short story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,' which has gone on to influence countless writers and filmmakers over the years and itself was filmed as a Cannes Award-winning short in 1962. Bierce also wrote several other ghost / horror stories, which leads us to this 25-minute short. I'm not entirely sure where this was first seen, but it apparently played theatrically as a support feature for years before ending up as part of the PBS series The American Short Story Collection. Many episodes of that series were issued on VHS by Monterey Home Video as part of their "Short Story Collection" series. This one was paired with the outstanding ghost story THE RETURN (1973), another Bierce adaptation, for the release. Both tales together run about an hour and are made by the team of director / writer Rydman, producer Elizabeth McKay and co-writer Brian Scobie.

John Fraser (Catherine Deneuve's would-be suitor in REPULSION, amongst other things) and the always-wonderful André Morell (Professor Quatermass, amongst other things) star in this well-acted tale. Tutor Harker Brayton (Fraser) is visiting the home of his student Malcolm and meets the boy's father; scientist and serpent-lover Dr. Theo Druring (Morell). Dr. Druring has an entire room full of snakes; some venomous, some not. His wife Amelia (Madge Ryan), their maid Molly (Brenda Cowling) and their dinner guests; Colonel Gordon (Clive Morton) and his wife (Damaris Hayman), don't really understand the doctor's affinity for the slithering creatures and could care less about their "physical grace," but young Malcolm has followed in dad's footsteps in his love for them. In fact, he often sneaks into his father's "snakery" late at night just to admire them. Mr. Brayton ends up staying later into the evening than he'd anticipated and is talked into spending the night. He's shown his room, gets ready to relax with a book, and then spots a pair of beady, sparkling eyes gazing at him from underneath his bed...

What makes this short work is how it cleverly introduces various snake mythologies into the works to give one a wide array of possibilities once Brayton finds himself alone after midnight with a potentially lethal snake just feet away. During dinner, the Colonel (who's just arrived back from a stay in India) relates a story about how he felt hypnotized by a King Cobra and that he believes snakes are evil and can 'charm' people just as people can 'charm' them. Have Druring's snakes somehow managed to control him and now run amuck in his home? Amelia and Molly admit that the snakes sometime manage to find their way out of their cages and can sometimes be found around the home. Has another one escaped and found a nice hiding spot underneath Brayton's bed? Druring introduces the idea that children don't seem afraid of snakes and vice versa, and that children can handle venomous ones without fear of being bitten. Has mischievous Malcolm put one in Brayton's room? Or is it something entirely different?

While certainly not a visually impressive piece, it's an interesting one that stays faithful to its source material while also expanding a bit upon it. Good performances by all and the ending is fairly intense and well-done.

★★★
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