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, May 17, 2012

Devil Returns (1982)

... aka: 驚魂風雨夜

Directed by:
Richard Chen

A robber and rapist is on the loose. School teacher Mei-hsun Fang (Emily Cheung) has the misfortune of getting a taxi ride from the creep, who ends up chasing her into an abandoned building and bashes her head against the ground until she's a bloody mess (and presumably rapes her off-screen). Almost killed in the incident, Mei-hsun is rushed off to the hospital to recooperate. After recovering, she identifies her attacker in a police line-up and he's executed. Mei-hsun marries her engineer boyfirend Yu-ching Lo (Alan Tam) and plans to settle in to a comfortable upper middle class life. Well, not quite. Mei-hsun is haunted by images of her attacker and can't seem to get him out of her mind. Her shrink says she's neurotic and has a persecution complex. Mei-hsun also discovers she's pregnant and knows she's not ready for it. When her doctor refuses to abort it without her husband's consent, Mei-hsun is forced to go to a sleazy abortionist who only accepts cash. Before the operation can commence, the nurse becomes possessed, slashes at the doctor with a scalpel and some kind of supernatural force throws him out of the window. Mei-hsun flees in terror.




Accepting the baby growing inside of her, Mei-hsun continues on with her pregnancy, frequently telling her still-not-yet born baby she hates it and knows its going to be evil. In a last ditch effort to terminate the pregnancy, she throws herself down a flight of stairs. Instead of miscarrying, the baby is born a month premature. A month passes and the baby starts behaving strangely. It sleeps and eats all day, but stays up all night crying. OK, so maybe that's not all that strange... But how many 6 month olds are able to crawl and can climb in and out of its crib with ease. The baby even leaves a rag doll on the stairs to try to trip up the father. Hardly anyone believes Mei-hsun when she claims something is seriously wrong, including her husband, who is out of town working most of the time. Mei-hsun is finally able to break through to her superstitious nanny Mrs. Chou (Ou-Yang Sha Fei) and the two take the baby to a temple so some monks can perform an exorcism. Stuff flies around the room, but nothing really seems to change much.




The premise deals with post traumatic stress and post partum depression, the fears of a first time mother that she won't be able to connect with her child and other female / mother centered issues in an insightful and interesting way... for the first hour. And then something unfortunate happens: during the final 30 minutes the evil baby angle is dropped completely, a mysterious psycho killer is introduced and it suddenly becomes a complete rip-off of HALLOWEEN (1978)! And by complete rip-off, I mean complete rip-off. How does it copy John Carpenter's classic? Let me count the ways. For starters, the film steals snippets of the famous score and the killer is seen mostly in shadow or from a distance. Remember the closet scene where Jamie Lee Curtis jabs a clothes hanger into Michael's eye after he busts in through the door? Yep, that's here. Remember when Michael slowly rises behind JLC when he should be dead? Yep, that's here, too. Remember JLC banging on the door for a child to let her in as Michael slowly approaches? Check! Or Michael hiding in the back seat of a car to surprise someone with a knife? Yup. Or Michael strangling JLC when Donald Pleasance shows up and shoots him? Uh huh. If that's not enough, the female is dressed identically to JLC with the light blue blouse (which also gets ripped on the shoulder!) and dark blue pants!




I was reminded of another Hong Kong film called BREAKOUT FROM OPPRESSION while marveling at this ending. Breakout (which is erroneously listed as being from 1978 everywhere online but is obviously from the early 80s) is what some refer to as a 'psycho bitch' movie. Those movies usually center around a nutty female who goes out of her way to make a man's life a living hell after she's been scorned or her love isn't reciprorated. Think PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) or FATAL ATTRACTION (1987). Breakout went that route before suddenly ripping off the ending of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). But at least in that film's defense, the ripping off came in the final five minutes and is at least worked into the storyline. In this film it is abrupt, random and basically ruins what had come before it. A twist at the very end tries to justify it all, but I wasn't buying it. Aside from the Halloween, you'll notice one moment clearly lifted from THE OMEN and the entire soundtrack was stolen from other films, including the use of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" from THE EXORCIST.




All that said, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this movie had me intrigued the entire time for one reason or another. The first hour is very solid, the acting is good and the film effectively builds suspense throughout. I was even enjoying the slasher-style scenes before noticing they were more than just influenced by HALLOWEEN, but complete ripped off from that film (which didn't become completely obvious to me until the last 10 minutes or so). Hell, in a strange way, I enjoyed this more than most of Halloween's official sequels. There's also a clip from HORROR EXPRESS seen on a TV set and a nightclub act where the female singer belittles an ex-boyfriend in song ("You're just a little centipede ... I'd rather marry a dog than you.")




There is next to no information about Devil Returns anywhere online (including no IMDb listing as of this writing) but I can see why it didn't receive much of a release here in the States (*cough* plagiarism *cough* copyright *cough*). A VCD was however sold through Ocean Shores for a short time. The cast also includes Don Wong Tao as a detective and Joan Lin Feng Chiao, who is married to superstar Jackie Chan and has a topless scene here.

★★1/2

Death Spa (1989) [filmed in 1987]

... aka: Witch Bitch

Directed by:
Michael Fischa

Few movies encapsulate everything that is 80s tacky better than this one. After a strenuous Flashdance-style workout, Laura (Brenda Bakke) decides to relax in the steam room and ends up receiving chlorine (!!) chemical burns over portions of her body that "nearly dissolves her, like an Alka Seltzer." Yes, something evil is afoot at Starbody Health Spa, which will soon earn its nickname "Death Spa." The place is a state-of-the-art facility and everything - including all of the machinery - is operated with a sophisticated computer system. Starbody owner Michael Evans (William Bumiller) - who lost his wife a year ago but is now dating Laura - will have some serious explaining to do to Sgt. Stone (Rosalind Cash) and Lt. Fletcher (Francis X. McCarthy) when more supernatural "accidents" occur and people start dying or turning up missing. A diving board comes loose and almost hits a girl on the head as she falls, shower tiles fly around and pelt a gaggle of nude women in the shower room and a man's torso is ripped apart when a resistance machine malfunctions. Close the place down? Hell no! They've still got a lucrative Mardi Gras party to throw!




Death Spa rather ineptly attempts to function as a mystery and sets up various possible suspects in the killings. Club manager Priscilla Wayne (Alexa Hamilton) discovered Laura after her accident, but what was she doing in the club after hours? And is she conspiring with Michael's lawyer Tom (Robert Lipton) to sabotage the club so they can buy him out? Michael's former brother-in-law David (Merritt Buttrick), who created and controls the sophisticated computer system, is a cross-dressing weird-o who blames Michael for his twin sister's death. But the real culprit appears to be the vengeful ghost of Michael's former wife Catherine (Shari Shattuck). After having a miscarriage and being confined to a wheelchair because of a spine injury, Catherine decided to end it all by covering herself with gasoline and torching herself. Michael is haunted by nightmares of the incident and begins seeing signs that she is haunting the place (messages from her on the computer, hearing her voice, etc.) He hires a parapsychologist to get to the bottom of things but he - as well as several others - vanish without a trace. Or as Lt. Fletcher says ""Fantastic weight reduction program: People get so thin they disappear."








Delivering a generous helping of both gore and female nudity (lots of beauties in this one) is only half of the battle. The other half is defeated by an overly complicated plot, poor lighting, terrible acting and ridiculously awful dialogue, which turn this into a laughable mess in no short time. Death is caused by acid meltdown, impalement, a shard of wood (which splits a head in two) and an exploding mirror (which blows someone apart). During one sequence, a man becomes trapped in a freezer and has his throat ripped out by a reanimated tuna (!!!) and in another scene a woman dies getting her hand stuck in a blender. Threre's an attempt to tan someone to death, a hilariously icky candlelit love scene where a woman seductively bites the tip off an asparagus, lots of shower and sauna scenes and several silly choreographed aerobics dance sequences. The finale features the killer laying waste to the club during the fundraiser party. There's really a lot of potentially entertaining stuff going on here but the film isn't as much fun as it should have been, though it does have its fans.





Ken (DAWN OF THE DEAD) Foree has a supporting role as a personal trainer, Tane McClure (daughter of actor Doug McClure) gets some practice at her later career as a soft porn star and Karyn Parsons (before her stint on the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) has a small part as does the very lovely Chelsea Field. Director Fischa went on to make the teen horror-comedy MY MOM IS A WEREWOLF (1989).

MPI originally issued the film on VHS in both R and unrated versions. The alternate title Witch Bitch is apparently the slightly cut (though still adequately gory) version, which is also the version released on DVD by the German company Dragon Film Entertainment.

1/2
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