Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gou hun jiang tou (1976)

... aka: Bewitch Tame Head
... aka: Black Magic, Part II
... aka: Revenge of the Zombies

Directed by:
Meng Hua Ho

If you're in the mood for some crazy, gory, anything-goes, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nonsense, you really can't do a whole lot better than Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers Productions. In the opening sequence, a bunch of topless girls swimming have their fun interrupted when an alligator gobbles one of them up. A grey-haired black magic practitioner steps in, uses his powers to call the gator forward, catches it on a hook and then guts it! The film then cuts to an unnamed "Tropical City," as a married couple; Dr. Zhongping Qi (Ti Lung) and wife Ciuling (Tanny), arrive in town to visit their friends; Dr. Zhensheng Shi ("Lin Wei-Tu" / Lam Wai Tiu) and wife Margaret (Lily Li). There's been an rise in mysterious illness and death in the area. Dr. Shi wants answers and needs Zhongping and his wife to help him. Patients have been coming into the hospital with all kinds of grotesque maladies, including pulsating, puss-oozing "human-face sores," skin ulcers and worms under the skin that Dr. Shi attributes to black magic. His friends however are both highly skeptical of the existence of anything supernatural, but they'll soon learn they don't really know jack.

The man responsible for creating all of the turmoil is Kang Cong (Lieh Lo), an evil, knowledgeable and very powerful sorcerer who uses a magical ring and his "Tame Head Sorcery" powers to get both money and sex. All he needs to do to kill, mutilate or possess someone is construct a wax figure of them and then find a way to get some of their blood. Kang lives in a huge mansion with his Siamese kitty cat, a mute butler and a bunch of hooded, eyeless zombie servants. Behind a hidden door and down some stairs is a secret dungeon where he conducts all of his dirty business. He keeps a bunch of corpses on slabs that can easily be revived and controlled if he hammers a steel spike into their head. One of his biggest cash cows is Miss Hong ("Liu Hui-Ju" / Terry Liu), who was 98-years-old when she died, but is turned into a beautiful woman once she's spiked. Miss Hong dances in a sequin bikini at a nightclub and has many male admirers, some of whom will pay big money to get Kang to cast a love spell for them. Danian (Frankie Wei) is one such guy. He pays 5,000 dollars to get Kang to make Miss Hong love him, which ends up backfiring when his gold necklace reverts Miss Hong back to corpse state in the middle of making love. When Danian demands his money back, Kang casts a spell on him that makes his hair and fingernails fall off before melting his face.

Kang may look about 30, but he's actually over 80-years-old. So what's his secret to eternal youth? Why a steady supply of human breast milk, of course! Kang decides he'd like his donor to be Margaret, so he poses as a flower delivery man to get a blood sample (pricking her finger with a rose thorn) and casts his spell. Late one night, Margaret rises out of bed in a trance-like state and moseys on over to Kang's, where he shaves off her pubic hair (!), burns it and creates an elixir that makes Margaret start lactating. The two also have sex. The next day, Margaret finds herself 9-months pregnant, is taken to the hospital for an emergency c-section and a dead mutant blob baby is removed. Somehow, this fails to convince Zhongping and his wife that black magic exists. And so does a trip to a cemetery where they exhume Danian's body and discover it's filled with worms. Our heroes next senseless move involves going to the evil sorcerer and having him cast yet another love spell. The spell works, finally proving to our Doubting Thomas that black magic does indeed exist, but by then they find themselves in way over their heads.

Eventually, Zhensheng and Margaret both join the ranks of Kang's undead army and Ciuling is possessed, leaving just Zhongping to take on the bad guy. Thankfully, a white haired witch doctor (the guy from the opening sequence) shows up long enough to beat the evil out of Ciuling with a dead rabbit and give Zhongping a magic amulet to fight off Kang. Before dying, he also plucks out his own eyeballs and has Zhongping eat them to give himself the ability to see through walls! The climactic battle between Zhongping and Kang is pretty crazy, with lots of fighting, lots of zombies, gore, fire, attempted zombie rape and much more.

Frequently stupid, jaggedly edited at times, stuffed to the seams with various plot complications and sometimes downright confusing, this immediate follow-up to the previous years BLACK MAGIC (which was made by the same director / writer / producer team and featured many of the same actors) is still good, brainless fun. It's colorfully - sometimes very stylishly - photographed, fast-paced, tasteless and often highly imaginative... and there is a ton of gore. Some of the special effects have dated badly; such as a fight on top of a cable car, some time lapse face melts, Pepto Bismol-looking blood but, meh! Who really cares? Certainly not anyone interested in checking out a mid-70s Asian horror flick.

The film was released theatrically (with some violence removed) in the United States as Revenge of the Zombies; a title it retained for its initial VHS release. The Image DVD version (titled Black Magic II) is a very nice-looking, uncut print.

Aside from the Black Magic films, director Meng Hua Ho also made the The Oily Maniac (1976), the cult favorite Goliathon aka The Mighty Peking Man (1978), The Psychopath (1978) and The Rape After (1986).


Las mujeres panteras (1967)

... aka: Panther Women, The

Directed by:
René Cardona

Crime has run rampant in their city and a professor friend (Jorge Mondragón) has just been murdered by someone or some thing, so it's up to Las Luchadoras (The Wrestling Women); Loreta Venus (Ariadna Welter) and The Golden Rubi (Elizabeth Campbell), to put a stop to it. Joining them in their quest are macho police captain Arturo Diaz (Eric del Castillo), his cowardly comic relief sidekick Leocadio (Manuel Valdés) and mysterious, masked male crime fighter / wrestler El Ángel, who has an A on his fire-resistant cape and all kinds of special gadgets to use. Their main adversary is evil witch Satanasa (María Douglas) who hides out in a cave with her minions and uses black magic to resurrect a scary-looking, skull-faced zombie. Satanasa is also involved with local gangsters and presides over a cult of panther women. One of those panther women, Tongo (Yolanda Montes), is a nightclub performer who periodically transforms into a silly-looking were-woman monster (or would that be cat-woman monster?) complete with razor claws, plastic fangs and pointy ears. In one scene, she even eats a poor little girl's pet bird. Eventually, a wrestling match is organized with Loreta and Rubi facing off against two of the panther women, who transform into monsters mid-battle, then kidnap the little girl and take her to the zombie's lair. Only an ancient sword can stop the undead menace.

A middling follow-up to DOCTOR OF DOOM (1962), WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964) and She-Wolves of the Ring (1965; a drama that won't be covered here), this juvenile little horror-adventure was made by the same team (director Cardona, producer Guillermo Calderón and writer Alfredo Salazar) and follows the same formula of the first two films very closely. Though some of the names (and actors) have changed, the film contains the same female wrestler characters, same detective and same goofy, bumbling sidekick found in the others. There are three separate wrestling bouts, gun fights and fist fights, plus a lengthy (and not very exciting) car chase. The cave / crypt sets are pretty good (there's even a cool flame-throwing panther statue), though the makeup is highly variable (the panther women look ridiculous, but the zombie looks pretty good).

The cast has a few interesting faces, and many familiar ones. The pretty, Amazonian Campbell was born in the United States but was fluent in Spanish and became a star in Mexico thanks to her appearances in many of these Luchadoras films. She was usually cast alongside Lorena Velazquez, who must have been busy when they made this one since Welter (the female lead in THE VAMPIRE and its sequel, The Vampire's Coffin) plays her role here. Professional dancer Yolanda Montes, who was also born in the U.S. and sometimes billed as just "Tongolele," isn't much of an actress but she looks pretty cool with her large eyes, exotic bone structure and a trademark white streak in her hair. She's go on to play a voodoo priestess in SNAKE PEOPLE (1968), one of the much-hated final films of Boris Karloff, and other such roles.

Nathanael León, who has a minor role as the facially-scarred gangster Cain, would also go on to appear in other Luchadoras, Santo and Neutron action-horror hybrids, as well as make an appearance in several of the movies John Carradine made south-of-the-border in the late 60s. Ángel Di Stefani, who plays Eloim the zombie, had previously appeared (also in full-makeup) as the mummy Popoca in the Aztec Mummy series. Male lead del Castillo remains an extremely prolific actor in his home country, having appeared in over 300 films and television shows since the late 50s. Whoever played El Ángel isn't credited, though that was a common occurrence in these films since Mexican wrestlers often hid their identity.

Unlike the first two films in the series, The Panther Woman was never officially released in America, and thus was never dubbed or subtitled. It also hasn't made its way onto R1 DVD yet, which is a bit peculiar considering the previous entries have something of a cult following here in the States. The version I watched (an OK, though somewhat dark-looking, print) came from a television broadcast on the Spanish-language movie channel "La Pelicula Clasico," whose annoyingly big logo was in the top right hand corner the entire time. I don't know much Spanish, but the film is easy enough to follow even if you don't.

The five-part series concluded with Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Robot (which featured a whole new cast and wasn't released in America either) in 1969.

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