Friday, June 15, 2012

Murder obsession (Follia omicida) (1981)

... aka: Fear
... aka: Murder Obsession
... aka: Murder Syndrome
... aka: Paura
... aka: Satan's Altar
... aka: Unconscious
... aka: Wailing, The

Directed by:
"Robert Hampton" (Riccardo Freda)

Actor Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) is playing a psycho in a new horror film and seems to be getting a little too into his role, actually strangling actress Beryl (Laura Gemser) until the crew intervenes and pulls him off of her. Though his co-star is slightly shaken up (though not nearly as much as she should be!), director Hans (Henri Garcin) seems happy about his convincing portrayal. While going through some old family pictures later that evening, Michael decides to go visit his estranged mother Glenda (Anita Strindberg), whom he hasn't seen in years. Flashbacks show how Michael's father William (also played by Patrizi) keeled over from a heart attack while conducting an orchestra and also reveal that Michael may have stabbed him to death as a child. Michael decides to bring along his girlfriend Debora Jordan (Silvia Dionisio) on the trip and invites part of the crew to come out later so they can discuss the film they're working on. Upon arriving to his childhood home - a dark and very gloomy mansion, naturally - the butler and estate caretaker Oliver (John Richardson) informs Michael that his mother is very sick... Indeed she is!

Glenda seems a little too close for comfort with her son, who's a dead ringer for her deceased husband. She kisses him, caresses him, lets her breast fall out of her nightgown while he hugs her and constantly gives him loving looks... and I don't mean harmless knowing glances usually shared between parents and children. Strangely, Michael introduces his girlfriend to his mother as being his secretary, presumably not to upset her, which understandably pisses Debora off. She's also not too happy that she's stuck sleeping in a bedroom alone on the other side of the house as Michael. The next day, director Hans, leading lady Beryl and assistant director Shirley (Martine Brochard) all arrive at the home. Glenda welcomes them and seems glad to have some company. Later that night everyone sits around sipping wine and discussing the supernatural. And it isn't long before people start experiencing something supernatural. The home shakes, muddy foot prints appear on the floor, doors seem to open and close on their own, lights flicker (blamed on the home's poor wiring) and Beryl is almost drown while taking a bath by a mysterious gloved assailant who seems to disappear into thin air.

During a nightmare sequence which lasts nearly ten minutes, Debora (breasts flopping out of her nightgown the entire time) is attacked by a guy with a disfigured face, runs into a web with a giant rubber spider on it, gets attacked by bats on strings, gets caught up in some tree branches and then passes out when a bunch of skulls cry blood on her. When she comes to, she's tied to a cross, gets her clothes ripped off by a mutant cultist, is forced to drink fresh chicken blood (from a real chicken they've just killed) and is attacked by the big spider, whose legs turn into fuzzy arms. Michael finally admits to having murdered his father as a child and now claims to suffer from "psycho traumatic disassociation," which involving blacking out for several minutes at a time only to awaken with no recollection of what he's done. While out in the forest, Beryl, already almost strangled by Michael on the movie set and already almost drowned in her bath just the night before, turns around and spots Michael glaring at her and holding a knife. So what does she do? Run? Scream for help? Say "What the hell is your problems?" Nope. She has sex with him (!) while Hans hides in the bushes snapping pictures.

People eventually start dropping like flies. When Michael wakes up from his encounter with Beryl, she's dead and there's a bloody knife next to them. Hans, having witnessed the murder, runs back to the house and tries to leave but someone surprises him with an axe to the head instead. Suspicious Hans left his camera behind (he never goes anywhere without it), Shirley decides to develop the film in an attic darkroom and gets decapitated with a chainsaw. After finding Shirley's head, Debora tries to run off during a rainstorm and ends up in black-gloved clutches of the killer instead. All that's left is to unveil a few skeletons in the family closet. The hopelessly muddled plot tells two conflicting stories from mother and servant and everything from adultery, blackmail, spousal abuse, sleepwalking, rape and even Satanism is trotted out in the last fifteen minutes.

Freda's film - which first saw the light of day in the U.S. under the title Fear (released on the Wizard VHS label) - is a very mediocre little mystery with Gothic trappings, slasher moments and a convoluted plot about on par with most gialli. There's nudity provided by Dionisio, Gemser and Strindberg (in one of her last film appearances) and a few poorly-done gore effects. It opens with a quote from Hieronimus A. Steinback. The music score is good and it's fairly well photographed but there's not enough style present to really overcome the script shortcomings.

Wizard recycled clips from this for their living dead-themed pastiche ZOMBIEGEDDON (1986). In 2011, Raro Video released it on DVD (using the Murder Obsession title).


Che Dau Che (1980)

... aka: Hex versus Witchcraft
... aka: Hex vs. Witchcraft
... aka: Xie Dou Xie

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei

HEX (1980), from the same director, was basically a rip-off of LES DIABOLIQUES with a supernatural bent. This follow-up is completely unrelated and completely different in tone. It's a ghost comedy. Cai Tou (James Yi Lui) has the very bad combination of a gambling addiction and terrible luck. He seems to lose at every game he plays: cards, mahjong, you name it. He even loses big to a street hustler playing a simple game of "Say 'yes' to every question I ask." And, of course, he's losing a lot of money in the process. Having already pawned nearly everything he owns (except his wife, he jokes), he's broke. At a domino game, Cai Tou steals 100 bucks off a woman and loses it in a match. He's busted and brought before Brother Nine (Chan Shen), who owns the parlor. Already indebted to him for a significant amount of money, Brother Nine tells Cai Tou if that he can get his wife (Jenny Leung) to sleep with him he'll forgive his debt. Cai Tou agrees and borrows 200 bucks off of him to help loosen his old lady up. On her birthday, Cai Tou takes her out, plies her with drinks and rents a hotel room but everything backfires and Brother Nine ends up losing his testicles after wifey pushes a table into his crotch.

Brother Nine has his thugs beat Cai Tou up, then gives him three options, which involve either them killing him, him killing himself or them cutting off his dick. His wife leaves him and plans to start divorce proceedings immediately, so Cai Tou decides to hang himself. Unfortunately, he chooses a public park to do so at and ends up going to the police station for breaking a branch off one of the trees. An attempt to eat rat poison backfires when he's given a package of ecstasy pills instead and goes streaking. Back to the jail he goes. Once he's out, he attempts to jump off a balcony but bounces off a truck onto a mattress. It's there that he spots something shimmering in the sunlight. Why, it's a duffle bag full of gold and jade jewelry. Good luck at last! Not quite.

Liu San (Chi Hing Yeung), an elderly man, comes knocking on his door and has a snapshot of Cai Tou with the bag in hand. He says Cai Tou can keep the bag and promises to put him up in an expensive flat and give him plenty of money if only he'll do just one little favor for him: marry his daughter, Ah Cui. The catch? Ah Cui is dead. Murdered by gangsters while trying to sneak across the border, Ah Cui's spirit wanders around restlessly and her father doesn't want his poor girl to be lonely. Liu San warns Cai Tou beforehand that his daughter isn't perfect, though. In fact, she's hot-tempered, jealous and knows Judo. She's also so lazy he has to install a Clapper in their bedroom. Cai Tou goes through with the marriage thinking it's all a sham. It isn't until he tries to go on a date with another woman - whom Ah Cui promptly possesses - that he starts to believe it. Trying to make amends, he cooks his new ghost bride her favorite meal (Ramen noodles with fried eggs), but she just dumps it over his head.

Cai Tou gets fed up and tries to get help. An acquaintance of his hires a psychic to call forth the ghost so he can speak to her, but it turns out to be a scam. Our luckless hero then goes to see a street-corner clairvoyant who calls himself The Great Spiritual Master, who comes over to the home to perform an exorcism but decides against it because the ghost runs the home. Ah Cui possesses the sexy air hostess (Yue Fa Booi) who lives next door so she and Cai Tou can have sex. Now she wants sex all of the time, which would be fine for him if she kept using the stewardess as a host body, but instead she decides o inhabit a dumpy old cleaning lady and a cross-eyed male painter and wants sex then. Despite the issues, the relationship does have its perks, such as the spirit helping to fend off Brother Nine and two of his thugs who show up wanting to castrate Cai Tou with a machete, and helping him win a climactic gambling match against a skilled opponent (played by Shirley Yu) with other-worldly abilities of her own.

With Hex vs. Witchcraft, I got something I wasn't expecting at all, but that turned out to be a good thing in this case. While the original was an average, derivative supernatural horror film, this one's an above average supernatural comedy. It's entertaining, often very clever, acted with gusto and has many hilarious moments. I was particularly fond of the Johnson's Baby Powder dance. Also interesting to point out, if this were a Hollywood movie the filmmakers certainly would have shoved some heavy-handed moral message down our throats at the end to ensure the main character learned some kind of valuable lesson from all he has gone through. Not so much here. Cai Tou is who is he. He's no angel and never will be, but that ultimately makes him more believable and even more endearing.

HEX AFTER HEX (1982), which is a genuine sequel and picks up where this one leaves off, followed. Celestial Pictures distributed this - and many other Shaw Bros. titles - on DVD.

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