Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gu (1981)

... aka: 蠱
... aka: 五行鬼屍 二開
... aka: 巫術與大法師
... aka: Bewitched
... aka: Five Elements Ghost Corpse
... aka: Witchcraft and the Archmage

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei

During the first few minutes we get to see a family picnic spoiled by the presence of an ant-covered decomposing corpse as well as coroners extracting a nine-inch metal spike out of a child's noggin, which should be enough to immediately get visions of Samantha and Darren and crinkling noses right out of your mind. Yes folks, it's Shaw Brothers time again. And not just any Shaw Brothers production, but one from ace director Chih-Hung Kuei, who made many of the studio's finest genre films, including the wonderfully out-there and gruesome THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983). I knew Kuei would be just the right man to turn to wipe my memory clean of the blah early SBP THE BRIDE FROM HELL (1972) I watched a few months ago. Bewitched is a nutty story that contains just about everything you'd want to see in one of these Asian witchcraft tales. There's gore, nudity, humor, travelogue, good production values, frenetic editing, stylish photography and enough bizarre black magic rites and practices to make your head spin. You won't see many other films that zip along with quite the same momentum as this one, and it does so at its own unique pace removed from what American and European films were doing at the same time. Hell, this manages to cover a complete police investigation (and court trial!) that would've been drug out for another film's entirety in about 5 minutes! These folks just wanted to make sure you got your money's worth and they've succeeded in their task.

After the discovery of the aforementioned corpse in Hong Kong, Police Inspector Bobby Wong King-Sun (Melvin Wong) pieces the clues together and arrests Stephen Lam Wai (Ai Fei) for the murder of his 6-year-old daughter. Stephen is convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, but first he'd like to explain himself to the inspector. He admits to killing his little girl, but claims a spell had been cast upon him. A lengthy flashback reveals just what may have happened. While on a business trip in Thailand a month or so earlier, Stephen decided to try to sample the hospitality of the lady folk in the area. While out on the town, he bumped into the pretty Bon Brown (Lily Chan), wooed her, told her he loved her, took her virginity and then returned to his country with no real intentions of continuing the relationship with her. Unbeknownst to poor Bon, she was just another piece of ass to the traveling businessman, but just because they're now separated by some distance doesn't mean she can't still get her revenge...

After finding himself strangely unable to get it up for another lover (Jenny Liang), a necklace Bon gave Stephen leaks some kind of brown liquid all over him; marking him and making his chest erupt with thick gray hair. Then his neglected daughter (Wu Pei-Chin), who he's raising as a single dad though his elderly mother (Mama Hung) actually does most of the work, begins behaving rather strangely. She bleeds all over pillow, but Stephen cannot find the source of it. He catches her up late at night eating raw pork liver (mmm!) out of the refrigerator, and then she keeps doing things that indicate to him that she's trying to kill him  (including showing up at his bedside in the middle of the night with a knife). Stephen goes to an old witch who tells him his daughter is possessed and the only way to take care of it is to drive a spike through her head, which is what the increasingly paranoid Stephen finally does. After telling his story, Stephen welcomes Inspector Bobby to investigate the validity of his claims, which Bobby eventually does after bearing witness to some unexplainable events himself.

Bobby's Thai wife Mary (Fanny Fen-ni) offers up the services of her cousin to show him around while he's in Thailand. Upon arrival, it takes no time at all for the inspector to discover black magic is at play, and an evil sorcerer named Magusu (Hussin Bin Abu Hassan) - at the behest of the spurned Bon - is behind it all. After consulting an old witch, Bobby learns that Stephen has been cursed by two different spells: "The Coffin Spell" (which utilizes a special plant root) to cause his impotence and "The Carcass Oil Spell" (requiring oil from a deceased pregnant woman!) to cause him to hallucinate, murder those closest to him and then "rot to a painful death" afterward. Since Stephen's body has erupted in nasty, puss-oozing skin ulcers and he'll soon die if nothing is done, Bobby goes to monk Master Da More (Choi Gwok-Hing) for help. The monk attempts to do battle with the evil Magusu (in an amazing sequence) but finds himself too weak to defeat him. He'll need to pray to Buddha for a week first. In the meantime, Bobby returns to Hong Kong, but Magusu follows and begins casting a variety of spells to try to kill him and his wife.

I'll try not to ruin any of the many surprises, just to say there's never a dull moment and plenty of imaginative, gory special effects. The "Worm Spell" is particularly disgusting and "The Lemon Spell" requires not only fruit but also the glands from a snake and guts from a chicken (yes, a few real animals really get killed so there's your warning). What makes this even more interesting is that director Kuei researched black magic in both Thailand and Hong Kong and the screenplay is based upon his findings. Many of the things seen here are reenactments of actual black magic ceremonies and I don't really doubt the authenticity of those claims since much of what's depicted here shows up in many other Asian black magic tales. Even the guy playing the evil warlock was supposedly a "renowned Malay sorcerer" in real life (according to the credits).

Gross stuff aside, this is quite aesthetically pleasing, as well. The art direction and settings are both superb, and the visual presentation, which uses film overlap, intentional blur and some really neat lighting trickery to cause colorful rainbow-like flickers to emerge from various light sources is also great. If you recognize the big showdown between Magusu and the monk it's because the sequence was repeated in its entirety (only replacing the actor playing the monk) in The Boxer's Omen. They are also kind enough to spell out (literally!) the moral of this tale at the very end: "Evil can't win over good. Using voodoo to harm others will ultimately be punished. Simultaneously, the moral of the story is to admonish people against casual sex and to be on guard against witchcraft." Ha! Great stuff. And now it's time for me to make a place for this one on my Top 10 for 1981 list...


7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta (1985)

... aka: Formula for a Killer
... aka: Formula for a Murder
... aka: Formula per un assassinio
... aka: Seven Hyden Park

Directed by:
Alberto De Martino

Boston, 1960: 11-year-old Joanna is attacked by a sex predator dressed as a priest, falls down a flight of stairs and breaks her back. Cut to the present day and the now-grown Joanna (Christina Nagy) is confined to a wheelchair but isn't letting that stop her from living a normal life. She's repressed all her memories from the childhood attack and doesn't remember anything about it, is heavily involved in athletics and has acquired a great deal of money over the years, some of which she's sinking into research to find a cure for paralysis. Craig (David Warbeck), an athletic director at a sports center for the crippled, falls in love with her and wants to marry her but Joanna's sexy, overly-protective live-in assistant Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg) starts getting jealous of the romance and fears her boss will cast her to the side if she goes through with the marriage. Fearing for the life of his patient, her concerned physician Doctor Sernich (Rossano Brazzi) tells Craig about what had happened to Joanna in her childhood and warns that her remembering those traumatic events may provoke a fatal heart attack.

Joanna decides to go through with the union and the two are quickly married in a civil ceremony. Craig promptly moves in and Ruth moves out to live in her own place. Joanna starts screaming and freaking out when Craig tries to make love to her, has terrible nightmares and, while she's alone at the house, a man dressed as a priest with pantyhose over his face and carrying a bloody doll, appears at the top of the stairs. Joanna passes out and the incident is passed off as a hallucination. Meanwhile, a psycho is murdering priests at a church Joanna donates a lot of money to. Father Peter (Andrea Bosic) gets his throat cut with a straight razor in a confessional booth, while Father Davis (Loris Loddi) gets his face smashed in with a shovel. Both bodies disappear.

Oddly, the identity of the killer or killers and his, her or their motivation(s) are unveiled about half an hour into this one, though I won't reveal either here. Not that it would really spoil the film or anything. Just from reading the plot synopsis and the fact the central character is a vulnerable, rich woman with a past trauma and a weak heart will be enough for most to guess the who and why. You keep waiting for something out of the ordinary to occur or for an unpredictable plot twist to swing the action in another direction, but nothing ever happens. The ordinary writing is enlivened a little by an eerie music score from Francesco De Masi, OK performances, a few bloody murders and some faintly creepy "hallucinations;" though none of that really lifts this above the realm of passable time-waster. The ending gets a little silly and over-the-top, too, as it attempts to pile on the shocks.

Director De Martino (billed here as "Martin Herbert") had made around 30 films from 1962 until 1985 and never managed to distinguish himself at all during that time. His films ranged from the awful (the bad movie favorite The Puma Man [1980]) to the serviceable (this one; the 1982 thriller Blood Link starring Michael Moriarty), though nothing memorable seemed to ever come out of the chute. His other work includes peplum and crime thrillers, plus the b/w Gothic horror The Blancheville Monster (1963), the giallo The Killer is on the Phone (1972), the Exorcist cash-in The Antichrist (1974), the Omen cash-in Holocaust 2000 (1977) and the low-budget monster film Miami Horror (1985), which also featured Warbeck and Loddi. Formula was issued to VHS on the Lightning label here in America, though I'm unaware of any official DVD release.

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