Friday, April 26, 2019

Qiu deng ye yu (1974)

... aka: 秋燈夜雨
... aka: All in Dim Cold Night
... aka: All in the Dim Cold Night
... aka: Autumn Light, Night Rain
... aka: Tragedy of a Ghost
... aka: Tragedy of Ghost

Directed by:
Feng-Pan Yao

Widowed landowner Lord Chao (Yang Yueh) becomes infatuated with sheltered, naive country girl Tsio-O (Meng Chin). In order to finagle his way into her life, he hires her father (also a widower) as a rent collector and uses his frequent absence from the home to make his move. After Tsio-O repeatedly rejects his gifts / sexual propositions, Chao gives her an offer too good to pass up: He'll marry her if she'll just have sex with him. After all, he says, she has to marry someone anyway so she may as well wed a well-off lord, right? Tsio-O finally relents to the lord's sexual demands and waits patiently for him to follow through on his promise. Soon after, chatty matchmaker Miss Tsaw (Hsing-Chih Kao) comes to the lord's home with news that the fiance of Shew-Yin (Ling-Chi Chin), an extremely wealthy lord's daughter, has been killed and her father has agreed to let him marry her. Seeing how Shew-Yin comes from so much money and Lord Chao has recently been depleting his own wealth, he agrees to the union. Only there's a complication... he's gotten Tsio-O pregnant.

Managing to conceal her pregnancy for six months, Tsio-O finally has to come clean due to her weight gain. Her father (Chung-Lien Chou) reacts to the news by beating her until she reveals who knocked her up. When he goes to confront Lord Chao, he's met with denial that they were ever even together. He's accused of being a liar and loses his job. Later that winter, Tsio-O gives birth alone in her room, passes out and awakens to find her baby gone. While she was out, her father had bundled it up, taken it outside and left it in the woods to die. Tsio-O flees into the forest and finds it, then goes to the lord's home to ask him to have mercy on their child. He refuses to even see her and orders his men to slam the door in her face. She ends up freezing to death on his doorstep. As for the baby, Chao orders his right hand man Chao Chung (Yu Wang) to "throw him out."

With rumors quickly spreading around the village about what's taken place, the matchmaker and Lord Luu (Yeh Tien) decide to fast track the wedding. The bride is delivered and the marriage is consummated. However, it's not going to be happily ever after for Lord Chao, his new wife and some in his inner circle when Tsio-O's "very revengeous ghost" returns. A puddle of blood keeps appearing right where Tsio-O died, laughter and crying are heard outside the home and other strange things occur. The ghost tricks the matchmaker into eating centipedes before dropping a boulder on her and then pays Lord Chao a visit on his honeymoon night demanding to know where their child is. Consulting a monk (Kuo Chun Chen) leads Chao to prayer and fortifying his home with spell paper.

After her horrifying honeymoon, Shew-Yin returns to her father and refuses to go back to the home, giving Tsio-O's ghost the opportunity to impersonate her to gain access and trick Chao into bed with her corpse. The body is then placed in a casket, taken to a temple and sealed with sacred paper, but she still manages to get out when a buffoon accidentally sets the paper on fire. She returns to the lord's home yet again, where the monk attempts to exorcise her spirit before she can carry out her plans to kill Chao and find the burial location of her baby.

From a technical standpoint, this is well done in regards to the sets, costumes, period detail and overall atmosphere. Being Taiwanese, I wasn't really expecting this to match the quality of similar traditional ghost tales from Japan and Hong Kong, but this was a respectable enough production. There's a strong performance from lead actress Chin, a few fun special effects (especially a bit where the ghost's top half detaches and flies around) and some decent camerawork following the floating spirit around. The first 40 minutes provide a serious, fairly compelling dramatic set-up to the supernatural revenge scenes. All of that makes the second half, which deteriorates into a poorly-paced mess of uncertain mood (the introduction of two "funny" characters throw the tone completely off), sloppy jump cuts and underwhelming horror scenes, all the more disappointing.

The ghost's "revenge" is also incredibly unsatisfying. Tsio-O is poised to take out a lot of people who really deserve it, but ends up only killing two and driving a third (who didn't even have anything to do with what happened to her) to suicide. The guards who push her and her baby out into the cold to die aren't even touched and one is later used for lightweight comic relief! The man who buries her baby per the Lord's orders - who may have even buried it alive - is not only left unscathed but positioned to be the film's conscience! Tsio-O's father beats her, threatens to kill her, tries to kill her baby and seems more bothered by her being pregnant out of wedlock than the aftermath or her death. Nothing happens to him either and he's last seen in pleasant spirits relaying helpful information to the very people responsible for his daughter's death. I see little point in even making a film like this and then refusing to give these assholes their just desserts.

Never officially released in the U.S., but there's an OK quality widescreen print available in Mandarin with embedded English and Cantonese subtitles. FLK Cinema offers that same version on DVD under the title Tragedy of a Ghost.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Unearthly Stranger (1963)

... aka: Assedio alla terra (Siege of Earth)
... aka: Beyond the Stars
... aka: Mujeres de lo desconocido (Woman of the Unknown)
... aka: Noiduttu katse (Bewitched Test)

Directed by:
John Krish

In England, Professor Geoffrey Munroe (Warren Mitchell) mysteriously keels over from a brain hemorrhage which has done some other rather unusual things to his body that can only be attributed to extremely high does of electricity... enough to power all of London, in fact. Strangely, the exact same fate has befallen select people in both America and Russia. All of the victims were scientists working for their respective country's space programs and all had been experimenting on the same exact thing: Unlocking secrets of the mind in order to telepathically travel to through space. At a British lab, scientists are working on something that may help accomplish that: TP 91, a formula that unlocks an otherwise dormant energy force we all have in our own minds. 

Lackadaisical, smarmy Army Major Clarke (Patrick Newell) is skeptical about letting all of his scientists know what has been happening around the globe for fear that they'll abandon the project. He has an argument with one of the her cohorts, Professor John Lancaster (Philip Stone), about whether to tell project leaded Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) or not, but Mark overhears them anyway. Thankfully he has a sexy, much-younger new wife to return home to that can help him keep his mind off things. Well, uh, maybe that's not such a good idea either.

Discovering their agency is involved in covering up the mysterious death of the former project head and keeping important things from them, Dr. Davidson and Professor Lancaster decide to team up and investigate. Prof. Munroe - the dead man - had high levels of something called trimorphonite in his system; something that is found in large doses only in space. Since he's never been to space, that poses quite a mystery, and so does that the fact that all of his research papers were burnt up in a fire. But perhaps not the mystery as the behavior coming from Dr. Davidson's new bride, Julie (Gabrielle Licudi), whom her met under mysterious circumstances while on holiday in Switzerland. 

So immediately taken with her beauty and charm, Dr. Davidson married Julie after a brief romance lasting only a few weeks. Now that they're in England, Julie barely ever leaves the house, claiming to have lived a quiet and sheltered life in her home country that she wants to continue. When Davidson returns home one night, he finds Julie lying in bed with her eyes wide open. Thinking she's dead, he feels her pulse and notices that she doesn't have one... but then she wakes up, anyway. Perhaps a previous viewing of I Married a Monster from Outer Space could have saved Dr. Davidson all of this hassle.

Because of his wife's peculiar behavior, Davidson has Lancaster over for dinner. Julie puts on the charm, but Lancaster sees her removing a steaming hot pot of casserole with her bare hands from a 275 degree oven without mitts and begins having doubts himself about who or what she is. Babies also cry when she looks at them, a whole playground full of children run inside at her mere presence and tears seem to act like acid on her face... all because "Julie" is nothing more than a host body for an alien.

Back at work, Major Clarke decides to give Davidson a leave of absence because his new wife's past cannot be traced and their top-secret work cannot be put in jeopardy. At his country home, where there's an almost-constant and unexplained humming sound, Davidson continues to work on the project and finally makes a breakthrough in his research. New formula in hand, he goes back to work and has it snatched away for safe keeping by the major, who ends up mysteriously dead himself... and the papers have spontaneously combusted in the process. Seems like the alien race don't want us humans meddling in space travel.

Well-acted, intelligently-written by Rex Carlton (with likable and enjoyable characters), entertaining, eerie and even unexpectedly witty at times, this long-forgotten British film deserves better treatment than it has received. Working with a very low-budget, the tale is told with no special effects whatsoever, but director Krish and cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer do several stylistic things to spice up the material. There's some clever camerawork, noir-ish lighting is effectively used, a framework device provokes the right intrigue at the beginning and there's a very good surprise ending. The entire cast (which also includes Jean Marsh in a supporting role as a secretary) does well, with both Neville and Licudi managing to make their characters - and the grim situation both find themselves in - very believable.

Back when I first wrote a brief review for this title, there had been neither a DVD nor VHS release, possibly because this lacked some creature to put on the cover. Thankfully, that's since been remedied by DVD and Blu-ray releases through Network Distributing (Note: My screen caps certainly don't reflect the quality of that release as I did them back in 2012 from an nth generation copy). I'd imagine most fans of vintage, smaller-scale science fiction, who have no problem with dialogue and subtext in place of expensive special effect thrills, will find this to be something of a gem.

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