Sunday, February 10, 2019

Xie mo sha (1977)

... aka: 邪魔煞
... aka: Devil Strikes, The
... aka: Evil Spirits

Directed by:
Yee-Hung Lam

Seeing something crossing the road, a woman pulls over her car and is attacked by a crawling disembodied hand that busts through her windshield and starts strangling her. Alas, this turns out to only be an advertisement for unbreakable car windshields (!?) The mastermind behind that is Chen Bong Ling (David Lau Chi Wing), who's fast becoming one of the top commercial producers in the business. Not only is he doing well at work, but he's also in love with, and hoping to marry, Sao Chin (Kimmy Got Kim Ching). Well, OK, that part's gonna need a little work. On a visit to the ocean, Sao hears someone calling her name, has visions of funeral procession heading through the woods and then sees a bunch of people burying her mother's corpse on a beach. She flips out, starts running, falls and passes out. Afterward, a doctor shows up to examine her, finds nothing physically wrong and writes it off as a stress-related hallucination caused by her college studies.

Still, Sao feels she may possess "the sixth feeling" and suspects there's a disaster coming her way. Immediately after confessing that to her boyfriend, she receives a letter from her aunt (Man Wong) in Thailand, who informs her that - surprise! - her mother has just died. It has something to with a civil war and a bomb and being refugees and is all shown in a confusing flashback that's even more confusing because the subtitles are usually cut off. There's another flashback, too, where the aunt in her younger days brings her boyfriend home to meet her disapproving father. In the letter, the aunt also mentions that she's relocating to Hong Kong. And she'll be bringing along her chubby, chocolate-bar-obsessed son.

Once the aunt and cousin arrive, Sao takes them to their hotel and is told a fascinating story about how the aunt used a special ring to save them when they were fleeing enemy troops. It enabled them to jump off of a cliff and float in the water for 2 days before they were rescued by a passing ship. Auntie gives her a silver snake bracelet as a gift and then she informs her that she's already been "appointed" to marry her cousin. Sao brushes off that suggestion as not to anger them but has no intention of ending her love affair with Chen Bong.

To pass along a strong hint, Sao brings Chen Bong over for dinner. Aunt Chin is rude to him and tries to sneak a black magic potion (made from her son's spit!) into Sao's drink, but the glass explodes when Chih-Ming (intentionally) drops his snake ring into it. You see, Chih-Ming isn't in agreement with what his mother is doing at all and doesn't want to be forced upon Sao. Still, Auntie is dead set on their union. In order to make stronger spells, she goes to a snake handler who slices open, guts and then skins a (real, live) cobra in a disgusting scene. And then she has a dog killed for its blood to use in another spell. This one creates a phantom dog that bites Chen Bong, which creates a huge bruise that oozes blue liquid, causes him to almost wreck his car and lands him in the hospital.

Aunt and Chih-Ming get into an argument about what she's doing, which ends with Chih-Ming getting killed in a freak accident on a construction site. But if Sao thinks this is going to free her from any creepy family obligations, she's got another thing coming. Aunt Chin disowns her at the funeral and then promises she will "die much worse" than her son. She checks out of her hotel and promptly goes to a large abandoned building with her box of Thai black magic trinkets, where she can strike out at Sao and her friends from afar.

Sao's birthday party is ruined when her cake is infested by maggots. Her roommate Chin Li (Monica) is attacked when the bracelet turns into a lizard and then gets trapped in the bathroom where the shower head sprays her down with hot water. And then Sao herself is possessed. Her hair starts falling out and her face breaks out in bloody lesions. She secretes some green slime and eats it (!), chews up a wooden cross and spits it out, floats through the hallways and is eventually taken back to the hospital. The aunt uses chicken blood and voodoo dolls, gets so far into her black magic her eyes eventually turn completely black and she sprouts vampire fangs and then sends a large moth to Sao's hospital window to help her break out. Chen Bong must then try to track her down and save her. If that's even possible.

I'd never heard of this one before I stumbled upon it but it appears to be a companion piece (or rip-off of) a 1974 film called Nu mo or "The Devil in Her," which was Hong Kong's answer to The Exorcist. It even features the same two main actors from that one playing similar roles. There's a distinctive Asian flavor to the usual possession proceedings with all the black magic and the performances (especially from the aunt) are decent, but this takes too long to get going (Sao isn't even possessed until the last 20 minutes), the music is mostly stolen from Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, the finale is disappointing and, well, I've already seen this same thing done more imaginatively elsewhere with better special effects and production values. But, to be completely fair, all that's currently available is a washed out print with poorly-done subs, so that probably doesn't help this any.

The director also wrote the crazy Shaw Brothers film Seeding of a Ghost (1983) and went on to make a bunch of Cat III films later in his career like The Story of Lady Sue (1992), O.C.T.B. Case - The Floating Body (1995), Erotic Ghost Story: Perfect Match (1997), Ghost on Fire (1998) and others.

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