Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Ping an ye (1985)

... aka: 平安夜
... aka: 直冒冷汗
... aka: Christmas Eve
... aka: La nuit de l'assassin (Night of the Assassin)
... aka: Night Caller
... aka: Night Color
... aka: Perversión en la noche (Perversion in the Night)
... aka: Silent Night
... aka: Zhi mao leng han

Directed by:
Philip Chan

Much is made of holiday-set horror within the horror community despite the fact there are few actual great genre films set around any holiday. You'd think most of the standout titles would be centered around Halloween since horror is already built right into the holiday itself, but that's not the case at all. There are actually more good genre films set on Christmas! I guess there's just something about contrasting good will, generosity, family and "holiday cheer" with the macabre that appeals to fans, plus there's that undercurrent of it being somewhat subversive having horrific things go down on what's a religious holiday. Perhaps the atmosphere of Christmas itself is the primary appeal just for nostalgic or aesthetic purposes. When we think about Christmas we envision it being cold and often snowy. It gets dark early and many people are staying inside for obvious reasons. All of that makes for a proper horror atmosphere regardless of the holiday. It's also rather easy, visually-speaking, to capture the proper Christmas atmosphere. All we need are trees, lights and decorations and a few Christmas songs on the soundtrack, right? Still, I've seen plenty of films that have managed to fail even accomplishing that simple task and the same can be said for "Halloween" films failing to adequately capture the Halloween spirit.

There have been many times over the years that I've considering doing a "Best Christmas Horror" list but one thing always stops me: I do Top 20's around here and I've yet to find 20 great Christmas horror movies made between 1950 and 1990 for such a list. On the bright side, unlike Halloween, I could at least do a Top 10 for X-Mas if I wanted or it could become the backbone of a generic "Best Holiday Horror Films" list that includes all holidays. Unfortunately, Night Caller (which I had semi-high hopes for) isn't good enough to factor into either potential list.

Originally titled 平安夜 (or Christmas Eve) and aka Silent Night (carolers sing a Cantonese version of the Xmas staple during the opening scene), Night Caller is a lot like the previous German krimi and Italian giallo in that it features a few elaborate suspense / murder sequences and centers around a police investigation of a serial killer. Where this film eclipses a lot of what came before it is in its depiction of its two central detective characters and their camaraderie, plus having a host of side characters being fairly well-used. It also has a sense of humor that sometimes works and, instead of bogging things down too much with empty procedural, spends adequate time making the characters feel like human beings. And it's good it at least has that much to offer because it's otherwise too unoriginal and too light on the horror and suspense to extend beyond being merely a passable viewing experience.

On Christmas Eve, someone dressed in black (right down to the trench coat, bowler hat and gloves) enters the home of model Jessica (Terry Hu) and proceeds to viciously stab her 27 times in a blue lit giallo-esque sequence that ends with her being pushed through a window. Though some carolers and the one-eyed maintenance man see the culprit fleeing the apartment building, the only witness who may actually know the identity of the killer is the victim's angelic young daughter, Edith (Pui Wai Lee). However, she's traumatized, left in a state of shock and unable to talk. Seeing how Edith's estranged birth father (Dick Wei in a cameo) has no interest in taking full custody and suggests putting her in an orphanage, Inspector James Wong (Melvin Wong, also one of the producers) takes her back to his home so he and his wife Kiki (Deborah Sims) can care for her. The two hope she'll feel safe enough to eventually open up and reveal the identity of the killer.

Unlike the more by-the-books and responsible James, his partner Steve Chan (director / writer Chan) is an older bachelor who's known for his unorthodox techniques that have included shoving heads into toilets to coerce confessions, driving his car through stores during police chases, pointing his gun at dicks and making frequent use of his baton on unruly punks. Despite their differences, the two are very good friends, celebrate holidays together and have each other's backs when it comes to diffusing criticism from their hard-assed superior (Hoi-Tin Ng). The two are joined in their investigation by spunky tomboy policewoman Porky (Pat Ha), who is not at all porky and probably best described as "endearingly annoying."

Evidence lead the trio of investigators to numerous places, starting with the modeling agency that employed Jessica. It's run by Tak Ho (Stuart Ong), who has a criminal record that includes sexual assaulting underage girls. After trying to blackmail the real killer, Tak Ho becomes victim #2 after he's stabbed and thrown off some scaffolding during a televised fashion show. The killer is revealed midway through and, based on what little we've seen to that point, their identity isn't much of a surprise considering we only first see the character during the reveal. James eventually is kidnapped, chained up and tortured in the killer's lair while Steve and Porky attempt to piece the clues together and rescue him before it's too late.

There's a scene where punks attack an elderly couple and terrorize them with a soda fountain, flyswatter, toaster and ketchup, a loon (Kei Mai) singing Toni Basil's "Mickey" and doing a Travis Bickle impersonation while in blackface (?!), flashbacks that reveal the killer's true motive (which is pretty lame to be honest), a scene taking place at a HK knock-off of Chuck E. Cheese and a truly preposterous (though surprising) final scene. Genre regular Pauline Wong (Siu-Fung Wong) has a colorful role as a spurned bisexual model that earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Hong Kong Film Awards, who also awarded this their Best Art Direction award. There are small cameo roles from Teddy Yip (MISS MAGIC) and Tina Lau (LOVE MASSACRE) as well.

While this received decent international distribution in the 80s in countries like Italy, Germany, the UK and the US (on the Rainbow VHS label), I'm not aware of any remastered DVD releases for this title. Ocean Shores was the primary distributor and at one time offered it on VHS, VCD and laserdisc.

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