Sunday, June 13, 2021

Biao ge dao (1987)

... aka: 表哥到
... aka: Biu go dou
... aka: Cousin Arrives
... aka: My Cousin the Ghost

Directed by:
Ma Wu

Te-Ta Wu aka Cousin Big (Richard Ng) runs a restaurant in the Chinatown district of London and has been cutting costs by serving unsuspecting customers pigeon under the guise of it being "roast spring chicken." Well, I guess at least it's not cat. Cousin Big has imported in his lazy, hot-tempered, cleaver-wielding cousin Mako (director Ma) to be head chef but the two are constantly butting heads. During an argument, a couple of immigration officers overhear Wu revealing that Mako is in the country illegally. They apprehend him and he's expelled by the government and forced to fly back to Hong Kong. The luckless Mako then goes to work as a cook for a large banquet hall, where he discovers the woman he thought was his girlfriend has dumped him to marry another guy (Tien Ching). Mako's four younger male cousins; Chou Hsiao Yung (Kenny Bee), Q (Hoi Mang), Pao (Tai-Bo) and, uh, "Fat Maid" (Chi-Kit Li), also work there as waiters and all of them live together in an inherited home, along with an older, mysterious female boarder named Rose Wang (Wan-Si Wong), who claims to work as a "beautician in a funeral parlor" and has paid up rent for six months yet is hardly ever there.

The cousins, who all get fired from their jobs after a mix-up involving rat poison, receive a letter in the mail from Cousin Big. He's finishing up business in the UK and is going to be moving back to Hong Kong. He hopes to move in with them and will be bringing all of the money he's saved up to invest in the family. Before he arrives, the young cousins attempt to evict Rose, but she's not going away so easily. After all, she's actually a ghost and has unfinished business to attend to. Back in her human existence, she was a spinster bridesmaid on her way to a wedding when she, bride-to-be cousin Gi (So Yip) and the groom were all killed in a car crash.

Seeing how Rose was the bridesmaid but never the bride, she's never been able to experience love, something she would like to do before shuffling off to the afterlife. When she and Cousin Big meet it's love at first sight, but can a ghost and a moral actually be together? Well, that issue is swiftly taken care of via a convenient plot twist that reveals that Cousin Big too is dead (he drowned in the Thames River back in England) and is himself a green-blooded ghost. The difference is that he doesn't yet realize it and is in some kind of transitional limbo state between the living and the dead. When the other cousins find out what Cousin Big truly is, they're advised to not let him find out or else he'll never be able to be reincarnated into another body.

The jealous ghost of Gi turns up and she too is lookin' for some lovin', though if she doesn't find it soon she'll have to spend the rest of eternity alone. Not wanting a human mate, she sets her sights on Q, bewitches him and tries to make him commit suicide in a variety of ways, including hanging himself from a ceiling fan, bashing his head against the wall repeatedly and electrocuting himself. Can his friends save him? Will Rose and Cousin Big be able to live together in wed-dead bliss?

While not badly budgeted or produced, this cliché-ridden, poorly-structured and forgettable HK ghost comedy still never rises above the average. As per usual, it tries to have a grounding point of sorts in the more mature older characters (Ma Wu running around with a cleaver acting crazed notwithstanding) while the younger ones behave like annoying buffoons and Three Stooges rejects slapping each other upside the head the rest of the time. This one isn't very funny, is very light on horror content and has no notable make-up effects or stunt work (just lots of ghosts gliding around and floating), but does feature some mediocre visual sfx like ghosts pulling their heads off. The best bit is a clever effect when a bicyclist in a movie starts to ride right off the TV screen.

Aside from an amusing choreographed window cleaning routine, most of the other gags are puerile and include someone eating a piece of iron-charred human flesh, putting stinky underwear in someone's face, pulling a thermometer out of a babies ass and sticking it in a mouth, one of the cousins offering his ass up to his horny elder to keep him from being seduced by a female ghost, a guy trying to sexually assault an unconscious female and a fight over an inflatable sex doll. There's also a long comic scene where Gi "dances" with Q and throws him around a room while the Ghostbusters theme song plays. The ghost and afterlife rules this keeps throwing out there are hard to keep tabs on and seem as if they just made them all up as they went along.

Clips from the obviously far superior horror-comedy MR. VAMPIRE are seen on a TV screen where there's also an uncredited cameo from Pauline Siu-Fung Wong. Other small roles are played by James Tien (asshole restaurant manager), Teddy Kip (a chef), Billy Ching (waiter) and veteran character actors Gwa-Pau Sai (who appeared in well over 800 films made between 1946 and 1995!) and Mang-Ha Ching as Cousin Big's potential in-laws. It was produced by Sammo Hung.

Rather surprisingly, this Bo Ho Films Co. / Golden Harvest release was a box office hit in Hong Kong and managed to rake in more money than most other films of this type. There was a VHS release through Ocean Shores and a 1999 DVD release through Mega Star, which comes with English subtitles. Definitely not priority viewing.

Tabloid! (1989) [copyright 1985]

Directed by:
Glen Coburn
Bret McCormick
Matt "Shaffen" (Devlen)

Fresh outta college aspiring journalist Rick Cruikshank (Scott Davis) lands his first professional writing job at a sensationalist, sleazy tabloid rag called World Investigator. To give you a good idea of the prestige of this particular paper, they stuck a dry erase board in the corner of the office pointing out the top priority stories of the day are the ones involving stigmata, spontaneous combustion, cannibalism and hermaphrodites. Rick is in the middle of training with fellow writer Anita Billings (Cheryl Boquet) when head honcho Margaret Murdock (Stella Mann) comes storming out of her office shrieking about the upcoming deadline. There's still a story that needs to be cranked out that hasn't been done yet because the guy who was supposed to write it got fired. And, as that man's replacement, Rick now has the responsibility to do it. Initial ideas are rejected and Margaret suggests he basically just pull a new one out of his ass using some stock photos for inspiration. The crazier the better. So I know we're supposed to be under the impression that this is a horrible job writing horrible articles for a horrible woman running a horrible paper but all I kept thinking was, "How do I get a job like that?"

For the first fifteen or so minutes I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, especially considering this was made by the same folks responsible for the low-budget gore-fest THE ABOMINATION (1986) and the failed, forced-camp zombie comedy OZONE: THE ATTACK OF THE REDNECK MUTANTS (1986). There's a pre-credits bit about space aliens invading an aerobics class and kidnapping the instructor, the office scenes are fairly amusing with some charming actors and a lightweight sitcom-ish vibe to them and then there's a fun black-and-white credits sequence complete with a ridiculous Tabloid theme song ("Stop the Presses"). Unfortunately, we never again return to the tabloid office after the first couple of scenes and it's nowhere but downhill from there...

This is an anthology, where some of the tabloid stories are brought to life for us as various people (a bartender, guy sitting at a park bench, a mean mother...) read them. The first story is "Baby Born with Full Beard," which is filled to the brim with terrible accents, terrible acting and really bad hick humor and stereotypes. It centers around a redneck slob named Dub Jones (played by director Coburn) who slurps down beer nonstop, runs around with the ass split out of pants and lives in a trailer with his very pregnant wife Debbie (Kay Bay), who works at the "Petticoat Junction Cafeteria" and aspires to one day upgrade to a double wide, and his grouchy mother-in-law Edith (Janice Williams), who sits in front of the TV all day drinking beer, chain smoking and calling him things like "lazy good-for-nothing bum."

Dub makes his money as a dope pusher and has just sold a bag of weed to fellow redneck Lester (Thom Meyers). However, after smoking the entire bag and not getting high, Lester and his cousins Rambeau (Ken Bashears) and Hipster (co-director McCormick) decide to get back at Dub and his family. During a backwoods car chase, Debbie shoots and kills Rambeau, which leads to a trailer shootout, a guy getting blown up with a Molotov cocktail and, you guessed it, the birth of a bearded baby. The jokes this goes for are far too obvious to amuse most of the time, though it looks like the cast was having a good time making it.

Next up is the more promising-sounding "BBQ of the Dead" directed by McCormick. At a cemetery, a dead man named A. C. Clark (Norman Muellen) rises from the grave as a hollow-eyed zombie, goes back to his home (now occupied by his son and daughter-in-law) and then starts pattying up hamburgers and getting ready for a barbecue. Two of his zombified friends, Mary Ida (Jude Johnson) and Harry (Dennis Letts), join him for food on the back patio. I suppose the joke here is that instead of attacking and eating people, these zombies prefer to have incredibly mundane conversations about their families, politics, how much they like corn-on-the-cob and how one should keep pride in maintaining their front lawn, but, I'm not quite sure what the whole point is. Still, this is slightly better than the first tale just for the simple fact the actors aren't terrible and simple math tells us that Zombies > Rednecks.

Finally, we get "Killer Vacuum Destroys Town" from Devlen, which centers around the annoying suburbanite Tuttle family. Father Walter (Rod Blaydes) is a small time TV meteorologist who's quickly making a name for himself with pinpoint accurate weather predictions. Stepmother Freda (Debra Dragich) is a gossipy, self-important busybody who can't stand her kids and wants her husband to make more money so she can open up department store charge accounts. They have a young son (Joshua Ian McCormick) who mostly just plays with the dog and then there's daughter Rose, who's basically an evil mad scientist transplanted into a teenage girl's body. Rose spends all of her time in her bedroom working on inventions, including a computer that's able to accurately forecast the weather; information she's been feeding to her father to help him with his career.

Rose can't stand her bitchy stepmother and wants to ruin her life so she starts relaying false information to her father so that the major networks who've been eyeing him won't offer him a higher-paying job. And then she starts tampering with vacuum cleaners to make them cause tornadoes (?!) to make them kill off people she doesn't like, starting with her aunt. Could Freda possibly be next on the list? It goes without saying that the mere idea of a killer vacuum cleaner is going to arouse some interest but, please, heed my warning: The filmmakers do nothing amusing or all that interesting with this idea. In fact, thanks to grating overacting and the shriek-fest of a finale, this is just plain irritating to sit through. As each of these subpar tabloid tales unspooled, I began to wish the filmmakers had just made a straight comedy set entirely at the tabloid office.

However, the dud of a third story is the entire reason some people even bother seeking this out as Rose happens to be played by a young, chubby-faced and bespectacled Lisa Loeb. Loeb would go on to minor celebrity in the mid-90s for the song "Stay (I Missed You)," which became a surprise #1 hit in the U. S. and Canada. While I personally couldn't stand that song or the rest of her music, I do think her entire image was kind of brilliant. She wore her trademark tortoise shell-framed glasses and seemed sweet so women found her nonthreatening while she was obviously cute and wore short skirts a lot so guys at least didn't mind looking at her. Loeb went on to act some more (she's in a number of other genre films, including Black Circle Boys, Serial Killing 101 and the remakes of Fright Night and House on Haunted Hill), make children's albums and do Geico commercials. The third story also features Blue Thompson / Carolyn McCormick as the TV station make-up artist. She went on to star in several other films made by her husband, including the aforementioned Abomination and Highway to Hell (1990).

Despite what many reviews state online, this was not shot on video. It was filmed in and around Fort Worth, Texas in 1985, but not released to home video until four years later. The only distribution company who'd handle it back then was Tapeworm, whose catalogue also included such "gems" as Cannibal Hookers, W. A. R.: Women Against Rape and the female wrestling tape Oil of L. A..

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