Friday, October 8, 2021

Chu nu jiang (1988)

... aka: 處女降
... aka: Cannibal Curse
... aka: Curse

Directed by:
Yeung Kong

At a hilltop mansion, a wealthy, cruel, paranoid, wheelchair-bound and apparently mentally ill old geezer (Ching Tien) chastises and abuses his much-younger hottie wife, Ma (Maria Jo aka Maria Yuen). He accuses her of "flirting" with other men, yells at her for bringing him ginseng soup that's too hot (I'm sure he'd probably also have an issue with it being too cold) and then starts groping her, beating her up, pulling her hair and threatening to kill her. Seems like a healthy enough relationship! But, hey, I guess that's what you sometimes get when you marry someone old enough to be your grandfather just for their money! Watching all of this sordid action play out from the window is the gardener, Luk (Hsin-Nan Hung), who gets so pissed off he dumps a bucket of water over his head. Seeing how he's younger and handsome, it goes without saying that he and Ma are already very well acquainted with one another and the two have been carrying on a secret affair. Despite not having any money, they plot to run away together but her husband's evil brother (Phillip Ko) overhears them and, later, attempts to rape Ma. When that doesn't work out for him, he simply runs over Luk with his car and kills him.

Ma takes Luk's corpse to the friendly neighborhood sorceress (Lap Ban Chan), who recites a spell so that the two lovers can be reunited as husband and white in the afterlife. Ma then promptly slashes her own wrists and falls over dead on top of Luk. She travels to a kind of limbo called "Mandala" where she refuses to cross the bridge into the next world. Instead she insists on being reincarnated. The sorceress grants her wish, but first warns there may be consequences. Ma doesn't care.

In modern day Hong Kong, Ma has been reincarnated into the now-twenty-year-old Maria Chan (Yuen again). Even though lots of men are interested in dating her, Maria's sad, withdrawn, antisocial and lonely because she still yearns for her lover from the previous life and wants to continue their romance. The only problem is that even though a psychic has told her the her reincarnated former lover, now called Robert Lam (and also played by Hung), is living in Hong Kong, she's thus far been unable to find him. Maria lives with her cousin Bo (Susan Brandy), who takes her to a birthday party and then shows T&A in an awkward sex scene with some rando who shows up at their apartment. Not that that has much to do with the plot, but they wedge it in here anyway.

Maria then gets word from her psychic friend that Robert is now in Manila on a prolonged business trip. He however does not inform her that he's already married to Amy (Eliza Yue) and the two have a young daughter. Nonetheless, Maria promptly heads to the Philippines and has no issue finding him. She introduces herself but he claims he doesn't know her, acts like he doesn't want to get to know her and walks away. Heartbroken, Maria is reduced to seeking the aid of a topless Filipino witch called Goddess (Maria Isabel Lopez, the memorable star of SILIP / Daughters of Eve), who slips a drug into Robert's tea and seduces him before transforming into Maria mid-sex. Robert then rescues a drowning woman in the ocean and gives her mouth-to-mouth, only to have that woman also transform into Maria. Hey, if he didn't have Maria on the mind before, he sure as hell does now! Yet somehow Robert is able to continue to reject her advances.

Maria goes home and pouts, while Bo, who's feeling the sting of jealousy since all of her lovers seem to be using her just to get closer to Maria, goes to an old, long-haired and mole-faced black magician named Ramau (Feng Hung). The sex-obsessed Ramau loves sucking on toes and lives in a crumbling home in the jungle with bats, owls, snakes and a bunch of dwarf henchmen who wear bone necklaces and caveman loincloths (!!) In case you were wondering how to take care of such a diverse group's dietary needs, kidnapped girls are stripped, chained, chopped up with machetes and then cooked in a cauldron.

Not nearly as horrified as she should be at such a display, Bo remains determined to get her hands on a love "medicine" to use on a guy she's interested in who only has eyes for Maria. When she reveals to Ramau that she lost her virginity a long time ago and is willing to have sex with him in exchange for the love potion, he tells her he'd be glad to help! She's forced to pray to a Snake God and then she's thrown on the ground, has her clothes ripped off and is raped as a white censor dot bush blocker dances around the screen. Bo then returns home, slips the guy she likes the powder and next thing she knows he's no longer interested in her cousin and is all about her.

Since that worked out so well, Bo then takes Maria to see Ramau. However, since she's still a virgin (virgin blood is toxic to him), he has to strike up another deal with her. She can have some of the love powder but must return after she loses her virginity and let the sorcerer have a go at her. After using the powder and giving up her virginity to Robert, Maria then has second thoughts about fulfilling her end of the bargain, so they decide to hide out in her home until they can safely flee to America. After her husband is reported missing, Amy flies down to Manila to see what became of him. She enlists the aid of a good wizard to do battle with Ramau, but he's killed, and then Ramau curses Robert and makes him grow snake scales on his stomach. Amy and the wizard's virginal daughter then decide to infiltrate Ramau's lair themselves.

There's also a snake nightmare, lots of ineptly incorporated stock footage of natural disasters and an amazingly disgusting and bloody finale where the black magician's stomach cracks open and snakes start pouring out as he spits up worms, frogs, snakes and mice! I don't know if Hung deserves props or ridicule for putting all those things in his mouth, but he does get some credit for overacting with astonishing and entertaining vigor! However, most of the rest of the movie is just an excuse to show off breasts, breasts and even more breasts. And the film would show off a lot more than that if not for that pesky dancing dot. Most of the actresses on display are very attractive, so this at least has that much going for it. However, the softcore sex is far from titillating due to it being too tame and the fact most of the ladies seem uncomfortable doing these scenes.

Nearly the entire score was swiped from Psycho II, which is one of the most overused stolen scores in all of 80s Asian horror. There have been only a few home video releases for this one. I'd actually say just ONE legit release and that's the English-subtitled 1988 VHS from Ocean Shores. Later, there was an awful, unsanctioned DVD release from some rip-off company called Videoasia, under their "Tales of Voodoo" banner. They not only had the audacity to steal the Ocean Shores print (that company's logo is even still on it!) but they also released the movie with a screwed up soundtrack that simultaneously plays the Mandarin and Cantonese audio tracks!


Fog, The (1980)

... aka: A Bruma Assassina (The Killing Fog)
... aka: Der Nebel des Grauens (The Fog of Horror)
... aka: John Carpenter's The Fog

Directed by:
John Carpenter

I've never been as enamored with this film as a lot of other people and always felt it was middling, forgettable Carpenter, especially as it's sandwiched between two of his very best genre films: Halloween (long overdue for a proper review here... maybe later this month!) and THE THING (1982). Then again, I should also point out that prior to this current viewing, I'd just seen this film twice before; once in high school and once in college. While I never hated or even disliked it, I was mostly left feeling indifferent after each viewing and never really had any desire to make it part of my annual film rotation. Seeing how this film's stock has risen somewhat in recent years (the ratings are more often than not positive - if not glowing - on genre sites and blogs), I figured it was about time for a reevaluation. Sad to say, after this re-watch my opinion remains exactly the same.

Things start out promisingly with the premise and tone established right out of the gate by the pre-credits sequence, which features John Houseman as a elder seaman telling a group of scared children ghost stories at a beach side campfire late one night. According to local legend, a hundred years earlier, a clipper ship called the Elizabeth Dane was traveling through uncommonly dense fog and, drawn inland by a campfire, crashed against the rocks in Antonio Bay. The ship was broken in two, sank and the six men onboard all died. Ever since, fishermen in the area have passed down this tale; adding a spooky epilogue... Supposedly, when the same thick, luminous fog returns on the 100 year anniversary of the crash, the dead men will return to get their revenge. Revenge for what, you say? Well, we will soon find out.

As the 100th anniversary approaches, the small, Northern California coastal town is rocked by bizarre, supernatural-tinged events. Bottles in a store start ratting and falling off shelves as if there's a minor earthquake going on. At a service station, lights and a hydraulic lift come on all by themselves and the alarm systems on cars all simultaneously go off. TVs switch on, chairs move across floors, car windshields bust out and a thick blanket of fog going against wind patterns slowly approaches the area. All are harbingers of bad things to come. Out at sea, a small fishing boat called the Sea Grass runs afoul of a larger ghost ship. All three men on board are slaughtered by shrouded phantoms brandishing swords and hooks. The ghosts will then make their way to Antonio Bay, just in time for their centennial celebration.

At a local church, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) locates a journal from his grandfather hidden behind the rock walls, which was written in 1880 and gives a little insight into the area and the history of the Elizabeth Dane. Instead of the tale that's been told around town, the ship was actually intentionally sunk by townspeople because it had lepers on board who wanted to start their own colony nearby. As Father Malone aptly points out, that makes the entire celebration extremely inappropriate. Kinda like Columbus Day. Nevertheless, harried busybody Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), who's in charge of putting together the celebration, plots to carry on as if nothing is wrong.

Top-billed Adrienne Barbeau (then married to the director) is Stevie Wayne, a sultry-voiced radio station owner / DJ who works out of a secluded lighthouse and is also a widowed single mother to young Andy (Ty Mitchell). After having a spooky encounter with a piece of leaky driftwood, she tries to warn locals about the fog over the radio (kind of hard to do when the power is out) and finally gets chased all the way up to the lighthouse roof when the ghosts come after her. Acting-wise, Barbeau makes a very good impression here as our heroine. On a more shallow note, I wish she'd kept this same hairstyle throughout the 80s instead of that afro-perm thing she switched to soon after this and kept for the rest of the decade.

A parallel thread follows Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), a fisherman who typically works on the Sea Grass and is investigating the disappearance of his colleagues. He teams up with free-spirited hitchhiker / artist Elizabeth, who's played by Jamie Lee Curtis right in the middle of her late 70s / early 80s Scream Queen run. While there is nothing wrong with her acting, Curtis feels underutilized and is basically just tagging along for the ride. It's also disappointing that she's in the same film as real-life mother Leigh and the two barely even interact with one another! I'd say this is probably the worst role Curtis had in her first string of genre films, though certainly not the worst movie she was in. Fellow Halloween vets Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers are both also here as, respectively, Kathy's assistant and Stevie's weatherman colleague. They're given even less to do than Curtis.

Great locations and vistas. Great widescreen photography from Dean Cundey. Great atmosphere. Great cast. Great score by Carpenter (with "electronic realization" by Dan Wyman). Great idea to keep the ghosts (sometimes seen with red, glowing eyes) mostly shrouded in fog and never fully seen. However, none of the above is fully able to overcome an extremely uneven (and usually bland) script. Frequent cross-cutting hampers the tension, a number of supporting characters feel unnecessary and this is very thinly and routinely plotted, lacking in surprise and more than a bit clumsy in regards to the narrative. And there may be a good reason why...

After shooting was completed, Carpenter was dissatisfied with the first edit and then went back and filmed brand new scenes to splice into the film. About 30 percent of the released film is comprised of this new footage and it appears some crucial establishing scenes and dialogue were lost along the way. Here, characters seem to know things they not only weren't around to witness but also things that were never once relayed to them by another character. A good example of this is that we're told that if the ghosts don't get their golden cross back, they'll claim six victims. Though three fishermen were killed, no one even sees the fourth and fifth victims killed and then, at the very end, the priest character notes the ghosts have only killed five of their six proposed victims. Huh?

Tommy Lee Wallace, the production manager and editor, also plays one of the ghosts, as does Rob Bottin, who was in charge of the (barely seen) make-up effects. The cast includes John F. Goff, James Canning and George 'Buck' Flower as victims, Darwin Joston (Assault on Precinct 13) as a doctor and Carpenter himself in an uncredited cameo. This was Carpenter's second collaboration with producer / co-writer Debra Hill after Halloween. The two would work together on numerous other films and also co-produced (the God awful) 2005 remake of this film.

Made on a budget of a million dollars, Avco Embassy spent three times that amount on advertising, which paid off as the film grossed over 20 million in North American theaters. While that pales in comparison to the director's prior genre hit (and also pales in comparison to the same year's FRIDAY THE 13TH, which grossed nearly double that on an even-smaller budget), this was actually Carpenter's second most financially successful genre film; behind only Halloween.

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