Friday, November 11, 2022

Lin tou jie (1988)

... aka: 林投姐
... aka: Revenge Ghost of the Tree, The
... aka: Revenge of the Ghost of the Tree
... aka: Revenge of the Tree Ghost
... aka: Sister Lin Tou

Directed by:
Shan-Hsi Ting

Weepy servant girl Mai Hsiu (Feng-Chiao Yen) shows up to a temple late at night praying for her masters and mentioning some kind of "homicide scandal". We then immediately zip into flashback mode to see just what she's crying about in this Taiwanese ghost tale with a period setting. Master Hsi Ping Wu (Shao-Wei Sun) and his wife Hsu Yuen (Szu Shih, in her final film role) are a wealthy, though charitable, couple who do right by their servants and appear to be in good standing in their community. Hsu Yuen even takes it upon herself to educate local hooligans about Buddhism in her free time to help them change their ways. Returning from a long business trip away, Master Wu brings along an amiable new friend; Chuan Chow (David Chiang), to stay with them.

Chuan turns out to be quite the smooth operator. When gangster Liu San (Te-Sheng Wang) shows up demanding money for his Japanese boss about a shipment of camphor (a waxy substance extracted from an evergreen tree of the same name found in East Asia) they never received, Chuan concocts a bogus tale about the merchandise being damaged to drive him away. A young lady, claiming to be Master Wu's now-pregnant lover, and her brother then show up demanding money. This gives Chuan a chance to show off his formidable martial arts skills by kicking the brother's ass and having the two of them thrown out. However, Madame Wu isn't fully convinced her husband didn't actually have an affair with the girl. Still, Chuan has quickly established himself as a welcome and trusted addition to the family.

However, not is all that it appears to be. Chuan, who's secretly plotting against the family, wants Wu's money, property and everything else in his life. Mr. Ito (Kuang-Ning Lin), a corrupt local politician who's conspiring with him, is cool with that as long as he gets the wife in their bargin. After plying him with sake, Chuan gets Master Wu to sign an important paper allowing him to collect a debt for him but in reality opens the doors for him to steal money. Master Wu's dedicated servant Yau (Cheng Ku) tries to warn him about funds disappearing, but he won't hear of it as he's convinced his new friend is the bee's knees. Wu then accompanies Chuan out of town and ends up falling down drunk at a brothel. This gives Chuan the opportunity to have him murdered. He's stabbed in the heart and his body is tossed over a bridge into some crocodile-filled waters. A dismembered leg is found the following morning and a piece of clothing identify it as belonging to Wu.

Immediately after his death, Madame Wu is visited by her late husband's ghost. Doors swing open, wet footprints form on the floors and the place on the bed where the master slept is soaked. She also spots his reflection in a mirror and in a framed portrait. Because rumors start circulating around the village about Chuan still living in their home, Hsu Yuen kindly asks him to leave. He then produces a forged deed with her husband's signature letting her know that he's now the owner of the property. One thing leads to another and Yau the servant takes his own life. Madame Wu then plots to kill Chuan herself, but his goons pin her down on the bed, smother her with a pillow and then take her body into the forest and hang it from a tree. Chuan probably should have reigned in his murder count because he now has not one, not two but three potential ghosts who'll be looking for revenge.

Madame Wu's mournful ghost soon materializes. She really only wants what's best for her three young surviving children, who are constantly at risk from Chuan, who can't decide whether he wants them all killed or merely shipped off somewhere else. Servant girl Hsui, her fiancée Ah Wan (Ya-Tung Sun) and Ah Wan's mother, Auntie Liu (Yin-Shang Liu), all team up to assist the ghost by finding the children and hiding them. The mother, a blind bakery owner who has psychic powers, can "see" the ghost at all times when others cannot and uses magic spells to strike out at the bad guys, who have since transformed the formerly respectable Wu household into a gambling den / whorehouse. Chuan hopes to counteract this by hiring an evil priest (Feng Tien) to help keep the ghost from enacting her revenge. Spell papers, laser-shooting magic mirrors and a "soul sucking sword" are included in their arsenal.

Apparently based on a famous and oft-filmed folk tale, the first half of this is bogged down by endless overwrought melodrama (lots of crying, wailing and suffering!), though this eventually finds its footing in the second half. The ghostly revenge is highlighted by the usage of a "Lin Tao Tree" (the same one Madame Wu was hung from), which has mystical powers. The ghost's soul becomes linked to the difficult-to-destroy tree and also grants her some tree-related powers, like the ability to hurl giant, boulder-like "fruit" at people, using a smaller fruit to trip someone and make them fall to their death, etc. Madame Wu also uses her vine-like hair like a noose to strangle someone, several characters are forced to slit their own throats, a body explodes when it falls in water and the statue of some god called Emperor Kwan (played by Shan Charng) comes to life as a giant to assist our ghostly heroine.

Seemingly completely forgotten, this has been readily available for quite some time on Youtube and other websites, yet has not even managed to generate the five votes needed to register a score on IMDb, nor has it been rated a single time on Letterboxd (though I'll be changing that here shortly). Because of that, I went into this expecting cheap and terrible... but that's not the case here at all. While this is certainly uneven it terms of story and pacing, it's also surprisingly well-directed and handsomely produced. Colors are vivid and there are good sets, costumes and art direction, plus the lighting, camera angles and shot framing are nice throughout. The soundtrack is also good. Then again, it should be since most of it was stolen from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET! I actually wouldn't even mind revisiting this some day if a remastered version with proper English subtitles ever turns up.

I was only able to find a couple of releases for this one. The first is a VHS from South Korea (above, left) and the second is a 2005 DVD from Central Motion Picture out of Taiwan. Seeing how the latter doesn't come with English subs and the widescreen version I watched had them, there had to have also been a release or two in Hong Kong as well. 

The director made a number of other genre films, including the anthology BLOOD REINCARNATION (1974), the difficult to find The Seven Coffins (1975), the likewise hard to find Love in the Twilight Zone (1977), the ghost comedy Host for a Ghost (1984) and a pair of Joey Wang vehicles: SPIRIT LOVE (1989) and (his most widely viewed genre film) The Beheaded 1000 aka The Executioner (1991).


Patrick vive ancora (1980)

... aka: Le retour de Patrick (The Return of Patrick)
... aka: Patrick 2
... aka: Patrick Is Still Alive
... aka: Patrick lebt! (Patrick Lives)
... aka: Patrick Lives Again!
... aka: Patrick Still Lives

Directed by:
Mario Landi

Richard Franklin's PATRICK (1978) was a slow, serious and fairly restrained thriller inspired by Hitchcock, which was able to play U. S. theaters with a PG rating after just a few snips of brief nudity. This unsanctioned, not-really-a-sequel follow-up hilariously goes in the exact opposite direction... by being about as sexed-up, gory and sleazy as humanly possible! Forget being edited down for a PG, this would of had to have been extensively re-edited to qualify for an R back in 1980. Alas, no one even bothered trying. This bypassed U. S. theaters altogether, sat out the entire VHS era and was not officially released here until 2003 when Shriek Show finally put it out on DVD. Due to its lack of availability in English-speaking countries for decades (it apparently wasn't released in Australia, Canada or the UK either), an English-language audio track was never recorded for this title. 

As far as its sequel status is concerned, the events of the original are mostly ignored and this simply carts over the coma patient character, the telekinesis angle and some other ideas (Patrick falling in love with one of the females, using a typewriter to communicate...) The most burning question of all is how these filmmakers managed to get away with making something like this and promoting it as a sequel without getting sued into oblivion!

After their car breaks down, Dr. Herschel (Sacha Pitoëff, who was in Argento's INFERNO the same year) and his son Patrick (Gianni Dei) are forced to wait for help on the side of the road. A blue van approaches. Instead of pulling over to assist them, the driver flings a glass bottle out of the window that hits Patrick square in the face! He's taken to the hospital where a doctor is able to reconstruct his face but not do anything about the fact Patrick has fallen into a deep coma.

Not long after, five guests arrive at the remote Herschel Wellness Resort for, presumably, a little rest and relaxation. It's off season so they, along with a small staff, are the only ones there... unless you count a trio of naked prisoners kept on life support in a green-lit secret room, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here. As for the five guests, there's Lyndon Croft (Franco Silva), an uptight member of Parliament, his much younger trophy wife Cheryl (Carmen Russo), former champion swimmer Davis (Paolo Giusti), bitchy, alcoholic nympho Stella Randolph (Mariangela Giordano) and shady, mustachioed Peter Suniak (John Benedy).

All five of the guest have received an anonymous letter insisting they come. Well, blackmailing them into coming there is more accurate. Since all five are now part of the elite, they don't want their dirty little secrets exposed. As for the politician and his wife, she seduced and then slept with just the right people to get Lyndon into the House of Lords. Davis, the son of a wealthy insurance company president, got drunk one night and accidentally killed three people in a car accident but then fled the scene. Stella was a streetwalker (a hard habit to break, as we will see!) and Peter was a thief and drug dealer.

The most memorable character here is undoubtedly Stella. She nonchalantly sunbathes topless in front of everyone, unsuccessfully tries to seduce nearly every man in the cast and starts laying into the other guest during dinner after sucking down a pint of J&B Whiskey (who must have co-sponsored this film since it's present in every other scene). Wearing just an open robe and sheer panties, Stella stumbles into the dining room, calls one guy a pig and then, when the politician's wife tells her to cut it out, replies, "We all know you let yourself be slammed like a cow by a bull to help your husband's career!" That leads to a catfight where the wife shrieks, "Get away from me before I catch syphilis from you!" After getting rejected by the dealer ("The drugs turned you into a faggot!"), Stella then tries to crawl into another uninterested guy's bed but is called "gorilla garbage" (?), gets beaten up (!) and is then thrown out of the room!

Giordano, who has the unenviable task of trying to bring this degrading role to life, is easily the most interesting person in the cast. The actress started her film career in her teens and appeared in tamer fair like peplum and spaghetti westerns for decades. Hitting her forties, she married a producer by the name of Gabriele Cristano, who first cast her as a nun in the possession / sexploitation film MALABIMBA (1979), which Giordano claimed was the first film she ever did nudity in. She repeated course in every other film she did for Cristano and, in this one, goes through most of her scenes with little to no clothing on! However, to her credit, Giordano tries her best to imbue this otherwise cartoonishly over-the-top character with some pathos / pitiable qualities. Most of the others don't even really appear to be trying.

While the hateful and obnoxious characters are doing their thing, Dr. Herschel and a few of his assistants are experimenting with unwitting subjects in an off-limits wing of the clinic, presumably in an effort to help the comatose Patrick. Patrick is kept in a separate purple-lit room and, like in the original, starts using his telekinetic powers to lash out at the guests. There's a mild revenge plot going on here, with the doctor having lured these people there because he suspects one of them is responsible for injuring Patrick but none of it really makes much sense. We also never really learn who did it, or if any of these people did it. It's all just a flimsy excuse to justify the real reason the film was made.

All four female cast members get naked and get naked a lot. Aside from Giordano and the exceptionally voluptuous Russo, there's blonde Andrea Belfiore (billed as "Anna Veneziano"), who, in a convoluted bit of plotting, is another suspect in the bottle-hit-and-run yet has been newly hired there as a secretary. In her short time there she manages to strike the fancy of Patrick and, during one especially gratuitous scene, gets hypnotized and does some beyond-R-rated masturbation on a couch. Another unknown and uncredited actress plays a maid named Meg, who seems to be having a sexual relationship with two German Shepherds (!) and is eventually devoured by the beasts while in the nude. They also throw in a bit of full frontal made nudity.

In addition to the constant nudity there's plenty of unconvincing though gruesome effects. Death is caused by electrocution and toxic fumes, getting boiled alive in a swimming pool, decapitation by power window and a hook through the throat / hanging. The most memorably tasteless bit is Giordano's demise though, which finds a poker being forced into her panty hamster, through her body and then out her mouth. 

Subtle it is not, yet, in a strange way, this extremely mean-spirited and extremely dumb film is actually a more successful offering than the original simply because it knows it's nothing but sleazy, exploitative trash and goes beyond the call of duty to deliver just that! Even though I recognize that Franklin's film is by far the better made / acted / directed / produced of the two, truth be told, this is a lot more entertaining and I'd rather watch it again if given a choice between the two.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...