Friday, May 31, 2024

Secta siniestra (1982)

... aka: Bloody Sect

Directed by:
"Steve McCoy" (Ignacio F. Iquino)

Frederick Payne (Carlos Martos) likes to boast about his past, which wouldn't be an issue if his past didn't involve all kinds of war atrocities! During "the war in Uganda," he was captured, imprisoned, abused ("They enjoyed beating the shit out of me!") and sentenced to death, but was somehow able to get his hands on a sword and proceeded to slaughter everyone and escape. From there, it was off to a South American guerilla boot camp followed by a stint as a bodyguard for an Arabian prince (!) All of that was cut short after he was shot and wounded. Now, in middle age, he's decided he's had enough excitement for one lifetime and just wants to settle down with his girlfriend, Helen ("Mery Kerr" / Emma Quer), and start a family. Mementos of his past "glories" (?), including a stockpile of weapons and framed photos of him torturing captives (!) on the walls will just have to suffice. However, Frederick otherwise hasn't been completely honest with his new lover...

Unbeknownst to Helen, Frederick and his trusty maid, Ana (Montserrat Miralles), have been keeping his heretofore unheard of first wife, Elizabeth (Diana Conca), locked upstairs in a hidden room. Years earlier, he got drunk, crashed their car and ever since she's been a little loony. Make that a lot loony. The crazed Elizabeth manages to overpower the maid, sneaks downstairs, catches her husband and Helen lying in bed naked together, gets her hands on a large fork and then gouges out both of his eyes with it! Frederick is blinded and she's hauled off to prison. Though any sane person would be running for the exit doors screaming over all of this, Helen stays with him. Cuz love.

After the two are married, they're hit with some more bad news: Frederick is infertile. The couple decide to go to a sperm bank, where Dr. Gerard (Juan Zanni) and his nurse wife, Isa (Teresa Manresa), hook them up with a donation that meets the future father's strict criteria ("Caucasian, young and strong"). After the procedure, Helen finds herself with child and then this goes down an almost exact ROSEMARY'S BABY route, with her being stricken with debilitating pain, becoming depressed, craving raw meat, etc. Unbeknownst to the rest of the hospital staff, a Satanist named Leonard (Henry Ragoud) has infiltrated the clinic and swapped out the sperm of "Hans... a tall, blonde Germany guy" with that of Satan!

Thus far two other women have received the tainted sperm aside from Helen. Sick of all of the nasty side effects, the first, Eva, goes to an abortion clinic and terminates the pregnancy. Immediately after, Leonard and his pal, Olivier (Santi Pons), show up and use their supernatural powers to smash the female doctor who performed the procedure (Asunción Vitoria) to death with the operating table, send shards of exploding glass into Eva's face and slash her husband's throat with a razor. The other recipient, Emma, has already died by suicide by the time they reach her, so they briefly reanimate her corpse long enough for her to pull her grieving hubby into the coffin with her! And that leaves poor Helen...

Leonard and Olivier (who are often hilariously lit in red so we know whose side they're on) show up at Helen's home posing as priests working for the "Church of the Eternal Angel." They pretty much spill the beans about what's going on, tell her they now worship her and give her one of their bibles along with a special necklace. No, not with tannis root inside. Afterward, she feasts on raw bunny straight from the fridge and then chases the maid away with a butcher knife. More "help" soon arrives in the form of Sister Margaret ("Josephine Varney" / Concha Valero), a mysterious woman with short black hair who barges into their home unannounced and insists on staying. She's kind of like Miss Baylock from The Omen, except she doesn't even bother faking being well-mannered and polite. In fact, she issues her list of demands right away, starting with moving Frederick up to the attic so she can sleep right next to his wife in their bed! And the couple just goes right along with this!

Soon after Margaret's arrival, things start dying in the home, including all of their plants and a pet parakeet. There's also a worse change in Helen. She begins mocking her husband's condition ("Don't you see? Of course you don't! Are you blind?"), complains about her skin tightening all over her body and starts developing bruises and sores on her face. As for her tummy aches, it's nothing massaging in some fresh green frog's blood won't cure! Margaret keep promising she'll feel better after she has the baby. Meanwhile, psycho wife #1 manages to escape from prison, heads back to the house, sneaks back into her hidden room and plots to kill Helen with an axe in between attempts at seducing the husband.

Along the way we get a hilariously exploitative shot of a panty-less Helen thrashing around on bed in a short hospital gown, a ridiculous rubber-bats-on-strings attack, a real frog getting stabbed repeatedly with a knife, death by being forced to inhale car exhaust fumes, a stabbing in a parking garage, an impalement, an attempt to run over an 8-year-old with a car, stock footage of a forest fire, a hanging, a ghost (I think), a female postal employee whose uniform consists of denim cut-off short shorts, a plastic baby doll with horns glued on its forehead passing itself off as the newborn Antichrist and one of the worst, least exciting and most anticlimactic non-endings on record.

Coming off the very productive 1970s, Spanish horror film production was virtually cut in half the following decade when it should have been booming due to the home video market. I'm not sure exactly what happened there, but most of their 80s output was downright awful! Some of the all-time worst slasher films, alien films, cannibal films and zombie films were produced in Spain during this time and now we can add one of the worst Satanism / occult films with this title. Thankfully, Bloody Sect sucks in all of the right ways to make it enjoyable. It's fast-paced, busy, stupid, cheesy, sleazy and filled with cheap, bloody gore effects and nudity. What really tips it over the edge into SBIG territory though is the hilariously awful dialogue and insane, bug-eyed overacting from much of the cast.

The director / writer had been active in the Spanish film industry since the mid 1930s and amassed well over 100 credits, which is quite surprising given the amount of ineptitude on display here! The bulk of his early career consisted of comedies and dramas. In the 60s he switched to spaghetti westerns and then, after the loosening of censorship in Spain, he delved into more exploitative fare, primarily soft-core erotica. This appears to be his only straight-up horror film, though a few other titles (namely Aborto Criminal and The Dawn Rapists) may be borderline. Having slightly more experience in the genre was the film's co-writer, Juan Bosch. He'd previously written and directed The Killer Wore Gloves (1974) involving a slasher-killer, and EXORCISMO (1975), an awful Exorcist copycat starring Paul Naschy.

Prior to the 2019 Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release, this only had a single VHS release in the 80s in Spain. The BR doesn't have many notable features, nor any material from any of the people involved in making this. Instead they throw on a commentary track from Kat Ellinger.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Gui da gui (1980)

... aka: 鬼打鬼
... aka: Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind
... aka: Encounter of the Spooky Kind
... aka: Encounters of the Spooky Kind
... aka: Gwai da gwai (Ghost Against Ghost)
... aka: L'exorciste chinois (The Chinese Exorcist)
... aka: Spooky Encounters

Directed by:
Samo (Sammo) Hung

Seeing how I've seen at least two dozen later films that were heavily inspired by this one, I probably should have watched this a lot sooner than now but, hey, better late than never! Though not the very first of its type, Encounter is still one of the key titles in the development of both the jiangshi (hopping vampire) and slapstick ghost-comedy subgenres that would dominate fantastic cinema in Hong Kong in the second half of the 80s. These films typically placed more emphasis on the crazy than the narrative and gleefully mixed martial arts action, comedy, fantasy and horror elements into an entertaining, though often meandering and episodic, brew. The objective really was to pack so much into the film, and keep things moving at such a quick pace, that audiences didn't have time to get bored. Or question what they'd just seen. Prototypical brainless entertainment, if you will. And while there's not a damn thing wrong with that, the better examples of this type of film always contained at least a reasonably engaging and (if we're lucky!) coherent plot as well as some heart to go along with the gonzo.

Depending on which version you watch, Sammo stars as either "Bold," "Big Guts," "Fatty" OR "Courageous" Cheung (we'll settle for just "Cheung" from here on out), a none-too-bright cart driver of chubby proportions. He's poor, lazy, surrounds himself with all of the biggest losers in the village and is stuck in a terrible marriage with a lying, backstabbing social climber (Suet-Mei Leung). He begins to suspect something is up with his wife when she suddenly starts wearing expensive new clothes they can't afford on his measly salary. He later looks through a peephole and catches her right in the act, though she's somehow able to talk her way out of it. Little does he know, but she's been sleeping with Master Tam (Ha Huang), a wealthy old man he often chauffeurs who also has aspirations to become mayor.

Wanting the wife all to his own, and figuring Cheung will find out about the affair eventually anyway, Tam plots to eliminate him from the equation. His advisor Lau (Tai-Bo) comes up with the idea to enlist the aid of Hoi Chin (Peter Chan Lung), an unscrupulous black magician who's willing to do anything granted the price is right. Skilled in "Maoshan sorcery," Hoi Chin is tasked with setting up an altar at Tam's place where he can cast his spells in anonymity. His toadie, Old Dog Fah (Ma Wu), is then sent out to make a wager with Cheung. If he can spend the night locked inside a reputedly haunted ancestral crypt, he'll reward him with silver. Cheung takes him up on the offer.

Luckily for Cheung, Hoi Chin's understudy Tsui (Fat Chung) takes offense to his master's plans since their brand of sorcery is supposed to only be used for good. There are four taboos in the sect's doctrine: Insatiable greed, unprincipled killing, nefarious collusion with cronies and blasphemy against their three luminaries, and his former master is about to break all four of them in exchange for some gold. Instead of playing along, Tsui decides to secretly help Cheung out and guides the naïve bumpkin through various traps laid out for him. He's barely able to survive a night inside the crypt after Hoi Chin resurrects and controls a jiangshi, but then the wager is increased five times and Cheung accidentally accepts. Tsui orders him to gather black dog's blood, four dog's paws and fifty chicken eggs to do battle the next night. Against all odds, Cheung survives the night yet again.

The bad guys then step up their game by trying to implicate Cheung in his wife's murder. He comes home to find blood everywhere, but there's no body. Nonetheless, inept constable Ching-Ying Lam throws him in jail, though he's able to escape after beating up four guards. While trying to elude authorities, he encounters myriad other dangers like a rat-and-maggot-infested resurrected corpse and various magic spell attacks launched by the evil magician. In one of these, one of his hands becomes possessed and takes on a mind of its own, which then breaks dishes in a café, throws stuff around, starts attacks guests, punches its owner in the face, makes him flip, etc. in a scene that was later copied by Sam Raimi for Evil Dead 2. No chainsaw, though.

There's also a nightmare scene featuring skeletons, flying urns and ghosts biting off flesh, voodoo doll usage, a real chicken getting decapitated, a skull-faced warrior and two minions summoned from beyond, a clawed, half-purple female ghost that sucks a guy into a mirror and a ritual where Sammo gets red talismans painted all over his nude body to become Tsui's disciple. All of the fight scenes and stunts are excellently choreographed and performed by the cast and there's some nice pyro work thrown in here, too. Though the big finale gets a little too silly (with characters given high-pitched, sped-up voices and one getting possessed by a monkey spirit and acting accordingly), the last 30 seconds are hilarious and absolutely priceless.

The film is actually kind of a tour de force for Sammo, who wore many hats in the production. Aside from giving an energetic lead performance and directing, he also co-wrote (with Ying Wong), was an (uncredited) executive producer, did stunts and was one of the martial arts / action directors. This was the freshman effort from his newly-formed Bo Ho Films Company Ltd. and became a modest success in theaters. It was followed by The Dead and the Deadly (1982), which Hung starred in, co-wrote, co-produced and also did fight choreography on (directorial duties were passed off to Ma Wu). It ended up becoming an even bigger hit and helped to solidify this whole formula.

Hung's company would hit their apex with MR. VAMPIRE (1985), which was the highest grossing film of all of these, netted thirteen Hong Kong Film Award nominations and was followed by four successful sequels, a few spin-offs and many copycats. Other genre releases from this team, which all dependably grossed anywhere from 7 to 13 million HKD, were HOCUS POCUS (1984), Those Merry Souls (1985), MY COUSIN THE GHOST (1987), Scared Stiff (1987) and BURNING SENSATION (1989). By the end of the decade, audiences were starting to tire of this style of film and the companies last two horror-comedy hybrids; Mortuary Blues and Till Death Shall We Start (both 1990), saw a steep decrease in profits.

Though Hung certainly deserves the bulk of the praise, Fat Chung, a great mix of wily, wise, funny, professional and effortlessly cool, is also worth singling out for his standout performance as Cheung's protector. Other actors who appear in small roles are the cross-eyed Siu-Ming To (who has a giant, hairy fake mole glued to his face to complete his look), future directors Ricky Lau (the Mr. Vampire series) and Billy Chan (New Mr. Vampire), veteran actress Ying-Ying Hui as a gossipy village woman and extremely prolific (over 500 credits) veteran actor Pak-Kwong Ho as a peeping tom. Nearly everyone would be back in later films for the company.

This was released on VHS in France (as L'exorciste chinois / "The Chinese Exorcist" and dubbed into French), Hong Kong, Japan (dubbed into Japanese and on the Pony Video label), the U.S. and the UK, followed by DVD and Blu-ray releases in all of these countries. The American distributor was Tai Seng and there's another well-circulated release from Fortune Star. The Australian and UK releases offer an English dubbed audio track, though, as usual, I strongly recommend watching the subtitled Cantonese-language version instead.

A belated sequel, Encounters of the Spooky Kind II (1990), came ten years later. Also produced by and starring Hung (though for Bojon Films Company Ltd.; another of his film companies [there were at least three!]), it ended up grossing over twice as much at the box office.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...