In a recent post I wrote about Hong Kong director Godfrey Ho, who created a bunch of films for IFD Film Arts that utilised his cut-and-paste technique: splicing footage from different (already existing) movies together, then adding additional recently shot scenes to act as ‘plot glue’ for the new story. Of all these patchwork films my favourite is undoubtedly SCORPION THUNDERBOLT.
As I have not watched this mad movie in many years, I felt that it was my duty to feast my eyes once more upon this unhinged, incident-filled IFD gem.
But did I still like it? Read on…
The enjoyability of Godfrey Ho’s cut-and-paste movies can depend a lot on how interesting the older source movies were that he cut into his new productions. With SCORPION THUNDERBOLT he utilised a lot of footage from the Taiwan-set Korean horror film GRUDGE OF THE SLEEPWALKING WOMAN (1983). Also known as SNAKE WOMAN, this Korean film featured lots of fun cop and monster scenes that greatly enhance the watchability of Godfrey Ho’s movie.
SCORPION THUNDERBOLT begins as it means to go on by using music from STAR WARS, then quickly cuts between shots of a spiky-fingered witch, Richard Harrison playing a character called, well, Richard, and a blind flute player.
We then move on to a night-time scene where a woman is pursued by a madman and we assume he is intending to attack her… but no, he leaves her alone, and a snake monster kills her instead! The local cops start to investigate the murder and a couple of them try to figure out what the creature might look like by constructing a papier-mâché model of a snake-tadpole critter wearing lipstick. Yeah, that’ll be a great help, guys!
As the film progresses it becomes evident that the partly naked young witch (often seen slapping a drum with her spiky hands) and the blind flute player are the people who cause someone to transform into the rubbery snake-beast.
After the cops seek out the madman featured in the earlier scene, who is now shown swinging around a disembowelled dog at what is presumably the garden of the local asylum, we get shots of the always hyperactive witch, wriggling eels, and a flashing crystal ball. We now find out that the underdressed witch wants Richard’s magic ring.
The witch’s first attempt to get the ring and kill off Richard involves using… a sexy hitchhiker! Richard stops and gives the hitchhiker a lift after she flashes her breasts at him. She tells him she’s an actress and invites him to a screening room where she shows him her latest film, which involves body painting and sex. Soft core posturing soon begins in the mini cinema as she tries to seduce Richard and, as Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene plays on the soundtrack, Richard succumbs to temptation and has sex with her, intercut with the screening room’s projected sex footage and a red-lit shot of frogs in a bowl(!) The actress/hitchhiker tries to kill Richard with a blade hidden in her lipstick (cue music from CARRIE) and, when he overpowers her, the woman dies as orange foam appears on her lips.
We now cut back to two of the cop characters (from the GRUDGE OF THE SLEEPWALKING WOMAN footage), who are off-duty and spending time at (male cop) Jackie’s apartment. An escaped criminal wearing sunglasses, who has a grudge against Jackie, invades his home and ties-up the female cop (Lee), then rips and cuts off her clothes. After the criminal bites Lee and injects her with some kind of aphrodisiac, Jackie manages to get loose and a long fight ensues between him and the bad guy. This skirmish soon moves from inside the apartment to the street outside.
The fight is watched by three young women in a nearby apartment (that seems to be fitted out with its own home disco equipment). As one of the women goes off to have a shower and another partakes in some solo disco dancing, the snake monster enters their home and slaughters two of them!
One of the main characters, a woman journalist called Helen (Juliet Chan), is featured in a scene where she and an admirer run in slow motion along a beach in swimwear as an easy listening tune plays. I’m not sure why this occurs, other than the fact it’s mentioned that it is Helen’s birthday!
More not-particularly-pertinent scenes ensue, including a cop-related moment where they break into the apartment of an angry, drunk guy who is potting billiard balls between his tied-up wife’s legs, plus a sequence in a nightclub with lots of tinsel decorations hanging from the ceiling.
We now switch back to Richard working out at home. His home has lots of wall mirrors. Here he is attacked by a plumber with a big wrench… who is under the control of that pesky witch!
Meanwhile, a relationship blossoms between cop Jackie and Helen the journo. They have a romantic day out in some woods… using a shotgun to try and shoot rabbits (so romantic!) They then do a bit of fishing and both accidentally fall into the lake (as so often happens when you go fishing). Later, as they drive home, loads of snakes crawl out of the car seats (as music from CARRIE plays) and the serpents are soon slithering all over the outside of the car and inside it! Jackie loses control of the car and it crashes, but he and Helen are okay, though Jackie does have one remaining snake poking its head out of his shirt.
Whilst staying at a hotel, Helen and Jackie have their TV switched on in their room – and we see the blind flute player being interviewed (why?!) by a reporter, who informs his audience that this guy is a night-watchman (but he’s blind!) who has overcome gout and arthritis and can play the flute.
(Oh, the madness of it all!)
Helen, who is actually the snake monster, transforms into the beast when the flute player performs his music on TV, resulting in the deaths of a clumsy waiter and two hotel guests in a bath.
We cut back to Richard and witness his fight with a blade-wielding assailant who wants his special ring. Richard uses a yellow towel and his fists to beat the guy.
Richard finally decides to find out why various people are trying to kill him, so he heads up into the hills to chat with a fortune-teller. After fighting and breaking the neck of another attacker as he ascends some steps, Richard eventually reaches the fortune-teller. Here Richard is informed that there is a witch who lives in a red castle: she is thoroughly evil and only Richard’s magic ring can destroy her powers. Richard is given a golden sword and a mystical mirror and is told that, on the 15th day of this month, he must go to the gates of the castle, place the ring on the mystic mirror, chop it with the sword, then throw it into a fire. As he is given this information some EXORCIST 2 music is played briefly.
Back with the serpent-beast story, Helen confesses to Jackie that she’s the killer: she’s not human, she’s a snake demon! Cue a backstory flashback (utilising music from CARRIE) that reveals how a family of snake-killers living in a forest are visited by the ‘Prince of Snakes’. After some slo-mo romantic running through the trees, the daughter of the snake-killer makes love with the Prince, who turns into a big snake coiled around her. The daughter becomes pregnant and has a baby, that turns into a mini snake-monster as it suckles on her breast! This baby, of course, is revealed to be Helen.
After this confession in Jackie’s home, Helen starts her transformation, so she leaps through a window and becomes the rubbery snake monster as she runs down a street. The monster attacks Jackie’s female cop partner Lee, who has to dive into a parked car. The creature tries to get into the vehicle to kill Lee, but she improvises a home-made flamethrower with an aerosol can, forcing the creature to retreat. This is an effective, gripping scene!
Straight after this we get a homage to the Harry Dean Stanton scene in ALIEN, where a guy is pulled up out of shot by the monster whilst a dog (rather than Jones the cat) looks on.
Over at the witch’s castle we see her perform an expressive, modern dance routine with a couple of minion guys wearing face paint. She spikes them with her metal nails, as you do.
We now get a showdown between the cops and the monster in a forest. To save Lee, who has been captured by the snake-beast (which can fly about the place now), Jackie cuts his own chest, attracting the monster, which starts licking his blood. The creature becomes Helen once more, but that flute player (he gets everywhere!) is in the area and his music turns Helen back into the serpent-beast. After gliding about on wires, it is shot by the police team and the main theme tune from ALIEN plays as the critter dies, transforming back into Helen. Jackie, utterly distraught, carries her body away.
Okay, let’s zip back to Richard for a final time!
He heads for the red castle and fights a face-paint dude, shouting: “Get out of my fucking way!” He battles a staff-wielding assailant next and finally reaches the gates of the castle. He breaks the ring on the mirror with the golden sword and the witch’s home bursts into flames, she dies, and music from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK starts to play!
The film ends with a freeze-frame of Richard Harrison smiling at us, victoriously holding up the golden sword. Classic!
SCORPION THUNDERBOLT’s bizarre amalgamation of intercut scenes somehow, at times, transcends its cut-and-paste origins to become a thing of jaw-dropping wonder. As an example: the screening room sequence (shots of a manic, spike-fingered witch, Richard Harrison performing some soft core sex, a red-lit shot of frogs in a bowl, projected body-painting footage) comes across more like an avant-garde art short featuring unrelated imagery, rather than what it is: Godfrey Ho splicing together footage to concoct yet another one of his patchwork flicks!
What can I say? You’ve just read about all the insane stuff that occurs in this madcap gem of a movie. You will either end up being someone who thinks this is a film that must be loved and cherished, or you will be someone who is wrong!
A bit about the snake monster…
The creature attack scenes certainly work better when we see only its wet-looking, black, rubbery tail or clawed hands assault the victims. When we see the full monster suit it initially looks effective due to the way it is shot, with it either being backlit, slightly out of focus or seen in quick cuts.
During its final showdown with the police in the forest, where we get to clearly see rather too much of the monster, as it is swings about on wires, the suit is not shown to its best advantage.
Still, I like this beast!