Vampire Vs Vampire (1989)

Lam Ching-Ying and undead friend
Lam Ching-Ying and undead friend

The local priest, played by Lam Ching-Ying (who also directed the movie), has his hands full with bat infestations, ghosts and vampires in his neighbourhood.

The Taoist priest hero and his two disciples
The Taoist priest hero and his two disciples

Okay, there isn’t really a central plot-line to VAMPIRE VS VAMPIRE. Rather, it presents us with a series of occult happenings for our hero Lam to deal with.

She's a vamp!
She’s a vamp!
You can always rely on Lam Ching-Ying to play a stoic, no-nonsense priest
You can always rely on Lam Ching-Ying to play a stoic, no-nonsense priest

An early set piece involves a ‘palm tree spirit’, which is enticed from it’s green-leafed abode by tying some string to the toe of one of the priest’s disciples.
Once attracted to the disciple’s room, the spirit is revealed to be a red-garbed woman, who can become an animated red shadow. The spirit is dealt with, but more headaches lie ahead for the one-eyebrow Taoist priest.

A ‘palm tree spirit’ hovers over one of the priest's disciples
A ‘palm tree spirit’ hovers over one of the priest’s disciples
So Yip plays the ghost in red
So Yip plays the ghost in red
Don't mess with this priest...
Don’t mess with this priest…

A withered corpse becomes a western-style bloodsucker once the ruby hilt of a sword that transfixes it is removed. Gulping down the blood of a girl (there’s a close-up shot of the corpse’s Adam’s apple bobbing up and down that is a novel-looking special makeup effect), the dried-up cadaver rapidly transforms into a fanged, caped European vampire. Lam gets involved, of course, and gives the undead dude a battering. He jams a coin sword into its eye socket, burns it with a flaming log, boots it… and then lobs a large nun onto the bloodsucker, so that it will get forced under the surface of some oily quicksand!

The long-haired resurrected vampire
The long-haired resurrected vampire
This dude obviously doesn't floss
This dude obviously doesn’t floss

Together with the westernised vampire (played by Frank Juhas), this Hong Kong picture adds several other Hammer-esque elements. For instance, a group of Christian nuns are introduced, living in a church. There are bats too, of the Hammer hanging-on-a-wire variety. 

Nuns!
Nuns!

Actually, though most of the bats are obviously fake, there is a well-mounted bat siege on the nuns in the old church. Trapped in the room, the nuns must block off a doorway with planks, as the flying fiends attempt to bite their way in. Individually, the set pieces are actually quite novel and enjoyable but, as stated earlier, the film is too haphazard, lacking a central focus to the story.

Nuns in peril!
Nuns in peril!
Sandra Ng
Sandra Ng

About the only on-going narrative thread is the continuing reappearance of a ‘good’ hopping vampire child, who regularly helps out Lam and his two pupils, although this kiddy-corpse only really serves as light relief.

Hopping vampire kid
Hopping vampire kid
Jing Wang Lam plays the little vampire
Jing Wang Lam plays the little vampire

Watchable fun while it’s on, VAMPIRE VS VAMPIRE is not in the same league as other Hong Kong vampire flicks, such as MR. VAMPIRE (1985).

Thai poster
Thai poster

The Seventh Curse (1986)

Detail from Blu-ray cover
Detail from Blu-ray cover

This Hong Kong horror-adventure is directed by Lam Ngai Kai (aka Nam Lai Choi, aka Simon Nam) and stars Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Dick Wei and Sibelle Hu.

Chow likes to smoke a pipe in this movie
Chow likes to smoke a pipe in this movie
Oh no! It's 'Little Ghost'!
Oh no! It’s ‘Little Ghost’!
Things don't end well for a professor (Ken Boyle)
Things don’t end well for this professor (Ken Boyle)

Adventurer Yuan must return to North Thailand and confront the chief of the Worm Tribe in order to look for the cure to a spell which is slowly killing him. Tagging along with him is pushy reporter Tsai-Hung and, later, his mentor Mr. Wei (Chow Yun-Fat).

Japanese B2 poster
Japanese B2 poster

After a shoot ’em up/kung fu punch-up/police siege start, the film soon settles down to the proper tale it intends to tell. This means lots of cave sets, guttering torches, masses of mad tribesmen, fighting and slimy monsters.

The weird creature known as Little Ghost
The weird creature known as Little Ghost
Transformation time!
Transformation time!
Region B Blu-ray cover
Region B Blu-ray cover

Though it’s not a fighting-oriented film to the extent that, for instance, WE’RE GOING TO EAT YOU is, THE SEVENTH CURSE does boast very good choreography when a scrap starts.

The Seventh Curse has decent action moments
The Seventh Curse has decent action moments

The wire work is really over the top: whenever someone is kicked, or shot, they fly about a quarter of a mile backwards! In one amazing scene Yuan blasts a guy with his gun at the same time as his partner Heh Lung shoots the same tribesman with an arrow in slow motion.

DVD cover
DVD cover

When Yuan finds out that he needs the stone eyeball from a Buddha statue to prevent the onset of the Seventh Curse that will kill him, it gives the filmmakers a fine excuse to have some neat stunts on top of an impressively large statue. Rope-swinging, saffron-robed assailants, booby traps and crumbling chunks of stone confront our heroes as they ascend the Buddha. The sequence becomes more outrageous once the stone eyeballs have been removed from the statue. Blood spurts from the Buddha’s sockets as the head falls off and rolls after Yuan à la RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!

Trouble on the huge Buddha statue!
Trouble on the huge Buddha statue!

The two critters featured in this Far East weird-fest are Old Ancestor and Little Ghost.

Little Ghost is the product of a spell utilising the blood of a hundred children. It has a strange head (resembling the Mekon from the British Eagle comic strip), which is attached to a slimy tail. It also has a pair of little arms. This odd ‘ghost’ is captured with the aid of a pregnant cow’s placenta! This could only happen in a Hong Kong film, eh?

Little Ghost!
Little Ghost!
Black magic!
Black magic!

Old Ancestor dwells in his stone coffin in a cave and, when he originally appears, is in the form of a glowing-eyed, clacking-jawed skeleton covered in dry skin. Operated, I assume, as a full-scale marionette, Old Ancestor closely resembles the Japanese skeleton in 1986’s THE GHOST SNATCHERS (also directed by Lam Ngai Kai).

Old Ancestor is initially a reanimated skeleton monster!
Old Ancestor is initially a reanimated skeleton monster!
Old Ancestor's eyes start to glow!
Old Ancestor’s eyes start to glow!

Once it drinks the blood of a victim, Old Ancestor does a bit of transforming, to become a huge beastie with an elongated head. Unlike the really nifty ‘split head’ monster in 1988’s PEACOCK KING (also directed by Lam Ngai Kai), which looked good in both long shots and close-ups, Old Ancestor only really impresses during the close-up shots of the head and hands distorting.

Old Ancestor's toothy maw!
Old Ancestor’s toothy maw!

As soon as we see the complete creature, with its webbed wings, the man-in-a-suit monstrosity is reminiscent of a cross between a Mahar from AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976) and the rubbery Dagoth god-monster from the finale of CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). In other words… Old Ancestor looks chintzy, but is fun to watch as it whirls about the cavern! The first person we see get killed by Old Ancestor does what probably many victims confronted by a monster would do: he voids his bladder!

Old Ancestor opens up his wings
Old Ancestor opens up his wings
You don't mess with Chow Yun-Fat when he gets hold of a rocket launcher, right?
You don’t mess with Chow Yun-Fat when he gets hold of a rocket launcher, right?

Finally, it is left to Chow Yun-Fat to deal with the toothy adversary… by blowing the critter away with a rocket launcher! Way to go Chow!

Chow Yun-Fat blasts the monster to smithereens with a rocket launcher. Well, of course he does!
Chow Yun-Fat blasts the monster to smithereens with a rocket launcher. Well, of course he does: he’s Chow Yun-Fat!

All in all, THE SEVENTH CURSE is a fine ripping yarn.
(Oh yeah, look out for the action scene where Yuan crashes his jeep through a Worm Tribe hut in slow motion: one unfortunate stuntman fails to get out of the way and is hit! I’m sure it was an accident and was not intended that way, but… ouch!)

Poster

The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)

The children go to Highgate Ponds to feed the Nessie-creature they have named Beauty
The children go to Highgate Ponds to feed the Nessie-creature they have named Beauty

When a kipper-loving Nessie-type monster hatches from an egg brought back from Malaya by his Uncle Dick (Ronald Howard), a boy called David (Michael Wade) tries to keep the creature secret with the help of his sister Sophie (Rachel Clay) and his friend Chris (Terry Raven).

'Produced specially for children'
‘Produced specially for children’

This B&W British production is low budget and quite sweet, featuring polite children who speak awfully properly and some comical circus villains, who want to capture the monster so that they can use it as a sideshow attraction. This results in a chase along London streets and then Regent’s Canal.

Just chillin' in a pond
Just chillin’ in a pond

The creature itself is initially a stop-motion puppet when it first hatches (the animation is basic but charming), though in some scenes it is just a static model that the children carry about.

Stop-motion puppet of Beauty as a hatchling
Stop-motion puppet depicting the creature as a hatchling
Another shot of the stop-motion puppet
Another shot of the stop-motion puppet
A small non-animated model is utilised in this interaction
A small non-animated model is utilised in this interaction with Michael Wade

When the reptilian critter, which the children name ‘Beauty’, grows larger, the friendly beast is brought to life as a man in a suit. There are also a couple of brief close-up stop-motion shots of its face later in the story.

Beauty is a man-in-suit creation in this shot
Beauty is a man-in-suit creation in this scene

Directed by Alberto (DEAD OF NIGHT) Cavalcanti, the screenplay was written by Mary Cathcart Borer, who wrote a lot of now-forgotten kids films and TV series, including THE DRAGON OF PENDRAGON CASTLE (1953) and MASTERS OF VENUS (1962).

Beauty grabs a policeman's helmet
Beauty grabs a policeman’s helmet

The original story was dreamt up by Joy Batchelor, who founded the British animation company Halas and Batchelor with her husband John Halas. They were behind such productions as the animated feature film ANIMAL FARM (1954) and the Oscar-nominated short AUTOMANIA 2000 (1963).

A dog-walking busybody gets spooked by the pond-loving beastie
A dog-walking busybody gets spooked by the pond-loving beastie

THE MONSTER OF HIGHGATE PONDS, a Halas and Batchelor production made for the Children’s Film Foundation, is rather quaint and very much of its time.

DVD sleeve for Weird Adventures, which includes the Children's Film Foundation productions The Monster of Highgate Ponds, The Boy Who Turned Yellow and A Hitch in Time
DVD sleeve for Weird Adventures, which includes the Children’s Film Foundation productions The Monster of Highgate Ponds, The Boy Who Turned Yellow and A Hitch in Time

Hercules (2014)

Hercules leaps at the tree-wrecking Erymanthian Boar!
Hercules attacks the huge, tree-wrecking Erymanthian Boar!

Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his small, loyal warrior team earn gold as roaming mercenaries for hire. But when he accepts the offer of Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace to train an army in order to protect the kingdom from a ruthless warlord called Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), Hercules must finally make a choice between making money and making a difference.

Dwayne Johnson is a natural fit as the muscled hero
Dwayne Johnson wears the lion headgear well!

Based on Steve Moore’s comic ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’, the screenplay, written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, goes in a very interesting direction, presenting Hercules’ legendary labours as merely exaggerated stories used to boost his claim to be an unbeatable demigod. His band of mercs, made up of knife-wielding Spartan Autolycus, Amazon archer Atalanta, berserker warrior Tydeus, the philosophical spearman Amphiaraus and storyteller Iolaus, all do their best to help overstate their leader’s prowess as much as possible.

Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dwayne Johnson, Reece Ritchie and Rufus Sewell
Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dwayne Johnson, Reece Ritchie and Rufus Sewell
 Ian McShane is wonderful, of course, as Amphiaraus, who can see visions of what is to come (but keeps getting his time of death wrong!)
Ian McShane is wonderful, of course, as Amphiaraus, who can see visions of what is to come (but keeps getting his time of death wrong!)

Director Brett Ratner handles the movie really well, orchestrating some impressive big scale battles, most notably the clash with the bald, savage Bessi tribesmen, and he inserts twists and revelations into the story at exactly the right points. This plotting skilfully builds up to the scene that makes HERCULES a favourite fantasy action movie of mine… when, during the film’s desperate, all-is-lost moment, Hercules draws on all his willpower and belief to actually tap into the godlike strength required to break his chains.

It’s such a highpoint when Dwayne roars “I am Hercules!” and leaps into action. Love it!

This. Scene. Rocks.
This. Scene. Rocks.

What helps make this scene work so well is that, up until this point, the movie has worked hard to strip away the legend and demystify Hercules’ feats, revealing that his fights with the likes of the Hydra and the Nemean Lion were all fabricated or overly embellished. ‘Centaurs’ are revealed to merely be inaccurately observed mounted warriors and Cerberus proves to be a misremembered hallucination. So, by the time Hercules is shackled in the dungeon, seemingly powerless to prevent Cotys’ daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) from being executed, you really don’t think he will be able to draw upon the superhuman might needed to save the day.

The Nemean Lion
The Nemean Lion
The Lernean Hydra!
The Lernean Hydra!

Dwayne Johnson makes for a perfect, very physical Hercules, Ian McShane stands out as Amphiaraus, who amusingly keeps mistakenly thinking he can foresee his own imminent death, and Rufus Sewell imbues Autolycus with a cynical charm.

Autolycus in action during the battle with the green-painted Bessi tribesmen
Autolycus in action during the battle with the green-painted Bessi tribesmen

Though all of the monsters are ultimately revealed to be bogus, the CGI utilised to bring them to the screen is top-notch, especially the huge, tree-splintering Erymanthian Boar. The three huge, black wolves that Hercules combats in the dungeon are well executed too by the visual effects team, with one of the critters getting its jaws snapped in the vicious skirmish with the Greek strongman.

The hellish Cerberus...
The hellish three-headed hound Cerberus…
...is revealed to be three feral, snarling wolves owned by King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes)
…is revealed to be three feral, snarling wolves owned by King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes)

HERCULES is a handsome, well-mounted yarn with good production design and cinematography, which deftly balances humour and seriousness to produce a movie that rewards repeated viewings.

Here are some posters…

US teaser poster
US teaser poster
Swedish poster
Swedish poster
Japanese poster
Japanese poster

Finally, here’s the awesome Erymanthian Boar in action…

Giant pig on the loose!
Giant pig on the loose!

The Mirror (1999)

Her eyes have fallen out!
Her eyes have fallen out!

This portmanteau horror film uses a dressing table with a cursed mirror as the link between a series of stories, set in 1922 Shanghai, 1988 Singapore and 1999 Hong Kong.

The first tale, about Mary, a wheelchair-bound woman suffering from mirror-induced flashbacks that remind her of how she poisoned her husband, is the best of the bunch.

Mary peers into the mirror and her face appears to be messed-up in the reflection

Mary peers into the mirror and her face appears to be messed-up in the reflection

The story set in Singapore begins in a more humorous manner, with the mirror this time influencing a solicitor (Jack Neo) to commit murder to win his current court case, and it finishes with a briefly-seen ghost (played by the movie’s scriptwriter) and a rather silly twist ending involving plastic surgery.

The ghost of a murder victim appears in the back of the solicitor's car
The ghost of a murder victim appears in the back of the solicitor’s car…
...and at the end of this segment the solicitor undergoes plastic surgery after an accident... and ends up with the murder victim's face!
…and at the end of this segment the solicitor undergoes plastic surgery after an accident… and ends up with the murder victim’s face!

The third yarn concerns a young guy called Ming (Nicholas Tse) bringing Judy (Ruby Lin), his new girlfriend, back to his home, where he lives with his rich grandmother and his cousin, Yu (Lillian Ho). He marries Judy, but unpleasant events start to occur, culminating in the death of the grandmother. It is eventually revealed that Judy framed Yu in order to make sure Ming inherited his grandmother’s fortune.

DVD cover
DVD cover

In addition to these three main stories, there is a brief pre-credits sequence set in a Ming Dynasty brothel and an even shorter teaser ending, based in Taiwan.

The film, directed by Agan (aka Kiefer Liu), lacks any real suspense or scares, the mirror is only tenuously involved in the second and third stories, and the tales, written by Raymond Pak-Ming Wong, are just not very engaging, though the Hong Kong segment at least boasts a dead-puppy-in-granny’s-sink moment and an absurd scene in which the grandmother’s severed head gets accidentally kicked about.

Granny's severed head is left on a shelf
Granny’s severed head is left on a shelf

The Shanghai-set story is at least more successful in intertwining the mirror into the plot, has a well-sustained atmosphere and some decent period details, plus there’s a scene where the dressing table slides across the room menacingly, echoing a similar moment with a ‘living piano’ in the British anthology film TORTURE GARDEN. The mirror’s ability to move is only a figment of Mary’s imagination, unfortunately, and the dressing table remains an inanimate, rather passive presence for the remainder of the movie.

The dressing table moves towards Mary. If only it had creepily slid around the place more often in the movie!
The dressing table moves towards Mary. If only it had creepily slid around the place more often in the movie!

Bio-Zombie (1998)

Sushi guy zombie loves this lady
Sushi guy zombie loves this lady

Lethal chemicals in a Lucozade bottle trigger a zombie infestation in a Hong Kong shopping mall. Nonsense-spouting VCD shop duo, Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee, find themselves trapped in the mall with several other shop workers, as the crazed, scabby-faced, cannibal undead start multiplying in number.

Spectrum Films Blu-ray cover
Spectrum Films Blu-ray cover

Horror comedy BIO-ZOMBIE begins by introducing us to the lowly, trivial world of slackers Woody and Bee, who think nothing of mugging Rolls (Angela Tong), a pretty fellow mall worker, for her ring and cash. Yet, despite their superficial banter and disreputable ways, director Wilson (IP MAN) Yip manages to encourage us to tolerate these two fast-talking, disaffected teens, rather than dismiss them immediately as total scumbags. Actor Jordan Chan, from the YOUNG AND DANGEROUS film series, instils a certain amount of rough charm and hints of well-hidden decency into the character of Woody, further encouraging us to give these shirkers a chance.

Woody and Bee: the slacker duo who take-on the zombies
Woody and Bee: the slacker duo who take-on the zombies
Zombies on the loose!
Zombies on the loose!

The arc of another character, Kui (Yiu Cheung Lai), goes in the opposite direction, however, as he segues from seemingly self-assured, arrogant phone shop owner to a total coward who is prepared to shove a fellow survivor into the clutches of a mass of zombies to save his own skin.

Zombies overrun the carpark
Zombies overrun the carpark
Mrs. Kui (Suk-Mui Tam) finally falls victim to the undead
Mrs. Kui (Suk-Mui Tam) finally falls victim to the undead

The zombie makeups vary wildly in quality, and the movie takes its time to build momentum, but it is worth the wait, as we are treated to some interesting sequences, such as the scene where a lovelorn, infected sushi guy (Emotion Cheung) fights his undead urges and tries to protect Rolls from a bunch of zombie footballers… by offering them a plate of severed fingers served on rice!

The lovesick, scabby-faced sushi dude
The lovesick, scabby-faced sushi dude
Poor zombie sushi dude
Poor zombie sushi dude

The film retains its irreverent humour throughout, but adds increasingly bloody encounters, including Woody shoving a cordless drill into a zombie’s mouth, and it also includes a couple of unexpected emotional moments, plus some quirky homages to survival horror video games. 

A zombie stalks the mall
A zombie stalks the mall

Unlike most zombie films, which generally feature characters unaware of the whole mythos surrounding the undead, this movie wittily has Crazy Bee (Sam Lee) suddenly remembering a zombie computer game he’d been playing, prompting him to inform a cop that he needs to shoot an undead attacker in the head.

Hong Kong DVD cover
Hong Kong DVD cover

Woody’s transformation from strutting, self-concerned jerk to heroic zombie-fighter is nicely handled, a moment of on the nose sentimentality that occurs after Crazy Bee gets bitten somehow works (only Hong Kong films can get away with this kind of scene!) and the ending succeeds in being quite affecting, as Woody willingly drinks from the deadly Lucozade bottle after seeing Rolls unknowingly take a sip (although an alternative, more obviously downbeat final shot is also featured in the end credits).

Hong Kong Blu-ray cover
Hong Kong Blu-ray cover

Studio 666 (2022)

Grohl gets gutted!
Grohl gets gutted!
Hammer time! A head gets bashed-in at the very start of the film!
Hammer time! A head gets bashed-in at the very start of the film!

The Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee and Chris Shiflett) decide to record their 10th album in an isolated Encino house that has a mysterious, horrific history… and soon supernatural forces are unleashed, forcing the band to deal with possessions, demons and very bloody murders.

The Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters
Poster
Poster
A delivery guy gets beheaded with garden sheers!
A delivery guy gets beheaded with garden sheers!

Directed by BJ (HATCHET III) McDonnell, STUDIO 666 was financed by the Foo Fighters and is basically a glossy band home movie writ large. The acting is pretty much what you’d expect from guys who aren’t, well, actors, with Pat Smear, bless him, definitely coming across as the most wooden and Rami Jaffee proving to be the natural thespian of the group: he’s actually really funny in all of his scenes.

Rami steals all the scenes he's in
Rami steals all the scenes he’s in

Based on a story by Dave Grohl, scriptwriters Jeff (PET SEMATARY) Buhler and Rebecca Hughes’ plot is an excuse for some easy-going banter between the band members, homages to 80s horror movies and a series of elaborate death scenes.

Krug (Kerry King) gets fried in an electrical accident
Krug (Kerry King) gets fried in an electrical accident

It’s certainly the gore moments that stand out – and it’s obvious that a lot of effort was put into them. Though there’s some CGI blood, these over the top murders are produced mainly via old school practical effects that are very striking to behold.

Chris Shiflett's face gets barbecued!
Chris Shiflett’s face gets barbecued!

There’s a skin-blistering barbecue demise, a death-by-cymbal, an opening hammer assault, a head crushed under a van tyre and more. The standout set-piece, though, has to be the amazingly bloody chainsaw attack on Rami Jaffee and Whitney Cummings as they have sex in bed. The whirring saw chain chews through Whitney’s head, cuts through Rami’s face, then slices down both bodies, cutting them in half lengthways! It’s a practical effects (with added CGI) tour de force!

The chainsaw rips through Whitney Cummings' head...
The chainsaw rips through Whitney Cummings’ head…
...and the saw chews into Rami's face...
…and the saw chews into Rami’s face…
...and then the chainsaw bisects the bodies!
…and then the chainsaw bisects the bodies!

Makeup effects designer Tony (ZOMBIELAND) Gardner is the true star of STUDIO 666, dreaming up a whole bunch of exaggerated-yet-realistic practical splatter moments that the rest of the movie is obviously built around.

The late Taylor Hawkins finds himself a victim of part of his own drum kit
The late Taylor Hawkins finds himself a victim of part of his own drum kit
Intestines!
Intestines!

The band don’t take the film seriously and you shouldn’t either: just relax and enjoy scenes featuring red-eyed demon-zombies, cameos by John Carpenter and Lionel Richie, nods to movies like the original EVIL DEAD flicks, a disemboweled raccoon, a possessed Dave Grohl turning cannibal and, of course, the bloody fine splatter-murders!

John Carpenter plays an engineer
John Carpenter plays an engineer (and he wrote music for the film, too)
A fanged, possessed Grohl and some red-eyed demon-dudes
A fanged, possessed Grohl and some red-eyed demon-dudes
Projectile vomit!
Projectile vomit!

Some behind the scenes shots…

Dave enjoys his nightmare disemboweling scene!
Dave enjoys his nightmare disemboweling scene!
 Pat Smear and his replica head
Pat Smear and his replica head
Rami Jaffee has his body cast for the film's standout chainsaw gore scene
Rami Jaffee has his body cast for the film’s standout chainsaw gore scene
You can tell Mr Grohl was having a bloody good time
You can tell Mr Grohl was having a bloody good time
Tony Gardner, in full zombie makeup, poses with his daughter Kyra
Tony Gardner, in full zombie makeup, poses with his daughter Kyra
That's a really realistic-looking head!
That’s a really realistic-looking head!
And this is also a realistic-looking head!
And this is also a realistic-looking head!
Rami Jaffee's death scene would eventually require pneumatic rigs and 55-gallon drums of blood pumping under the floor, in a fake bedroom tented off to prevent the blood from spraying everywhere!
Rami Jaffee’s death scene would eventually require pneumatic rigs and 55-gallon drums of blood pumping under the floor, in a fake bedroom tented off to prevent the blood from spraying everywhere!

Satan Returns (1996)

Judas, an envoy of Satan, prepares to remove a victim's heart
Judas, an envoy of Satan, prepares to remove a victim’s heart

Officer Ching (Chingmy Yau), who works for the police complaints division, is investigating Nam (Donnie Yen) to decide if he is mentally fit to carry out his police duties, but she is asked to team-up with Nam instead, to help investigate a serial killer case.

Donnie Yen needed to be in more of this!
Donnie Yen needed to be in more of this!

This murderer is not just some typical killer, however. He is called Judas (played in a full-on fashion by Francis Ng), he’s an envoy of Satan and he’s trying to track down the Devil’s Daughter, who he claims is a woman born at 6 am on 6th June, 1969. To test if a woman is, indeed, the devil’s offspring, Judas ties his female victims to a cross and surgically removes their hearts: if one of them doesn’t die after this procedure she will be proven to be the true one. Though most of what happens is merely suggested, we do see Judas take a bite out of his latest victim’s removed heart.

Some scenes are well enough shot
Some scenes are well enough shot

Writer Jing Wong mixes too many comedy elements into the story, mainly centred around inept cop Ka-Ming (Chi Wah Wong), who is cowardly, terrible at surveillance work and a pathetic womaniser. Wong also inserts some throwaway dialogue about the impending Chinese takeover of Hong Kong into the movie, though this isn’t really gone into. He does put a certain amount of thought into how Judas locates his victims, revealing that Judas compels a woman working at a credit card company to divulge the details of all female customers born on 6th June, 1969 but, generally, Wing fails to keep the plot coherent and focused.

During an autopsy, the latest victim is reanimated to deliver a threat
During an autopsy, the latest victim is reanimated to deliver a threat

With Ching starting to realise that she might actually be the daughter of Satan (she can compel people to hurt themselves by saying “go to hell”) and Judas continuing to madly claim that he’s doing the devil’s bidding, you expect the movie to kick up a gear and become more horror-oriented, but SATAN RETURNS remains unsure whether it’s a comedic police procedural, an action film or a supernatural story.

Donnie Yen and Chingmy Yau
Donnie Yen and Chingmy Yau

Ultimately, though director Wai-Lun Lam handles the occasional blue-lit set piece with a certain amount of verve, the film fails to be tense, funny, scary or properly exciting.

After Judas kills some cops during the finale they are brought back as zombie killers
After Judas kills some cops during the finale they are brought back as zombie killers
A zombie cop grabs his own severed foot so that he can club Ka-Ming around the head with it!
A zombie cop grabs his own severed foot so that he can club Ka-Ming around the head with it!

It doesn’t help that Donnie Yen, playing a hardboiled cop who tends to punch first and ask questions later, is underutilised as Ning. He just should have been featured in the movie more, rather than the useless and irritating Ka-Ming. Though it is a case of too little, too late, the finale does treat us to the spectacle of Ning first brandishing a chainsaw, to cut down some reanimated cop-corpses, and then using a nail gun to pin Judas to a toppled-over cross… before the villain is immolated with a Molotov cocktail!

This movie should have been better!
This movie should have been better!
Oh no: spoiler! Ching removes her own heart at the end and survives... she is the Devil's Daughter!
Oh no: spoiler! Ching removes her own heart at the end and survives… so she is the Devil’s Daughter!

Empire of the Ants (1977)

Joan Collins is assaulted by a giant ant!
Joan Collins is assaulted by a giant ant!

A group of potential investors visit a stretch of Florida coastline to check out plots of land being offered to them by a bogus land developer (Joan Collins), but they soon find themselves under attack from masses of giant ants, which have mutated after coming into contact with a leaking barrel of radioactive waste.

Don't buy any land from this woman!
Don’t buy any land from this woman!
A wonderful US 1 sheet poster boasting Drew Struzan artwork
A wonderful US 1 sheet poster boasting Drew Struzan artwork
Giant ants! I repeat: giant ants!
Giant ants! I repeat: giant ants!

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS tends to be looked down upon by many critics and horror/sci-fi fans, but I think it is a very enjoyable creature feature!

An ant's eye view of a victim
An ant’s eye view of a victim
Ants attack the boat that the characters used to reach the beach, so everyone must head through the swamp to escape
Ants attack the boat that the characters used to reach the beach, so everyone must head through the swamp to escape

The story starts like a 70s disaster movie, with the various quickly-sketched characters being introduced in a series of scenes. This bunch includes a kindly couple, a callous, self-serving, sexual predator dude (Robert Pine), an initially misanthropic boat captain (Robert Lansing), a disillusioned, recently divorced heroic guy (John David Carson) and a sparky young woman out to start over again after finishing an affair with a married man (Pamela Susan Shoop).

John David Carson, Pamela Susan Shoop and some ants
John David Carson, Pamela Susan Shoop and some ants
Everyone rapidly gets wet and dirty in this movie
Everyone rapidly gets wet and dirty in this movie

These people aren’t the most in-depth personalities ever committed to film but, by the time they’ve battled their way through miles of mega-ant-festooned swampland, I got to like the handful of characters that survive long enough to reach the relative safety of a local town.

And it’s here at the town, in the third act of the movie, that the plot nicely twists: it stops being a survival horror monster movie and becomes a people-being-taken-over sci-fi story, as the protagonists discover that the giant ants have purposefully herded them here to be mentally controlled, like the rest of the townsfolk, by the huge queen ant lurking in the nearby sugar factory.

I love this story development! The local sheriff (Albert Salmi) and everybody else are compelled to do the ants’ bidding, forcing victims to be subjected to regular doses of pheromones, sprayed into their faces by the queen ant. But our mud-smeared heroes won’t be subjected to mind-control without a fight!

The queen ant prepares to spray a husband and wife with a cloud of pheromones to keep them under her control
The queen ant prepares to spray a husband and wife with a cloud of pheromones to keep them under her control

There’s also an interesting scene where the characters witness a fight between the giant black ants and another type of not-so-big, lighter-coloured ants. This is a cool idea (different creatures grow in size but continue to feed on each other), though this story development isn’t delved into, because the protagonists must continue their escape through the muddy swampland and we never see this other species of ant again.

After the success of his previous creature feature, THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), Bert I. Gordon moved onto this movie, which also claimed to be based on the work of H.G. Wells, though it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the original short story at all. But who really cares? So long as using Wells’ name gave Mr B.I.G the opportunity to unleash more optically-enlarged critters for us to enjoy… I’m happy!

Gordon, the man behind such low budget, black and white 50s sc-fi monster movies as THE CYCLOPS, EARTH VS THE SPIDER, KING DINOSAUR and THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, famously created his own special effects for his films. These efforts are often derided, such as BEGINNING OF THE END’s shot of grasshoppers crawling over a photograph of a building, but I have always found his productions to be lively and watchable. Anyway, Bert, as usual, provided the special effects for this film too.

The characters try to escape danger in a boat, but the ants are everywhere!
The characters try to escape danger in a small rowboat, but the ants are everywhere!

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS was shot in the autumn of 1976 and the swamp locations look overcast, rather than sunny, despite this being in Florida, and this helps the look of the movie, I think. The dark tones add a gloomy, grim quality to the proceedings and also maybe helps the live action footage merge better with the ant photography: brighter, sunnier photography would probably have made the composited images look much more obvious.

An old couple find out that the shack they've been hiding in is surrounded by the massive ants!
An old couple find out that the shack they’ve been hiding in is surrounded by the massive ants!

I’m not saying the special effects are the best I’ve ever seen (this movie came out the same year as STAR WARS), but within the constraints of Bert’s budget and technical abilities, I think the use of a combination of large model ants for close-ups and magnified shots of real ants for the rest of the scenes works well enough.

Bert also jiggles the camera around a lot during scenes featuring the prop ants, giving the shots more energy and hiding the immobility of the models.

A big prop ant in action
A big prop ant in action

Joan Collins, in fine uber-bitch form, is fun to watch as heartless con artist Marilyn Fryser, but I think the best performance comes from Robert Lansing, playing the boat captain Dan Stokely, who goes from unsociable, dour observer to tough, heroic ant-fighter!

Jacqueline Scott, Robert Lansing and Joan Collins
Jacqueline Scott, Robert Lansing and Joan Collins
The 'Bitch' meets the queen...
The ‘Bitch’ meets the queen…
Ants march into the sugar factory for a sweet snack
Ants march into the sugar factory for a sweet snack

Despite the shortcomings of some of Bert’s FX (there’s a scene, later on in the film, where the ants are shown lining-up to enter the large sugar storage shed… and a couple of the insects look like they are crawling off the building and walking vertically into the sky), I think this is a solid 70s monster flick that manages to draw you into the story. You soon find yourself hoping that some of the characters will survive their monstrous ordeal… although I admit I was very pleased when the selfish, despicable Larry Graham (Robert Pine) finally runs out of luck and is savaged by a killer ant! Never was a character more deserving of being scrunched between giant mandibles!

Larry gets what he deserves! Yay!
Larry gets what he deserves! Yay!

Here are some very, very nice posters for the movie…

UK quad poster
UK quad poster. This is a good ‘un!
German A1 poster
German A1 poster
French grande poster. Another fine poster!
French grande poster. Another fine poster!
Italian poster, which includes 'ant's eye view' imagery!
Italian poster – which includes ‘ant’s eye view’ imagery!
US half sheet
US half sheet
Australian poster
Italian poster... suggesting that the ants attack a city!
Italian poster… suggesting that the ants attack a city!

ANTS IN HER PANTS
A short, sharp interview with Joan Collins!

Publicity shot of Joan posing with a couple of the giant ant props
Publicity shot of Joan posing with a couple of the giant ant props

On Saturday 10th November 1990 Joan Collins attended a book-signing for her new novel at a store in High Street Kensington, London.

Greg Lamb, an intrepid contributor to my fanzine ‘IMAGINATOR’, decided to join the queue and ask her about EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, a film she had called the worst moment and film project of her career.

Joan doesn't seem to mind being in the company of a huge insect in this publicity still!
Joan doesn’t seem to mind being in the company of a huge insect in this publicity still!

Joan, as this interview will show, had not changed her opinion concerning Bert I. Gordon’s giant ant opus… and she becomes quite irritated with Greg!

This is the interview, which was printed in issue #7 of IMAGINATOR….

Greg: ‘Ms Collins – here you are signing your new book, you have a successful play in the West End, and DYNASTY is behind you. I wonder if you could tell me about this…’

(Greg hands Joan a video sleeve for EMPIRE OF THE ANTS)

UK VHS sleeve for Empire of the Ants
UK VHS sleeve for Empire of the Ants

Joan: ‘Oh my God! Oh no!’

(Joan turns the video sleeve over and views the whole cover)

Joan: ‘It’s disgusting’

Greg: ‘You once said that it was the lowest point in your whole career – why was that?’

(Joan gives Greg one of her most bitchy looks)

Joan: ‘Apart from being neck-high in a swamp full of leeches, and covered in mud, as well as being killed at the end by a 12ft papier-mâché ant, nothing, I suppose.’

Joan suffers from a giant ant flashback...
Joan suffers from a giant ant flashback…

Greg: ‘So, you didn’t like filming it?’

Joan (snapping): ‘No, I did not!’

Joan didn't enjoy the filming, it seems...
Joan didn’t enjoy the filming, it seems…

Greg: ‘If you could say anything to Bert I. Gordon, the director, what would it be?’

Joan: ‘I wouldn’t want to say anything in front of these people.’

(Greg points to the video cover she’s still holding…)

Greg: ‘Could you sign the video sleeve for me, please?’

Joan: ‘No, I will not. That is not my scene, love.’

(Joan hands the cover back to Greg and turns to a very tall, very wide man standing next to her…)

Joan: ‘Can you please show the young man out.’

Greg: ‘Thanks, bye…’

(Greg is grabbed by the right arm, led to the door of the store, and pushed into Kensington High Street by the security goon!)

End of interview!

Here’s the final comment from Greg Lamb, after his brief chat was over: ‘I’ve always liked Joan Collins for her balls and down-to-earth attitude, as well as the image that she puts across on screen. But I can say that, seeing her from two feet away, she looked only about 5ft tall. She should really learn to love EMPIRE OF THE ANTS!’

Joan had some good days on the shoot, I'm sure
I’m sure Joan had some good days on the shoot…
...but maybe she had more bad days!
…but maybe she had far more bad days!

A Wicked Ghost (1999)

I think some hair is blocking the toilet...
I think some hair is blocking the toilet…

A group of friends, with names like Big Bee, Rubbish and Biggie, perform a ritual to enable them to see ghosts. This is meant to be a fun game to pass the time, though it does involve drinking from a bowl of water mixed with fresh blood and using a tealight to burn ‘oil’ taken from a dead person’s body!

Pale face, dark mouth...
Pale face, dark mouth…

Ming is the only member of the group to refuse to take part (saying that the blood might have AIDS), but his girlfriend Annie joins in the odd game, which does unleash a creepy female ghost, who starts to kill off the friends one by one.

If only the movie was as eventful as this artwork suggests!
If only the movie was as eventful as this artwork suggests!

Rubbish is the first to die and Ming’s reporter sister Cissy starts to look into the case, along with her fiancé Jack. Cissy’s ex-boyfriend Mr. Mo, a drama teacher, also takes an interest in what is going on and he’s the one who comes up with most of the theories, including the idea that the group is being haunted by the ghost of the person whose ‘oil’ had been burned in the ritual.

The blue-robed ghost closely follows a female character into a bar toilet
The blue-robed ghost closely follows a female character into a bar toilet

Characters continue to die, with one of them tricked into stepping off the top of a high building and Biggie compelled to strangle her own mother before committing suicide. Ming becomes more and more concerned that Annie will soon become a victim too, so he teams-up with Mr. Mo to break the curse and discover the origin of the ghost. Their research leads them to the deserted Yellow Hill Village and they eventually learn that the black-haired, vengeful ghost is the spirit of a murdered woman called Cho Yan Mei.

As well as the blue-robed ghost of Cho Yan Mei, the spectres of other dead people are seen...
As well as the blue-robed ghost of Cho Yan Mei, the spectres of other dead people are seen…

More deaths ensue, including an old man who gets bumped off when a long metal pole falls from a roof and skewers him to the ground via his gaping mouth, in an OMEN-style moment. Mr. Mo, meanwhile, realises that it isn’t the ‘oil’ that connects all these victims to the spirit, so the search for a way to halt the killings continues, but time is running out for Annie and a desperate Ming intensifies his efforts to find the resting place of Cho Yan Mei’s body.

Don't look up, old fella...
Don’t look up, old fella…
…or you’ll get transfixed by a scaffolding tube. Too late!

A WICKED GHOST is a pretty run-of-the-mill Hong Kong supernatural flick, directed in a competent fashion by Hung-Wah Leung. Leung also wrote the script and he does a better job here, supplying enough backstory to the curse and nuggets of new information to keep you watching.

DVD sleeve
DVD sleeve

One of these revelations involves Mr. Mo’s supposition that Cho Yan Mei’s murdered body is actually buried beneath a pond near Yellow Hill Village, which is linked to the local water supply somehow. Ming then realises that the angry ghost-force of Cho Yan Mei must have entered the various victims’ bodies “through the medium of water”.

Cho Yan Mei gets up close and personal
Cho Yan Mei gets up close and personal

Though Mr. Mo (Francis Ng) is the character who uncovers most of the facts, it is Ming (Gabriel Harrison) who is the film’s main character, but he proves to be such a frustratingly hesitant protagonist! In one sequence Annie, possessed by Cho Yan Mei, fills a bowl with prescription drugs and starts wolfing the tablets down like they’re sweets. Rather than physically trying to stop his girlfriend from munching all the pills, Ming just ineffectually looks on, asking her to wake up and stop eating the drugs. In a later scene the ever-hesitant Ming is in a position to actually stop the murders when he discovers a special bracelet that is capable of negating Cho Yan Mei’s powers… but he is so slow to take action, reaching out to Cho Yan Mei’s wrist in such a tentative manner, that she has time to evade the bracelet and attack him. It’s very frustrating!

Annie grabs a handful of pills
Annie grabs a handful of pills
 Don't just plead with your girlfriend to stop eating the pills, Ming, go and grab her!
Don’t just plead with your girlfriend to stop eating the pills, Ming, go and grab her!
Ming gets strangled by Cho Yan Mei because he's too damn slow trying to put the special bracelet on her wrist
Ming gets strangled by Cho Yan Mei because he’s too damn slow trying to put the special bracelet on her wrist

The inspiration for the look of the malevolent spook in A WICKED GHOST is Sadako from RING, which was released the previous year and triggered the production of a whole bunch of Hong Kong RING knock-offs. There’s an okay moment involving the ghost walking directly behind a female character in a bar, and there’s also a fun scene in a bathroom, where Jack sees Cho Yan Mei’s hair, and then her hand, poking from a toilet bowl.

Cho Yan Mei’s hand rises from the bowl!
Cho Yan Mei’s hand rises from the bowl!
Cho Yan Mei is obviously heavily inspired by the ghostly character Sadako, from the successful Japanese movie Ring (1998)
Cho Yan Mei is obviously heavily inspired by the ghostly character Sadako, from the successful Japanese movie Ring (1998)

Most of the ghost scenes in this low budget film are achieved using actors in pale makeup, with very few optical effects, though this is acceptable, as this kind of story works just fine with brief glimpses of long hair hiding a ghost’s face or quick shots of a dark figure passing by doorways. But Hung-Wah Leung fails to include enough supernatural encounters in his tale and the film ends up sadly lacking in decent scares and tension.

Cho Yan Mei crawls across the floor: there should have been more moments like this!
Cho Yan Mei crawls across the floor: there should have been more moments like this!
There should also have been more shots like this!
There should also have been more shots like this!

With a plot that’s burdened with several extraneous characters (Cissy & Jack) and direction that’s rather lacklustre, A WICKED GHOST is, ultimately, a Hong Kong paranormal flick that is watchable but also quite forgettable.


She's behind you...
She’s behind you…