Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dead Curse (1985)

Original title: 猛鬼迫人

A couple of years ago, Inspector Ma prevented a witch (Angela Yu Chien) leading a Kali (or Carla, as the subtitles insist, leading to inspiring moments like the witch shouting “Carla, give me strength!”) cult from sacrificing a child, killing the witch and her assistants (witches in training?) in the process. With her last breath, the witch cursed the inspector and his family.

Now, four years later, Ma is sitting in a wheelchair, his wife is gone, and since it is July, ghost month, there’s nasty stuff in store for him and his family - his little daughter, his reporter sister Mimi (probably Elaine Kam Yin-Ling) and Mimi’s fiancée, cop Ah Chiu (Poon Chun-Wai). Particularly Mimi will turn out to have to fight off the brunt of the witch’s ire. Not that the family as a whole has it easy: little ghost children try to drown and then hang Mimi’s niece, the witch regularly appears to have a good laugh, the witch’s dead assistants attempt to throw Ma from his balcony – it’s quite the July for these people. And that’s before we come to the bit later on when Ah Chiu has a bit of ghost sex (or humps the witch’s coffin, if you can’t see ghosts) and becomes possessed afterwards, speaking in the witch’s voice.

Another female friend or family member – as it often goes with the more obscure Hong Kong films from this era, the burnt-in subtitles aren’t particularly clear so your guess is as good as mine – does have contact to a sifu named Kwan (Kwan Hoi-San), so spiritual help will be forthcoming eventually, but Kwan isn’t the most impressive example of his kind, so it’s not at all sure he will actually be able to beat the witch and her Carla-given powers.

As I said, Dead Curse – directed by one-timer Chong Biu Man and actor Gu Sam-Lam - is a reasonably obscure bit of Hong Kong horror of its time, but it’s a fun example of the style nonetheless.

Now, even though it was rated CAT III at the time, this isn’t as extreme and crass a film as one might hope or fear. There’s no centipede eating or puking action at all, and the supernatural elements are relatively conservative, featuring a lot of dry ice and green light and little that’s icky in any way, shape or form. In fact, the make-up for the ghost children is as traditional as they come, suggesting a film that sees itself standing at least with one foot in the less crazy Hong Kong horror of the 50s and 60s (and of course earlier). Its other foot, however, certainly stands in modern (80s) times. It’s not just the ghost sex scene or how the climax evolves into a magical battle between the Sifu, five elemental guardians he has conjured and the flying witch who can shoot a red laser beam out of her finger now. Rather, camera set-ups, movement, editing and general pacing do completely belong to its own time, things hopping merrily along with little time for film or characters to drag their heels between mild yet fun stunts, general spookery and moments of classic HK 80s goofiness (where else would the encounter between a threatened little girl and two ghost children come to murder her in a somewhat complicated manner include a running gag about ET?).

It’s certainly not a film that’ll leave a contemporary viewer in awe, disgust or terrible suspense, but Dead Curse’s forward momentum, its diligence in delivering at least one horror set piece every five minutes, its moments of craziness, its masses of dry ice fog and green light, its perfectly likeable leads and its general sense of fun do make for a very enjoyable time for a viewer with any kind of interest in Hong Kong horror of this time. I have no idea what anyone who doesn’t would make of this one, though I would assume that a flying witch shooting a red laser beam at a kung fu guy fighting her with a wooden coffin is of interest to any human being with taste and style.

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