Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Rare, Obscure & Bizarre Independent Asian Movies

Poster for Taiwanese spookshow, THE BLUE LAMP IN THE WINTER NIGHT (1975)

This is a special edition of Shaw Brothers Cinema: Behind the Scenes for a couple reasons. First and foremost, there's nothing here that's Shaw Brothers related. This is a strictly independent Asian movie article showcasing rare, super obscure and totally bizarre Asian films. An independent kung fu edition is in the near future. All these productions range between the years of 1975 through 1978. This post is for Jack J who runs the great trashy Asian cinema blog, BACKYARD ASIA in addition to a couple other film related blogs. If you've ever read Pete Tombs excellent book, MONDO MACABRO: WEIRD & WONDERFUL CINEMA AROUND THE WORLD, then you have an idea what Backyard Asia is all about.

THE DEVIL CROWS (1975) looks to be a period piece version of THE BIRDS (1963). Judging by some of the photos, it appears there's either zombies, or vampires in it, too. Above and below are from a two page spread from Cinemart magazine. The page below has some English text that details the plot.


THE BIRTH GODDESS (1978) looks to be an interesting fantasy/horror flick and an indy feature I've never heard of. Above and below are from a two page Cinemart spread on the film.

THE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN'S BODY (1977) doesn't appear to be an exploitation movie, but I've included it here as it's the first ever interracial Asian movie I've ever come across and that poster is just plain bizarre.

Above and Below are images from a two page magazine spread from Cinemart.

THE REVENGE OF THE TWO EXORCISTS (1975) is another rarity; this one from Lai Sheng Ying, a cinematographer turned director. Based on a Chinese folk tale, according to the article, all the stars are new faces and a portion of the film was shot in Japan.

Advertisement for a horror picture called THE MIDNIGHT SONG (1977)

WITCHCRAFT OF MIAO PEOPLE (1977) aka THE PRINCESS & THE TOXICANT aka SUCCUBARE is a peculiar little movie. I have a copy transferred from the US tape and judging by images from this magazine spread, a lot of things have been cut out. Still, the movie has enough exploitation value in its dubbed export version.

The movie concerns primitive mountain villagers in the Kuai Chou and Yun Nan provinces and their black magic practices. Carter Wong is in this to add some kung fu fighting marquee value to what is obviously an indy take on the popular BLACK MAGIC movies being done at Shaw Brothers studio.


Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Seven Women From Hell (1961) review

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Patricia Owens (Grace Ingram), Denise Darcel (Claire), Cesar Romero (Luis), John Kerr (Lt. Bill Jackson), Margia Dean (Mara), Yvonne Craig (Janet), Richard Loo (Sgt. Takahashi), Yuki Shimoda (Dr. Matsumo)

Directed by Robert Webb

The Short Version: At times looking like it was shot at a family barbecue, SEVEN WOMEN FROM HELL has lots of things to recommend it to serious trash fans and bad movie buffs. Only marginally better than the craftsmanship of the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, or Larry Buchanan (well, lots better than Buchanan), this goofy and unintentionally funny early Women In Prison quickie has all the earmarks of classic 'B' movie conventions and wears them like a badge of (dis)honor.

A group of women captured by the Japanese plan an escape from a vicious New Guinea POW camp during WW2 with the help of a sympathetic Japanese doctor. Attempting to make it to the Allied camp, the ever dwindling group of girls are chased by the Japanese forces.

This hysterical and frequently politically incorrect early example of the Women In Prison genre is a smorgasbord of ineptitude and fun. Even though the plot is played totally straight, one can't help but marvel at the hilarity of the whole enterprise. The acting is 'Cue Card' level line readings that only adds to the absurdity. The main cast of femme fatales are trotted out at the beginning along with dozens of other men and women. This sequence, which strives for pathos, garners giggles instead. Everyone looks like they're extras recruited from a nearby suburb, picnic, or straight off the golf course.

For a 1961 production, the violence level (mostly during the first half) is mildly eyebrow raising, yet tepid and tame when compared with later movies such as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1972) and THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1973) to name two. The women are voluptuous and show just enough skin that could be gotten away with at the time. Misogyny abounds as our feisty and, or fragile females are slapped around, kicked, ogled in various stages of undress, or repeatedly made to bow whenever they are in the presence of their captors.

Most of the popular plot devices ensconced in the sleazier 70s examples are present here and accounted for. The main female characters are the stock variety adopted for all the later similar movies. Additionally, there's wicked wardens, a sympathetic Japanese doctor, cat fights, cleavage and frequent action, violence, (attempted) rape and torture sequences. There's no lesbianism or shower scenes (the girls do take a bath in a river), though. Barely 25 minutes into the movie there's a raid on the camp by air (a single plane mind you) riddling it with machine gun fire and explosives. Meanwhile, one of the girls threatens to give birth amidst the ruckus outside.

Patricia Owens, the wife of THE FLY (1958), is the lead actress here and she's one of the few decent performances of the bunch. Oddly enough, five years earlier, director Webb was behind the Elvis Presley classic, LOVE ME TENDER (1956). The stunning Yvonne Craig (who went on to play Batgirl on the BATMAN television series) also took part in an Elvis vehicle, KISSIN' COUSINS (1964) as well as playing the sexy, yet psychotic green woman dancer in the 'Whom God's Destroy' episode of the original STAR TREK. Speaking of BATMAN, Cesar Romero, the Joker on that show, has a role here as a wealthy plantation owner--his character providing a last minute plot twist.

Lovers of babes with big busts will no doubt be in awe of French import, Denise Darcel, who could have been a lovely attribute to Russ Meyer's cinematic catalog. Horror fans will recognize John Kerr as the hero in Roger Corman's THE PIT & THE PENDULUM made the same year. That films cinematographer, Floyd Crosby, took photographic duties here, too.

Yvonne Craig and John Kerr

If there's one major negative here, it's the ending--there's no big finish. You don't even realize it's coming till 'The End' appears onscreen. Still, the movie does end with an hilarious single line of dialog from an Allied Forces member upon seeing the girls on the boat. There's yet to be a DVD release in America, but the film turns up occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel. Those with an appreciation for 50s and 60s programmers and lovers of vintage trash will find lots to savor here. Bad acting hounds will likewise enjoy the show as well. The cast are all attractive and the movie moves at a fair clip aided by the unintentional goofiness. SEVEN WOMEN FROM HELL is a flick straight from 'B' movie heaven.
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