Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Night of the Devil Bride (1975) review


Lo Lieh (Kao Tian), Chen Ping (Shu Lien), Chan Shen (Sheng Liang Ta), Ai Ti (Mu Lien), Lin Wei-Tu (Hung Wu), Ku Feng (Master Gan), Chiang Yang (Li Dou), Yang Chi Ching (Master Cui), Liu Hui Ling (Cui's daughter), Wang Ching Ho (Taoist Priest), Helen Ko (Tsai Hung), Terry Liu Hui-Yu (Madam Feng)

Directed by Chang I-Hu

The Short Version: Rare and obscure HK horror has some points of interest but not enough to allow it to emerge as a lost classic. The nudity and grue are plentiful, and it's also nice to see a prelude of a hopping vampire/ghost prior to Sammo's SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS and Ricky Lau's MR. VAMPIRE. The special effects are terribly primitive, but likewise in abundance. Despite some dramatic moments and a stellar turn from Lo Lieh, the film is just as exploitative as its title suggests.

Kao Tian lives in virtual solace out in the country with his sickly wife, Shu Lien, who suffers from Tuberculosis. Around his wife, Kao is a dutiful husband, but away from home, he visits brothels with his friend, Liang Ta. Rescuing a young girl after being raped on the road, Kao is enticed by the girls wealthy father to marry his daughter with the promise of a lot of money and a post within the provincial palace. There's a quandary, though. Kao is already married and the young girl is already betrothed to another. Realizing the girls fiance will not want her upon learning she's been raped, the plan is to seduce the destitute Kao with everything he desires and get rid of his chronically ill wife in the process.

To make matters worse, Shu Lien's sister, Mu Lien, is kidnapped and sold off to the cruel Chief Gan. Mu's fiance, Hung Wu, attempts to save her, but is framed for murder. With Kao unable to go through with killing his wife, Master Cui pushes things along by having poisoned medicine sent to Kao's home. Not long after her death, Kao marries Cui's daughter, and on their wedding night, the vampiric ghost of Shu Lien comes back for revenge.

This Shaw-Korea co-production originally began as THE FEMALE GHOST, a joint directorial effort by both Shin Sang-Okk and Chang I-Hu; two filmmakers from Korea.

Director Shin had just completed THE GHOST LOVERS (1974), a ghost picture starring Li Ching. For whatever reason, Shin severed his involvement with this movie leaving his colleague with sole credit.

Advertised as a romantic-horror production, the finished film has little room for romance, but crowds the screen with plentiful sex and nudity. It's likely a Korean and HK version was shot simultaneously. The shot to the left features Chan Shen and a different, and very nude actress seen in the actual Hong Kong film itself.

At about the halfway mark, gore and ghosts are added to the mix when it becomes a full fledged revenge movie replete with arms being sliced off, ears ripped off, teeth spit out and chunks of scalp torn away revealing rotting, pus-filled wounds.

There's quite a lot of special effects on display here; primitive as they may be. The sight of a bad optical of painted on blood running out of Chen Ping's eyes is terribly sloppy, but recalls the same thing that was done better in Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD five years later. While Chen Ping doesn't toss her intestines as the poor girl in Fulci's film does, something indeed very grim follows her bleeding of the eyes.

Oldschool Hong Kong horror movies almost always seemed to be grotesque tales masquerading as morality fables; their last scene often preaching to the audience just what the various Deadly Sins will bring you should you entertain them. This is one of the better aspects of this admittedly average motion picture.

There is no "I told you so" delivery during the closing moments of the film, but for the first 35 minutes or so, there's a fascinating subtext dealing with the subjugation, or attempted "liberation" of those with chaste and honorable values. This plot device crops up in many other HK movies of varying genres and is comparable to the 'have sex and die' thematic element that became de rigueur in American slasher pictures around 1980.

This is also an early example of the hopping ghost/hopping vampire genre that wouldn't exist till 1985s MR. VAMPIRE from director Ricky Lau. The Shaw-Hammer co-pro from 1974, THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, flirted with hopping ghouls and there's some hopping corpses briefly seen in Shaw's BLACK MAGIC (1975).

There are two blood-sucking ghost creatures in DEVIL BRIDE and they're repelled by a charm given to Kao by an old Taoist priest played by seasoned Shaw stalwart, Wang Ching Ho. The differences between the western vampire and the eastern interpretation were negligible, barely expounded upon till popularized by Ricky Lau's mega hit wherein the bizarre qualities of Eastern vampire lore were laid bare.

NIGHT OF THE DEVIL BRIDE seems to be channeling Japanese style horror pictures with its use of haunted hair; as in the tentacle-like locks of the vengeance seeking Shu Lien.

Upon taking the lethal medicine, Shui Lien begins choking, her face turns green, eyes begin bleeding and her hair starts falling out. These deadly follicles later play a part in the revenge from beyond the grave motif that takes hold around the 40 minute mark.

At barely 76 minutes in length, this obviously troubled production has a few spots where some things could have been fleshed out, or built up a bit more. It's clear the makers are more interested in exploitation than anything else, although Lo Lieh emerges with the sole stand out performance amidst a cadre of soulless reprobates and naive stock victims.

There's a clear dichotomy drawn between Kao, Lo Lieh's character, and Hung Wu, the one played by Lin Wei-Tu. Lin is ecstatic at the thought of becoming successful through hard work while Kao is taking a more deceitful, less honest route that ends in murder.

Lo Lieh's character, Kao Tian is of particular interest. You expect him to go full on evil, but he's torn by his love for his sickly wife and the promise of wealth from a duplicitious family. Instead of rolling around exclusively in sleaze, the film takes a bit of time in exploring Lo's character and his acting totally makes him a believably tragic individual who still must atone for the tragedies he helped incur.

Released in March of 1975, the film did mediocre business. It was the last film Chang would direct at Shaw Brothers having earlier helmed two 'China versus Japan' kung fu dramas THE THUNDERBOLT FIST and THE DEADLY KNIVES, both in 1972. Chang then went on to direct GREAT ESCAPE FROM WOMEN'S PRISON (1976), a picture that appears to be a clone of Kuei Chi Hung's 1973 hit THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS.

This was also Shin Sang Okk's last hurrah at Shaw, ever how much of this movie he actually directed. He had earlier guided the Shaw fantasy THE GODDESS OF MERCY in 1967 and also the obscure western style film THE BANDITS in 1971. Both directors seemed to have retreated to their native Korea around the same time.

The cinematography by Korean DP Choi Seung-Woo is unremarkable. Some scenes are nicely shot, but the film mostly wastes the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Too many scenes are blandly populated leaving an actor front and center with little around them to beef up a shot. There are, however, a number of extreme close ups of eyes; the sort of shot that Sergio Leone made chic and Lucio Fulci abused with his scenes of ocular destruction. One shot is particularly memorable during a rainstorm wherein one of the good guys is being escorted to his doom when suddenly arms begin sprouting up everywhere in a moment that recalls the literal 'forest of limbs' sequence in the German Gothic horror picture THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967).

NIGHT OF THE DEVIL BRIDE (1975) isn't a great movie by any stretch. It's an interesting diversion that features some curious ideas and elements of HK horror that wouldn't be fully embraced till the 1980s. The entire cast is recognizable from many Shaw sex and sleaze pictures and this one nestles comfortably amongst those. Chang's movie was seemingly treated as a throwaway production and it definitely reads that way while watching it. The script is quite good, but aside from a few points discussed above, very little of substance is allowed to get out. Intriguing, if disposable Hong Kong horror.

***NOTE: Most sites have this listed as being titled NIGHT OF THE DEVIL'S BRIDE.***

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