Thursday, August 29, 2013
SPIRIT OF THE RAPED 1976
Liu Wu Chi (Liu Miao Li), Wong Yu (Chen Ling), Tung Lin (Li Bang), Wang Chung (Wang), Wang Hsieh (Fan Wei Jian), Tien Ching (Rong, head of prostitute ring), Liu Hui Ling (Xia), Li Wei Tu (Chen Liang)
Directed by Kuei Chi Hung
"...When the door to hell is opened, there's no turning back."
The Short Version: One of the nastiest productions from the the directorial hands of Kuei Chi Hung is this tale of vengeance from beyond the grave. Inventive in its gruesomeness, this gory ghoul-ash was the directors last superstition fueled film for a few years; and boy, did he make it count. You'll see numerous bloody instances of ocular carnage before Fulci made it fashionable; a "ghost ulcer" grows into a monstrous head and erupts out of a man's shoulder ala THE MANSTER; and demonic possession and double decapitations are also featured. A final coda masquerades the films sleaze as a morality fable warning against the dangers of greed and deviancy. The lurid title aptly describes the proceedings. It's yet another low budget achievement by the late director.
Two newlyweds and a host of others aboard a minibus are harassed by three hooligans. The young husband is killed while the wife is fated to end up in a string of horrific misfortunes that lead to her eventual suicide. Prior to taking her own life, the distraught woman purchases a red shroud. The superstitious believe that a woman who dies horribly in a red shroud will come back to avenge the wrongs done to her. A short time later, the three men involved in the murder, along with a few other insidious characters, all meet gruesome demises at the hands of the dead woman's vengeful spirit.
Out of all the famous directors that came out of Shaw Brothers studio, Kuei Chi Hung is arguably the most under-appreciated, and least represented on DVD. He rivaled, and, to a degree, surpassed the equally nasty delicacies served up by his colleague Mou Tun Fei. The sort of darkly disturbing movies Kuei made are a testament to his reported tyrannical style of working with actors. To say SPIRIT OF THE RAPED is a vile movie is an understatement especially where this director is concerned; especially when so many of his films fit that description.
This one's not only vile, but the spectral revenge that unfolds is so spectacularly repugnant, you can't help but marvel at the creativity of it all -- thanks to scriptwriters I Kuang and Szeto An. Each segment contains gruesome examples of the aphorism, 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime'. This isn't an anthology, but by segment I am referring to the episodic nature by which the retribution is meted out. With that said, there are three sets of scum who meet their doom at the hands of the title victim.
The first set are the main antagonists who put the spiritual vengeance in motion -- three small time crooks who make a living robbing random people. On this particular occasion, one of the three commits murder. This portion of the revenge derives the most suspense with some choice camera shots and a nice buildup to the nasty death scenes (including a demon head growing out of a man's shoulder and geyser-ific noggin lopping). This section is the main arc of the film and acts as something of a "framing device" -- familiar to countless anthology movies. The film begins and ends with these three characters.
The second perpetrator is a swindler played by Wang Hsieh; one of Shaw's go-to stable of gruff bad guys (although he did play protagonists at times). His "payment" is possibly the most grueling and disturbing of the entire film. Kuei's fascination with the fish-eye lens is in overdrive during this segment of the movie. The savage ocular violence seen here foreshadows Fulci's fascination with eyeball destruction from the Italian directors horror films like ZOMBIE (1979) and THE BEYOND (1981).
The third is a slimeball named Rong, a low-level prostitute racketeer, and his equally complicit wife. The vengeance visited here is possibly the most outrageous. After being the final nail that sends the poor Liu Miao Li to her death, Rong comes home and finds his wife with an ever expanding stomach. Boils then pop up all over her face while the sound of growling dogs can be heard. She then becomes possessed, eats a bowl of vomit, and chases her husband all over their house. This segment concludes with a satisfyingly gruesome example of poetic justice.
Playing the dirtbag of this portion of the movie, Tien Ching was one of Shaw's most celebrated character actors whenever a movie required top quality, low-level scum. He was extremely good at it, and possessed the perfect look for those sorts of roles. He made a career of it, and can be seen in numerous Chang Cheh movies playing weasels of the highest order. One of his most famous such roles was in Chang's classic THE WATER MARGIN (1972) where he played a scheming philanderer.
Liu Wu Chi was a fine actress, but her performance here as the seemingly perpetual bad luck girl garners sympathy specifically from the constant stream of brutality brought against her person. She's not in the movie all that long, but from her first scene to her last, she's mercilessly oppressed and violated so excessively, one wonders just what she might of done in a past life to earn such suffering. She loses her husband in a cruel manner, her money is stolen, and finally she's blackmailed into a prostitute ring. Rarely has a female character suffered as much as Liu's character, and rarely has the impending vengeance been as satisfying as it is here.
Wong Yu (or Huang Yu) has a role as one of the three miscreants who set the calamity in motion. His character is the youngest, and most pitiable. Superstitions and luck play a big role in his character arc.We never learn how he got mixed up with his two partners in crime, but they obviously have no compunction about killing people while Wong's character shows no interest in it.
Wong Yu got his first major role the previous year with Liu Chia Liang's THE SPIRITUAL BOXER (1975). He also had a convincing, more effective supporting role in Ho Meng Hua's THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975).
The cinematography of frequent Kuei collaborator Yu Chi is quite effective for what was obviously a low budget exploitation movie; and one designed specifically to satiate an audience hungry for a quick fix. There are a number of nice segues that, while artistic in conception, ultimately prove to be ingeniously crass upon execution.
For example, one instance of self-mutilation sees an individual ferociously stabbing himself in his extremities. Later, when his corpse is pulled from the morgue slab, there's a bit of (and the only instance of) black humor as one of the attendants notices what looks like a large penis jutting up under the blanket. As the camera pans in on the erect implement still sticking out from the wound, the camera dissolves to an "erect" gas pump hose!
The script may rely on numerous ways to gross out the viewer, but it also plays on Chinese fears and superstitions. Many of the Asian horrors of this time period were often built around folkloric examples of foreboding horror and SPIRIT OF THE RAPED taps into that. When BLACK MAGIC (1975) proved a major success, numerous other films followed in that vein. Kuei had actually touched on the superstitions of those residing in isolated, rural locales in a segment of his anthology FEARFUL INTERLUDE (1975); which was out in theaters a month before BLACK MAGIC -- only it didn't resonate in quite the same way as Ho Meng Hua's iconic HK horror favorite. However, Kuei did eventually embark on his own string of movies built around the Asian black arts.
Kuei's movie -- like his other squalor driven, sleaze-infested modern day efforts -- posits a city that is rampant with crime and barbarity. Like a lot of Asian genre fare of this vintage, some of Kuei's films (including this one) attempted to justify the graphic nature of the proceedings as metaphoric of societal rot. These warnings against the loss of human values end up feeling out of place and unnecessary in an attempt to suddenly say the previous 80 minutes were really a PSA masquerading as a trashy exploitation picture. Possibly this was an attempt to get more violence passed the censor if they passed it off as a morality tale?
SPIRIT OF THE RAPED (1976) is an efficient gross-out HK horror film whose creativity belies it's low budget. It's a nice bridge for the directors savage crime pictures and his astoundingly perverse horror movies. The level of violence is high, and its over the top insanity foreshadows Kuei's BEWITCHED (1981) and its sequel, the directors magnum opus, THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983). If you've seen some of his other movies, you'll recognize Kuei's signature mean-spiritedness in spades here; along with some experimental touches that allowed his movies to rise above commerciality, but never leave the realm of cinematic insanity.