Written and Directed by: Chih-Hung Kuei
Starring: Ni Tien, Yung Wang, and Tsui Ling Yu
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
When life ends, the terror begins.
In my attempt to familiarize myself with older Asian horror movies (and perhaps to escape all the damned wet-haired ghost girls of the modern orient), I decided to trek to Hong Kong, which, as I understand it, is responsible for some of the more batshit crazy cinematic offerings of all time. And since the Shaw Brothers have been so good to me so far in the martial arts arena, it seemed natural to see what horrors Run Run and Runme unleashed on the world. From there, it was just a matter of selecting just the right title. Black Magic? Killer Snakes? Not bad titles, but not particularly striking. But Corpse Mania? Thatís a title just screaming to be pulled from the shelf so it can punch you in the brain.
When a gaggle of dead bodies begin to litter his jurisdiction, Inspector Chang (Yung Wang) begins to connect the dots; somehow, all of the victims are connected to a nearby brothel, which leads Chang to suspect Mr. Li, an infamous corpse defiler who was thrown into an asylum years ago. For whatever reason, someone decided it was a good idea to release Li back into civilization, and he seems to be taking his revenge on head brother mistress Madam Lan and her fine assortment of prostitutes.
With a title like Corpse Mania, youíd expect that this to have quite an infatuation with corpses, and it does. Two types of infatuation, in fact, as Li initially shows his carnal love for cold, dead bodies before he moves on to piling up corpses on his way to racking up an impressive body count. You wouldnít expect a flick dealing with necrophilia to start out as a slow burn, but the first twenty minutes or so set up weirdness and mystery. As a group of nosy old ladies ponder why they never see Mr. Li and his wife emerge from their house, youíll gather that something is just a little off, especially when they keep harping on the terrible smell emanating from the place. Those suspicions are gloriously confirmed when detectives begin to discover maggot-infested corpses that have been raped (but donít worry--Li is apparently doing this because his wife requested him to do so!). With all the creepy-crawlies and sick, coughing prostitutes (this is one of the filmís angles--Li buys off hookers on the edge of death for obvious reasons), it seems like Corpse Mania is going to be content to just be a low-key, atmospheric, and unsettling little tale thatís hardly seems like the best representative of the infamously gonzo Hong Kong scene.
Fear not, though, as the slightly Euro aesthetic is eventually merged with the splattery bloodshed of the then-burgeoning 80s body count movement. Ultimately, I guess youíd call Corpse Mania a half-assed giallo, what with its wild narrative twists that culminate in a ridiculous Scooby Doo ending. Itís an odd one in the sense that thereís no real red herrings (at least in a conventional sense) because the flick tells you who the killer is. As such, all the police procedural nonsense (even small time mobsters get entangled in the plot) that occupies the middle third of the film is a bit stuffy, though the high-strung mother hen that is Madam Lan emerges as a bright spot. Also, it should come as no surprise that the Shaw Brothers couldnít resist wedging a martial arts sequence into the proceedings; itís a quaint bit of kicking and punching by Shaw standards, but at least it makes more sense than the kung-fu professor flailing himself into Pieces, Bruce Lee style.
At least Corpse Mania doesnít half-ass the stuff that really matters: the kill sequences and gore effects, which are probably about as good as youíll see in any Italian giallo. Between the blood-spraying and face-bashing, this movie shows a perverse dedication to mangling and gutting just about everyone who crosses the killerís path. He looks pretty cool himself, as his getup recalls The Invisible Man; he also gets a few effective and suspenseful stalking sequences that are pulled out of the Myers playbook, as he slinks around in shadows and even hides in the backseat of a car to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. Donít expect such creepy subtlety during the raucous climax, though; instead, prepare for a full-throttle assault on your sensibilities and logic; it even tosses an obvious dummy prop from a balcony that goes splat just as well as the real thing. Anyone involved likely doesnít give a shit if you notice it, either, so blatant is the filmís disregard for anything that gets in the way of its awesome splatter scenes.
Director Kuei also has some stylish chops to accompany all of the visceral hack and slash. He especially establishes a nice, eerie mood early on (you know, back before the movie drops acid and only deals with a guy that likes to hump corpses). While his camera might not move with the fluidity of the masters, he finds some dynamic angles and lighting to establish some claustrophobic sets. Some of the interiors are particularly well-done; when the detectives finally stumble upon Liís apartment, itís almost like theyíve wandered into an Argento flick with its ethereal vibrancy. Looking over Kueiís filmography, I see that I already have his Boxerís Omen and the aforementioned Killer Snakes in my collection, so itís good to know thereís more where this came from.
As for this one, Iíd say it was a mostly satisfying inaugural venture into properly charting these sort of waters. Both slick in style and grimy in content, Corpse Mania is a memorable stew of violence and sleaze. It actually didnít make its U.S. debut until a few years ago when Image Entertainment released it to DVD; though itís a bare-bones effort (with the exception of some other Shaw trailers), the presentation is good. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a little soft and grainy, but itís vibrant, which is probably more important. Meanwhile, the original Chinese soundtrack is presented in mono with your choice of English or Spanish subtitles. Stylish, gross, and bloody, Corpse Mania seems to be a good intro to the 80s era Hong Kong horror. Buy it!
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