Tuesday, July 15, 2008

BLACK MAGIC 2 (Hong Kong; 1976)

BLACK MAGIC 2 (Hong Kong; 1976)
D: Ho Meng-hua
Heeding what I can only assume was a public outcry for a followup after the success of the previous year’s wild dark arts exploitationer BLACK MAGIC, director Ho Meng-hua, writer Ni Kuang and their mischievous horror elves not only come up with a more intricate story that repurposes most of the earlier film’s leading players, they crank the freak-show dial way, WAY up.

Lam Wai-yiu, Ti Lung, Tanny Tien Ni

More gore! More nudity! More zombies! More lesions, skin ulcers and blood worms! More lactation! A miscarriage! Wait a minute...ewwww! The opening credits haven’t even rolled before a topless native girl is devoured by a fairly convincing crocodile, after which a frizzy-haired old wizard (Yeung Chi-hing) guts the beast to retreive a cherished bangle for her grieving family. Things get decidedly more outlandish from there as skeptical Hong Kong docs Ti Lung and Lam Wai-tiu take wives Tanny Tien Ni and Lily Li on vacation to what a title card informs us is “A Tropical City,” where they run into all sorts of gooey Southeast Asian mysticism at the hands of suave sorcerer Lo Lieh.

Lo Lieh

From his basement lair, Lo whips female pubic hairs and breast milk into powerful zombie potions, controls his creations via giant metal spikes pounded into their heads (the removal of which expedites the decomposition process in Hammer-style dissolve-o-vision), and doesn’t take kindly to city folk sniffin’ around the rotting corpses of his victims. Not only does he turn Li into an walking husk after luring her from the group, he casts a love spell on both Ti’s wife (Tien) and his colleague (Lam).

Lily Lee

Shaken free of Lo’s remote-controlled adultery by a rightfully perplexed Ti, Lam’s subsequent race to rescue his own wife from Lo’s clutches ends rather poorly for both of them, leaving Ti to seek out the services of wily old wizard Yeung, who helps him break Tien’s spell by extracting live worms from the oozing sores on her back. After he loses a subsequent battle of the hex dolls with an agitated Lo, Yeung bequeaths his own eyeballs to the young hero, who’s not a little nauseated that he has to eat them to gain the arcane powers needed to take on Lo and his battalion of druid-robed zombies.

The increased budget is not only evident in the quality and abundance of the movie’s visceral special effects, including some fairly effective process work during the fiery finale, but also in soft, atmospheric lensing by Cho Wai-kei and an eerie, detail-rich production design by Chan Ging-sam that works as hard as the actors to play up the popular Hong Kong perception of Southeast Asian countries as literally crawling with all manner of evil and exotic threats. Definitely one of the all time great Hong Kong horror pictures, with a few bits of Yuen Cheung-yan’s martial arts play thrown in for good measure—dig that kooky fight atop the gondola lift— and a flavorful music score by Frankie Chan Fan-kei.

I'm told you can pick this up on DVD in Region 1 from Media Blasters some time in the Fall, but when I want to see a movie—especially one as hyped as this one has been over the years—I don't like to wait. And like others in the know, I grabbed a membership at www.jaman.com—a LEGAL online distributor of a phenomenal selection of international cinema—and downloaded it myself, an act all the more necessary when IVL/Celestial apparently withdrew it from their release schedule for some godforsaken reason. And while I'm glad I didn't wait, I'll still pick up the Media Blasters edition when it streets or better yet, when it inevitably ends up in one of their price-reduced three packs that follow about a year or so after they release the titles individually.