Uncle Jasper reviews: Oily Maniac (1976)

Oily Maniac [油鬼子] (1976)

Starring Danny Lee, Chen Ping, Lily Li Li-Li, Wa Lun, Wong Hap, Tung Lam, Ku Feng, Lau Wai-Ling, Angela Yu Chien

Directed By Ho Meng-Hua


 

This story is a rewrite of a Nanyang tall tale. It bears the moral that justice does prevail.

It also bears the moral that sexually frustrated polio victims / oil slick monsters do not take kindly to rapists, rape victims, or loose women wishing to be raped. The Oily Maniac is like a delirious cross between The Toxic Avenger, Death Wish, and Psycho. Danny Lee plays Ah Yung, a man rendered virtually impotent by his exposure to polio years prior. Now hobbling along on crutches, he is rejected by Yue, the woman he had long been carrying a torch for. In classic Shaw Brothers melodramatic fashion, he leaves her home amidst poring rain, turning back to steal one last glance through her window only to find Yue half-naked making love to her virile new partner.

Sent into a rage filled shitstorm, Ah Yung visits his uncle, who is on death row about to be executed the following day. He reveals an awesome back tattoo to Ah Yung, which he demands be copied down on paper, as it is a secret recipe for a spell which can grant superhuman strength. The woefully pathetic Ah Yung figures he has nothing to lose, picks up a pickaxe and begins digging away in the middle of his living room, which was built on a sacred burial ground or something. He proceeds to sit in the large hole, which instantly fills up with oil, transforming him into… The Oily Maniac!

From here on out the film uses the monster as a device to brutally murder and destroy pretty much anything even vaguely reminding Ah Yung of his own inadequacies. Sexual deviants, whores, abortion doctors, and plastic surgeons all meet their ends (primarily by a good ol’ oil-soaked curb stomping) as the oily maniac slithers up walls, along roads, and even on water to stalk his victims.

This film is stuffed to the brim with images of sexual angst, frustrations, and miserable musings on impotency. I could get all artsy and say that Ah Yung’s transformation into the Oily Maniac is a manifestation of his inability to function in bed… which would not be wrong. But I don’t want to take too much away from the delightfully kitschy, purely surface aesthetics that this film delivers. When dealing with a movie about a monster that looks like a pile of watery dookie with glowing eyes it’s best to not dig too deep into the realm of film-snobbery.

Although the monster is obviously just a guy in a rubber suit, I’m not gonna knock it too much. It actually doesn’t look half bad with its slimy, oil slicked surface and beating heart that peeks out from beneath its shadowy exterior. I watch Shaw Bros films knowing that I’m not gonna get state of the art special FX, in fact, often times I watch them for that very reason. I’m sure other reviewers are gonna rip on the costume for a few paragraphs in order to beef up their reviews, but if you’re watching these films in the first place I’m here to break it to you that you’re barking up the wrong tree. Transformation sequences are your typical slow shot dissolves, but with a twist. While your average Bruce Banner or Dr. Jekyll only needs a fiery rage to bring on their savage alter egos, Ah Yung needs the requisite bad temper in addition to a healthy dousing of oil. This leads to a few moments of fantastic cinema with Danny Lee dousing himself from head to toe with a gas station pump, or roaming roadside construction areas hunting down buckets of oil to pour over his head. Can you say it with me now?… only in Shaw Studios!

Breast connoisseurs will find themselves in titty heaven here as the Oily Maniac manages to outdo any previous Shaw exploitation flick in terms of a raw boob-count. Literally every female to appear on-screen manages to have her blouse torn open at one moment or another (With the exception of A-list actress Lily Li) whether it be by a sweaty rapist or a horny boyfriend with impatient fingers. Knowing that sheer breast volume is not enough to elevate this film into the upper echelon of Shaw exploitation classics, The Oily Maniac manages to take it a step further, pleasing a new breed of fetishists that I didn’t even know existed by displaying a hideously deformed boob, courtesy of a botched breast augmentation.

Ho Meng-Hua offers up a few great moments here, but the film ultimately fails due to pacing issues and a languid lack of focus. After graduating from swordplay epics in the late 60s he seemed to make a name for himself in the realm of the bizarre. Favorites like Black Magic and The Mighty Peking Man proved that he had the talent, but despite the great concept here, it seems like this one was mailed in. Danny Lee is another one who seemed to find a niche in the Shaw Studios for only the most offbeat productions. He always has a charming screen presence although he’s not much of a diverse actor, which is only amplified by the one-dimensional, rage driven performance he turns in here. One thing this film does have going for it is its shameless and repeated pilfering of John Williams theme music from Jaws. I never got tired of watching the Oily Maniac jump out of nowhere in slow motion to those tense and familiar strings.

Regardless of its many flaws the film is still worth your time, because… and let’s face it, it’s a movie about a crippled guy that turns into a big oil monster. Although the subtext is here, it translates into nothing more than a few brutal oil-laced beat downs and some tormented wincing into the camera.

And titties… a whole lot of titties.

7 comments to Uncle Jasper reviews: Oily Maniac (1976)

  • dangerous meredith

    Only in Shaw Brothers indeed! God bless them.

    As a hetero lassie, the boob fest aspects of this film don’t hold much allure for me. But otherwise it sounds like fun. Glad to hear that the Hong Kong tradition of plagiarising Holloywood film scores has been upheld so wonderfully.

    My only question is about the title, which, in English, is marvellous. But is ‘The Oily Maniac’ a literal translation of the Chinese title and, if so, does it sound as bizarre as it does in English (if you know what I mean?)

    • Uncle Jasper

      Yeah. I’ve always felt that Shaw Bros martial arts films had this moral innocence to them aside from the blood and violence. Whenever I watch one of their horror or gangster films it’s always the exact opposite, with tons of nudity and massive sexual undertones pinning the film together. Definitely amusing.

      The Jaws theme is really used to great effect here. Not only did these guys shamelessly pilfer film music from Hollywood films, but they were notorious for recycling music from their own library as well. I think I’ve heard the theme music from Two Champions of Shaolin in at least 15 other Shaw films.

      As for the title, I’m pretty sure it translates into Oil Devil or something like that. Definitely not bad, but man, I love the English title. It just rolls right off the tounge!

  • Nice review. I was really happy to see you note the similarity to the Toxic Avenger as I was thinking the same thing while watching it. He even does a Toxie-style head stomping!

    You could easily rip apart those FX, but honestly I thought they were fantastic and fit the movie really well. I really liked when he would go into an oil puddle and traverse the walls and ceilings and then reform into a jump. So fun.

    It was definitely less entertaining than I expected, but I still got a big kick out of it.

    • Uncle Jasper

      Oh man yeah! Those matte shots of him sliding around in liquid form were great! And what an entrance he made when transforming back to humanoid form! Fucking Jaws music, slo-mo leaps, and an ear piercing RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWRRRRR!!

  • Great review, and great site! Like you, I also appreciated the comical oil-dousing scenes as our frustrated hero transformed himself!

    If you are interested, I’ve just published my own review of this fine film here on the Gweilo’s Guide to Hong Kong Movies.

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