Black Magic (1975)

BlackMagic_1Black Magic [降頭] (1975)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Tanny Tien Ni, Goo Man-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei, Yueh Hua, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High! I love black magic movies and this is basically where they all started!

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If only I had seen this a few years ago, I know I would have enjoyed it even more. As it is, Black Magic is a fun black magic romp, but it’s hard not to think of later films that go so far over the top that you forget just where the top was in the aftermath. But that’s no fault of Black Magic itself, and any self-respecting fan of black magic films owes it to themselves to check out the film that spawned countless imitators and an entire sub-genre of Hong Kong horror films.

Black Magic was written by notable Shaw scribe Ni Kuang, and within just the first few minutes his script sets out the basic formula for just about every black magic movie I’ve ever seen. A woman visits a black magic practitioner named Sha Jianmai (played expertly by Ku Feng), seeking revenge against her man who is cheating on her. She asks for a death curse on both her former sweetheart and his mistress, and Sha Jianmai is more than happy to oblige. Adulterous love (or as the opening text calls it “Excessive Sex”) is something that does not pay off in black magic movies. But after the spell has been wrought, a local practitioner of good magic is brought in to investigate the couple’s deaths. He looks about, says a few chants, and before you know it Sha Jianmai is slicing his tongue with a blade and pasting paper wards all over the walls of his shack, his blood smeared all over them.

BlackMagic_2The quickness that all this happened took me by surprise, as in later black magic films these battles between the forces of good and evil are more drawn-out and built up. They definitely don’t usually occur in the first act! But Black Magic wasn’t working with the collective knowledge of the black magic movie-going public; it had to set the scene, lay down the rules, inform its audience of exactly what type of shit they are dealing with. Only then does Black Magic move into its actual story.

Unfortunately, this story is a little too disjointed and slow-moving to rank the film as a major success, but in a film that features a scene with worms crawling under a woman’s skin, it’s hard not to forgive it its faults. No matter how it might have been tightened up, it’s undeniably a fun movie for those inclined to like something like this.  The battles between the magicians are great fun, and show a lot of promise for what later films like Bewitched would evolve them into. But these battles definitely stand tall on their own and add a lot of enjoyment to the film. I’d like to have seen more of them, but I respect that with Black Magic they weren’t quite ready to turn it up to 11. They were definitely aiming for more of a traditional film than the gory depths that the genre later descended into.

BlackMagic_3But no matter how fun the battles are, I’m afraid that many of the special FX (especially the ambitious ending) don’t look all that hot these days, so that will probably cause many to laugh at the film instead of laugh with it. Their loss. And besides, I’m pretty sure I heard that if you willfully laugh at a black magic movie your hair falls out on the first day, your fingernails on the second, and you die coughing up maggots and worms on the third. Maybe. I wouldn’t tempt fate if it were me, but you’re welcome to try and let me know what happens in the comments.

 

4 comments to Black Magic (1975)

  • Will you hate me if I say this one is a bit dry? I wish I had read your review before watching it. Knowing now that this was the beginning of the genre I can understand and accept it for not being all that amazing.

    I pretty much agree with you. The plot was a bit rambling and I wish it had gone more over the top with its creepy magic, so I was a bit disappointed. Still there were some great scenes, like the worms under the girl’s skin and that weird grave digging scene was fun, too. And I did love the whole tongue cutting paper ward scene. It reminded me of so many mystical themed anime titles that have very similar magic seals (though usually not smeared with blood). I suppose since that scene was right at the beginning of the film it got my hopes up a bit too much.

    I think this was probably the wrong place for me to jump into the genre. My expectations started out at eleven, so this one just didn’t connect with me that well. I’ll look into some of the more insane black magic movies and see if those are a better match for me.

    • Hahahaha, no I agree it’s kinda dry! If I knew you were thinking about watching this I probably would’ve suggested something else. But regardless, I’m excited you watched a Shaw Brothers movie! The sequel is a lot better than this one, and if I remember right it’s not specifically related to this one. Definitely don’t judge Hong Kong black magic movies on this one alone. I think the sequel and Boxer’s Omen are available as discs from Netflix. Unfortunately, my favorite one, Bewitched, is only on HK Region 3 DVD. Hopefully, someone brings it out over here! If you see Bewitched or The Boxer’s Omen and you say they’re dry, then I’ll start worrying about your sanity.

      Those Taoist wards show up in various forms in just about every HK horror movie (and I guess anime, too). I love them. They’re not usually used by the villain, so I’m guessing that by smearing his nasty, evil blood on them he was warding against the wards being used on him and his power. I haven’t seen it since I reviewed it, though. It’s coming to blu-ray in the UK, so I’m probably gonna get that and revisit it soon.

  • I’ll take a look at the sequel some time. But it takes me a while to get around to things so who knows when that’ll be. It looks like Boxer’s Omen is dead on Netflix now, though. I tossed it onto the saved list just in case a miracle happens and they restock it.

    I’m wondering if those paper wards are always yellow in HK films. The only other time I’ve seen a Chinese ward is the character Hsien Ko from the Darkstalkers games, and her ward is also yellow (it’s dangling from her hat in front of her face). The ones in anime (called ofuda) are always white, so maybe that’s just a difference between them in Japan and mainland Asia.

    • Hahaha, I know how it is, taking forever to get around to things. No worries, I’ll prepare some spells and continue simmering my crocodile intestines in the meantime.

      I looked into the Taoist wards (called Fu), and they are always written on yellow rice paper with red ink. It seems the Ofuda are a Shinto thing, so different religions/cultures. Neato!

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