The Ghost Lovers (1974)

The Ghost Lovers [艷女還魂] (1974)
AKA A Woman with Half Soul

Starring Li Ching, Lam Wai-Tiu, Kim Mu-Yeong, Joo Yong, Chan Mei-Hua, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Wong Ching-Ho, James Ma Chim-Si, Hung Sing-Chung, Fung Ging-Man

Directed by Shin Sang-Ok

Expectations: Moderate.


A title like The Ghost Lovers signals a horror film with a softer edge, and this is definitely the case. It’s not so much a horror film as it is a supernatural drama, although there are lots of good scares and frightful images peppered through the film. I expected this to be the case so I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t ready for how the film would twist the traditional ghost narrative into something unique. The film begins rather straightforward, but as the tragedy of the situations deepen the whole thing sort of flips in on itself. It’s hard to describe without spoiling it, and maybe even drawing attention to this point will diminish its power a bit, but it worked on me and hopefully it’ll work on you, too.

Song Lian-Hua (Li Ching) lies deathly ill in her bed, surrounded by her wet nurse and her family. Song has been betrothed to Han Shi-Long (Lam Wai-Tiu) since they were children, but they haven’t seen each other since. Han’s father was once governor of their town, but was forced to flee after his name was illegitimately slandered and they lost everything. With Song’s condition worsening, they send for Han to visit Song before she dies, but when the messenger returns he says that Han set out two days prior and should have already arrived! Promptly thereafter, Song Lian-Hua dies and it would seem that these star-crossed lovers were doomed to never meet (and Li Ching never to utter a single line in a film she stars in!)

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Little Ghost (1997)

littleghost_1Starring Jameson Baltes, Kristina Wayborn, Jim Fitzpatrick, Trishalee Hardy, Luc Leestemaker, Laura Bruneau, Rudy Rosenfeld

Directed by Linda Shayne

Expectations: I don’t know. Not much.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Of all the Moonbeam films I’ve seen, Little Ghost is one of the most boring. It’s not a bad movie — it’s actually quite charming and sweet — but not that much of interest happens. I’m used to the Moonbeam films being chock full of weirdness and material that most parents would find questionable in a kids movie. Little Ghost doesn’t really have either, so if nothing else it’s different! But in actuality Little Ghost is super predictable, which is ironic given the line of narration that closes the film, “Things never turn out the way you think they will and that’s the fun of it.” B-B-B-But this was a super predictable movie and that was definitely not fun! Hahahaha, whatever, despite these clear issues, Little Ghost is still pretty watchable. Now that’s a resounding endorsement! Feel free to put that on the DVD cover if you ever release it, Full Moon!

Kevin (Jameson Baltes) and his mom Christine (Kristina Wayborn) used to be close, but now Christine’s got a new boyfriend, Tony (Jim Fitzpatrick), who’s manipulating her into opening a resort spa in a Slovenian castle. Yeah, really! But it’s not such an oddity, is it? I know when I’m picking out a spa to visit, I always consider the quality of its medieval masonry. 🙂 Parallel to this story, Kevin explores the castle and makes friends with the ghost of young Sophia (Trishalee Hardy). She once lived in the castle with her mother, who’s left her there to guard it from evil outsiders who would seek to desecrate it. But she’s just a little ghost, and for some unexplained reason (hint: because it’s a movie) she’s unable to do much more that simple parlor tricks like possessing the lawnmower or throwing tomatoes at Tony.

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Hex After Hex (1982)

HexAfterHex_1Hex After Hex [邪完再邪] (1982)

Starring Lo Meng, Nancy Lau Nam-Kai, Lau Dan, Cheng Siu-Ping, Lo Yuen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Lau Siu-Kwan, Law Ho-Kai, Yue Tau-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Hex After Hex is the final film of the Hex trilogy (which isn’t actually a trilogy), and it’s surprisingly related in a very small way to the previous film in the series, Hex vs. Witchcraft. Like that film, Hex After Hex is more comedy than horror, but here the ratios have been further adjusted so that it’s almost all comedy for most of the movie. A lot of this comedy comes by way of ghost shenanigans, but there’s also a heavy dose of strange and wacky natural occurrences — for instance: Lo Meng lotioning up his nipples, or saving his blow-up doll from a building’s demolition. There’s so many quick little moments like this that I’ll need another run through the film to really appreciate them.

As you might expect in a film featuring such madcap energy, the story in Hex After Hex doesn’t matter much (to the viewers or the filmmakers). The film opens with Ma Su (Lo Meng), the muscular neighbor of the main character in Hex vs. Witchcraft, finding the same bag of golden jewelry that kicked off the supernatural hijinks in that film. Once again, the bag also contains the spiritual tablet of Liu Ah Cui, but this time Ma Su flatly refuses to marry the spirit. He has no interest in marrying a ghost and money does not persuade him. Not to be thrown out in the cold, the spirit of Liu Ah Cui decides to take over the body of a different neighbor’s girlfriend, Yeung Suk Yi (Nancy Lau Nam-Kai), and seduce Ma Su. It works, and they spend a good portion of the film moving from one problem to the next, the ghost graciously getting them out of harm’s way as only she can. A series of hijinks with a flimsy plot isn’t such a bad thing because it’s all fun, but I have to admit that without any sense of purpose it does get a little tiresome after a while.

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Hex (1980)

Hex+1980-2-bHex [] (1980)

Starring Tanny Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si-Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Hon Gwok-Choi, Yue Tau-Wan, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Wong Ching-Ho, Yau Chui-Ling, Wong Siu-Ming

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High.

twohalfstar


Hong Kong horror films hold a special place in my heart, so it was with uncontainable glee that I started Kuei Chih-Hung’s Hex. But there were two flaws in my basic knowledge of the film that hampered my enjoyment a bit. First, I had assumed it was a black magic film set in the modern era, and second, Hex is way more laid back and reserved compared to some of Kuei’s other films (notably Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). Knowing these things would have helped get me into the right frame of mind for what is ultimately a Hong Kong version of the French classic Diabolique with a bunch of ghost hauntings and the parade of variously colored bodily fluids normally associated with the Hong Kong horror genre.

The film opens with a first-person camera introducing us to the setting of our film: a mansion owned by the illustrious Chan family. The narrator explains that when hard times fell on the Chans, they were forced to arrange a marriage for their daughter Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni). Her new husband, Yeung Chun Yu (Wong Yung), comes to live at the family mansion, but prosperity does not follow. Soon they are down to one servant, and the marriage between Chan and Yeung is equally threadbare. They are locked into it, though, due to the marriage being drawn up under the feudal laws which do not allow for divorce. Chan has become horribly ill, and Yeung takes out all of his aggression on Chan and their servant. He’s an incredibly violent dickhead of a character, which always gets me excited for the tables to turn so that he can get his comeuppance.

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House (1977)

house_6House [ハウス Hausu] (1977)

Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Expectations: Very high. A foreign cult movie with a Criterion release? OK!

On the general scale:
threestar

On the WTF-movie scale:
fourstar


In the name of all that is right and good in the world, what did I just watch? Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is a surreal masterpiece that is constantly taking you off-guard with odd juxtapositions and abstract composition. Not to mention all the nutso goings-on.  It’s got to be one of the most unusual horror movies ever made, so much so that it barely resembles a horror film most of the time. A near-complete subversion of the genre, House is definitely a film worthy of a look, especially for those that dig surreal cinema, Japanese WTF cinema, or white, fluffy cats.

At the base of all that surrealism is one of the most traditional horror stories in the book. Seven schoolgirls are off on summer vacation, and after their initial plans go awry, they all decide to visit Gorgeous’s aunt. Gorgeous’s mother died many years ago, and she hopes that by reconnecting with her aunt she can feel a bit closer to her. When the girls arrive in the hometown of Gorgeous’s mother, they find that their destination is a huge mansion on the top of a hill. And it’s a spooky looking mansion, too.

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Mama (2013)

mama_1Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox, Dominic Cuzzocrea, Christopher Marren

Directed by Andrés Muschietti

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


If I were to judge movies solely on how much they entertained me, then Mama would rank pretty high. Not at the level of a favorite, or even a great experience, but one that simply does its job and delivers the fun supernatural thrills I’m looking for in a ghost story. The plot isn’t all that hard to figure out if you’ve seen any previous ghost story, but the creepy tactics it uses to sell itself were more than enough to win me over. I rarely get scared anymore during these kinds of films, but even after I had turned the lights back on after the movie I was still twisting my head to look behind me, convinced that Mama was there to swallow my soul.

The film opens during the 2008 financial crisis that swept the US, and one man affected by it has snapped. He kills his wife and drives away on icy, dangerous roads with his two young daughters. Their car goes over an embankment, but they survive and seek refuge in an old cabin in the woods. He clearly isn’t a horror movie fan, as you know as well as I do that you should generally turn around if you encounter a creepy old cabin in the middle of nowhere. Ah, but if they did, we wouldn’t have a film! From here, the story goes into an unexpected but fun direction, but I will say no more. In a film that hits a lot of the same notes as many other ghost stories, you need to know the least amount possible so that the film is able to play with all the cards in its deck.

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