Friday, August 17, 2007

Return of the Demon / Mo gao yi zhang (Ying Wong, 1987)

This 1987 Hong Kong film wastes no time getting started. By the end of the first ten minutes our heroes; a treasure-hunting brother and sister (the appropriately named Fierce--played by the always mean-looking Feng Shui On--and Panther) team and their cross-eyed locksmith partner are hot on the trail of a demon, being led by a monk who’s shared souls with a dog and his apprentice.

The demon is one bad mofo who has a penchant for eating brains and he gets them, plentiful and fresh, from hapless victims courtesy of some nifty spike-lined headbands. By killing forty people born in the “Hoi” year, he’ll be resurrected. Not that he’s having much trouble walking and talking, it’s just that his complexion could use some help. That is, my boy is losing flesh in a hurry.

Despite how malevolent the demon might be, the real threat to our protagonists comes from the local magistrate, a sadistic bastard who thinks our heroes are the brain snatchers and whose law enforcement techniques might make the L.A.P.D. wince. When he’s not beating our heroine for being “flirtatious” he likes to pit one prisoner against the other in a “game” played with nooses, pulleys and iron weights.

Just when the pace of the film appears to be slowing after an extended escape scene, our heroes take refuge in an abandoned house so the monk can meditate the dog out of his system. It’s here where they encounter a horny ghost who fancies the virgin monk. When she’s rebuffed she decides to tease the two hundred eighty year old practitioner of “the egg technique” – a method in which not eating or breaking eggs ensures longevity. Trapped in a room lined with eggs, each step adds four years to the monk’s life. By the time his young apprentice finally realizes that his master’s screams are of terror and not ecstasy (it’d be tough for anyone to resist such a hot ghost), the holy man hosts a head of silver hair.

By now, it’s time for the demon to reappear and kick the story into gear again. He steals the soul of the Hoi-born locksmith and kidnaps Panther, leading the rest of our heroes to his tunnel-ridden/undead populated lair for the final showdown. The demon’s zombie army proves that reanimated corpses don’t have to be slow. These soulless minions would beat George Romero’s zombies in a track meet any day, helping to make them all the more scary!

With such a bland title and rather uninteresting cover box, this is a true gem uncovered. RETURN OF THE DEMON is often overlooked due to its lack of a major star and squirrelly antagonist (the demon may leap like The Hulk at times, but he’s no hopping vampire, and his motivations for evil aren’t fully founded). The film really keeps its audience on its toes, never really deciding whether it wants to be a blood-drenched horror film or a slapstick comedy. That is neither a complaint nor a criticism for it doesn’t matter which genre it sides with since it delivers the goods in both categories!

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