Horror Bites - Ghost Fights Ghost

ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND (1980)


Built like an elephant, moves like a monkey; Sammo Hung. While only Jackie Chan could ever get away with saying this about his old friend, it's never been more true than here in a film where Sammo's fugitive rickshaw operator 'Bold Cheung' is possessed by the Monkey God in the final showdown. I'm not sure the kinds of things portrayed here ever happened in Journey to the West. Mixing both supernatural fantasy, horror and kung fu, it's often absurd and frequently spectacular. This is up there with his best martial arts adventures, and is probably tied with Odd Couple and Eastern Condors - which combined make for a good trilogy of different action flavours. But this is the month for ghoulish thrills, so we'll take a look at those on offer here.

Sometimes simply called Spooky Encounters, the western release title somehow fits more since this is a series of mishaps which befall a hard working guy while his employer and his wife have an affair behind his back. He comes across a few ghosts and more than one reanimated corpse, as well as other kinds of sorcery along the way. This is one of the early examples of the Chinese 'hopping dead' movies in which corpses (sometimes shown as vampires) are revived but are still stiff from rigour and have to jump around to attack. There's nothing else quite like it.

Flying burial urns and voodoo dolls also make appearances during the story which provides many good chuckles. The latter, which comes into play when Cheung's boss hires a magician to get rid of him creates some of the most intricate fight scenes. With his own arm under sinister influences he's forced to try and stop himself hitting tea house patrons Evil Dead II style. They even have the head over heels backflips and crockery smashing, which suggests it led to some inspiration. It's just as impressive here, and of course they add more gravity defying moves to the sequence. In terms of actual fights however this is actually quite restrained, and most of them are saved up until the third act.

Usually this would be a draw back for movies in this genre, but here it allows for the finale to be that much more spectacular. They throw all kinds of spells at the hero, and after framing him for murder he goes on the run only to come into more ghostly trouble. For the most part the zombies and spectres are pretty cheap looking, but it's all lit well enough to maintain the atmosphere. The flaky, grey skin is pretty neat in some shots but it's not ideal. However the make up isn't really the focus; evoking the powers of evil is the major element. The constant chanting by the evil wizard as he uses all kinds of incantations is ridiculous and sounds nothing like a real language, but it keeps silly tone going.

His ritual black magic does include a few ingredients which the squeamish won't enjoy as chicken blood is drawn (on camera) to send the occupant of an unburied coffin to kill Cheung. His new acquaintance, a morally upstanding wizard decides to help by interfering. However even his tricks use some odd things like dog blood (off camera). It's brief but the culture shock is still very real. The same thing can be said of the very last scene where Cheung's cheating wife tries to lie her way out of the aftermath, only to receive some physical punishment after he almost believes her. The standard Hong Kong movie freeze frame ending will leave some not knowing whether to laugh or not, even if she probably deserved it for ruining several lives.

Ultimately the questionable inclusions are very minor in the grand scheme of things. The big wizard face off is well worth waiting for as they set up towering altars, both trying to reach more power by being closer to the heavens. Their use of flamethrower magic impressive, as are the martial arts as they use the other characters to fight by proxy. A variety of immortals are summoned to do this and the mixture of weapon styles allows for both changes in the fighting moves and in the mythic characters being played. The high pitched sped up voices of the spirits speaking through them is very silly, but so was much of the movie which proceeded it. If you need a mixture of hair raising stunts, Eastern folklore and bizarre characters then look no further.

4/5