Hong Kong 1980
Directed by Kuei Chih-hung.

Cross, double-cross, and revenge from beyond the grave is the name of the game in this Chinese adaptation of the standard TALES FROM THE CRYPT storyline. Although you may not guess the secret of HEX until the end, you will come away learning one thing -- for your next bachelor party, forget the strippers -- hire an exorcist!

The old story of a drunken, nasty husband (Wang Rong) who hates his sickly wife (Tien Ni) for being impovershed. A servant arrives (Chan Si Kai) to help take care of her, but is abused for her troubles. The two women eventually conspire to kill him by drowning. Arthouse film lovers may see it as a shabby rehash of the French thriller DIABOLIQUE (1955), but when the shambling undead show up, I prefer to think of it as a cross cultural adaptation from an EC Comic. Probably it is a little of both.

Something that is neither in the comic nor in DIABOLIQUE, though, is the exorcism that ends the film. Lam Ching-Ying never busted ghosts like this. Basically this exorcism involves beating a fully naked, full figured dancer with the sole of a shoe while she writhes around moaning and doing a floor show much like those always presented before the King in Italian Hercules pictures. Later, the exorcist spits blood all over her breasts, and later still, in a direct steal from the Japanese film KWAIDAN (1964), writes in calligraphy all over a buck naked Chan Si Kai and her stunt breasts (At least, her chest was never in the same shot as her face, so I assume they were called in to handle the potentially dangerous scene). Clearly, I am in the wrong business.

Director Kuei Chih-hung's gritty, raw style, as exemplified in pictures such as THE DELINQUENT (1973), KILLER SNAKES (1974), and THE TEAHOUSE (1974), is comprimised by the setbound action of HEX, which essentially takes place in a single house, and the fact that it is a period piece, and does not take place amid the filth, poverty, and decay of 1970s urban Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, there are several gruesome murders, a talking decapitated head, and decaying corpses that get up and move around. Some good scares and a clever script with some surprises (and some gaping holes) were enough to keep my interest most of the time. Not among the best of the Shaw Brothers horror films, but Chinese horror fans will definitely want to check it out.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 18, 2004.

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