(A.k.a. GOU HUN JIANG TOU; REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES; BEWITCH TAME HEAD)
"The walking dead are the most deadly!".
Once the Shaw Brothers production house ramped up its move into the horror genre with 1975's BLACK MAGIC - a far more graphic foray into genre territory than their earlier releases such as THE GHOST LOVERS - they knew they were onto something. Its success was swiftly by this sequel, released a year later.
Director Meng Hua Ho returned to the fold, upping the ante significantly in the process. What transpired was one wacky film indeed ... and one that bears nothing in common, other than title, with its predecessor!
The film opens with a group of naked Asian women skinny-dipping in a murky river. One of them is attacked and eaten by an alligator. The horrified villagers enlist the help of a local shaman who stands on the river's bank, chants a bizarre spell and waits for the alligator to be drawn to him. Upon ensnaring the beast, the wizard slays it and rips open its stomach with a blade. Retrieving the bracelet of the eaten girl, he presents it to the villagers and calm is restored to their small community. The wizard wanders out of the village as the cheery opening title music begins - but he'll be back, later in the film ...
Then we cut to a city, where doctor Zhongping (Ti Lung) and his pretty wife Ciuling (Tanny) have just arrived to visit their friends, fellow doctor Zhensheng (Lam Wai Tiu) and his partner Margaret (Lily Li). As Zhensheng drives his friends through the city, it becomes clear that he has called upon his friend for professional help. Though vague, Zhensheng reveals that there have been a string of strange occurrences recently - and superstitious locals are attributing them to black magic. Zhongping is understandably both sceptical and intrigued - but will have to wait until the four of them reconvene for dinner at an exclusive club that evening before he can't find out more.
While on their evening out, Zhensheng reveals a little more: a succession of mystery illnesses and unexplained deaths have been troubling the community of late, with people regularly turning up at the local hospital suffering from strange growths emanating puss and the like.
The following morning, the oblivious Zhensheng gives cynical Zhongping a tour of his hospital. Patients suffer invariably from pulsating sores, legions of worms crawling over their skin, and so on. Yes, it's baffling, but Zhongping would still like to believe that there must be a rational, medical explanation to all of this. His superstitious friend is not so sure.
Unbeknownst to our medical men, the man responsible for all of this upset was also in the club the previous evening. He's called Kang Cong (Lo Lieh) and he entranced a showgirl, taking her back to his luxury home. He led her down to a secret chamber in his oversized basement, stripped her naked and then proceeded to tear a huge spike out of the top of her skull. This instantaneously prompted the pretty young woman to transform into an aged hag, and collapse to the floor dead.
When he's not pulling spikes out of zombies' craniums, Kang Cong's prone to conducting occult ceremonies in his secret chamber utilising the blood of his intended victims and voodoo dolls. He appears to be hypnotising women to become his zombie-like slaves, so he can put them through a ritual which will enable them to produce breast milk on demand - "the elixir of life" as he puts it, while explaining that he's retained his youth over several decades by drinking breast milk on a regular basis.
Kang Cong has managed to acquire a drop of Margaret's blood after she caught his eye the previous evening, and now she's starting to feel under the weather without knowing why. Zhongping and Zhensheng put their heads together, consult a few books, and eventually begin to agree that Margaret may be under the spell of a nefarious wizard. Which, oddly enough, is exactly what's happened ...
Margaret goes missing overnight. Once she returns, she's sickly grey and is suddenly heavily pregnant. The race is on for our heroes to save Margaret, discover whose spell she's under, and save the rest of the city - as the mystery ailments continue to spread.
Of course, our doctor heroes won't complain if a certain shaman wanders into the city to offer his own magical brand of assistance ...
BLACK MAGIC PART 2 is a crazy film. If the above synopsis seems a little all-over-the-place, that's because the plot is scatty from the off (I watched it three times to really get a grasp on what's going on). It hardly matters, because the pacing is so brisk and the set-pieces so frequent, that this more akin to the "absolute cinema" of THE BEYOND and INFERNO, where logic and storytelling are a poor second to spectacle and atmosphere.
To this end, BLACK MAGIC PART 2 is chock-full of visual flourishes, effective musical cues, heightened performances, stunning art design, and - of course - moments of utter madness. People burning trimmed pubes and drinking them as part of magic potions; folk swallowing freshly gouged eyeballs for spiritual energy; an alligator getting gutted for real (yes, this film contains moments of unsimulated animal violence); worms and green puss oozing out of open wounds; melting faces; dead cats hanging from trees; martial arts-practicing zombie attacks ... this film goes balls-out in its bid to rock its audience's senses.
Filled with interesting optical effects, weird camera angles, garish colours and outlandish characters (I haven't even mentioned the black magician's shrouded minions): BLACK MAGIC PART 2 is as competently shot and considered as it is utterly bonkers.
88 Films brings BLACK MAGIC 2 to UK blu-ray for the first time, on a region B-encoded disc.
Presented in full 1080p HD as an MPEG4-AVC file, this restored master respects the film's original 2.35:1 ratio. At 91 minutes and 57 seconds in length, the film comes to us in its fully uncut form. Picture quality is extremely attractive on this healthily sized MPEG4-AVC file. Colours are striking; images are sharp; light grain remains for that filmic vibe; blacks are stable throughout.
LPCM 1.0 audio comes in options of original Mandarin dialect and an English dub-track. The former is the preferred choice, obviously, though there's an undeniably fun element of trashiness to the latter. Both tracks are clean, clear and consistent propositions. Optional English subtitles well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection menu option.
On-disc extras are restricted to a splendid audio commentary track from DVD Maniacs/Rock! Shock! Pop! writer Ian Jane. He's got a highly listenable nature to him, while there's a fine balance of humour and detail contained within. Music from the film was sampled by rappers Beastie Boys and Wu Tang Clan; indigenous superstitions are examined; the film's distribution is dissected in satisfying fashion; locations are revealed; the plot is handily explained to some extent (believe me, that is useful); the cast's filmographies are given the once-over.
Jane's also not shy about discussing the film's use of real animal violence and offers his own views on the matter. It's a great listen, all in all.
We also get a 4-page colour collectors' booklet containing liner notes, which focus largely on how the film was marketed to American audiences. Reversible double-sided cover artwork is a welcome regular feature on 88 releases, and the trend continues here.
The first pressing of the blu-ray also comes with a collectible slipcase cover, reproducing the film's original striking Asian poster art.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|