Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Black Magic (1975)

As I may have mentioned before, I saw a few crazy Hong Kong martial arts films when I was a kid. Most of them are long forgotten now. I couldn’t even tell you what their names were. I am, however, pretty sure that Black Magic (1975) was not one of them. For one thing, it’s not a martial arts film. It’s more of a weird horror film, with sorcery and… black magic.

Poster for Black Magic (1975)The description that I quoted on twitter is not completely accurate. It’s not about an evil magician making a living by casting deadly spells on people’s objects of desire. More correctly, it’s about an evil magician making a living by casting love spells on people’s objects of desire. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? He does also cast deadly spells, but those tend to be on people’s enemies, not their objects of desire.

Like I said, I had never seen this movie, and I really didn’t know much about it. So, I had no previous relationship with it. I had no feelings of nostalgia. I went in completely neutral. And…

…I liked it. Quite a lot, actually. I found it to be completely bonkers in that thoroughly entertaining way. It made me want to see the sequel, as well as other movies of its ilk. One of my Twitter friends recommended something called The Boxer’s Omen (1983). I know nothing about that movie, but I am adding it to my watch list.

I was going to spend some time talking about my early experiences watching Hong Kong and other Asian horror films, but due to some unforeseen difficulties at the home drive-in, I’m going to have to keep this one short. I shall have to save those stories for some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Until then, I recommend Black Magic (1975) to anyone who has a taste for Hong Kong horror, with a touch of #NotQuiteClassicCinema madness, that really delivers the fun.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Cannibal Curse (1988)

Several years ago, I went into a used bookstore with a friend of mine. It turned out that the store was owned by a guy I kind of knew from a radio drama workshop we had been in together a few years earlier. I was a university student at the time, but the workshop was organized by one of the professional theatres in town. As students of theatre, we could get credit for taking courses at this theatre, which is how I wound up there. I also had the kind of voice that often inspired people to tell me that I should go into radio. So, I figured what the hell?

A couple of the other people taking the workshop were from the university, but the vast majority of them were much older. I would say that they were hard core radio fans. And by radio, I don’t mean people who listened to music on the many rock, pop and country stations, as I did all the time. I mean people who listened to the CBC – or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for those who don’t know. The CBC was full of programming like news, interviews, call in shows, and radio dramas (which could sometimes be comical, rather than serious, but were always referred to as dramas). The person teaching the radio drama workshop was in fact a well known CBC radio personality. I think this is why most of the people had signed up for the course. And one of those people was the guy who owned the bookstore that my friend and I stumbled into one rainy afternoon.

He recognized me right away and was super friendly. While I answered his questions about what I was doing these days, my friend found a table with a bunch of posters on it. They were movie posters, but not for any movies that he or I had ever seen (or even heard of). They appeared to be Asian, although neither of us could have even said which specific country they were from.

“I got those from a guy who used to run a theatre,” my former radio drama colleague told us. “If you’re interested in them, I’ll give you a deal!”

I don’t remember what kind of deal he offered us, but it must have been a good one because we took it. We each brought home a pile of posters that day. It’s a funny thing to own posters for movies that you have never seen. You want to display them, because they look cool, but you’re not sure if you should because you haven’t seen the movies and you’re not sure if they’re any good. One thing is certain, we both became very interested in tracking down these movies and watching them.

For years I couldn’t find any trace of these films. Books like Asian Cult Cinema didn’t seem to include most of them, although I started to suspect that the titles of the movies could have been changed multiple times, for different markets. Once the internet became a thing, I tried searching there. At first I found nothing. But every couple of years I would give it another try. Eventually I found a couple of movies I could download. One of them was called Exposed To Danger (1982). The posters that we had (and I believe we had two different variations) made it look like a Women In Prison film. Unfortunately, I can’t find either of those posters online. According to the Hong Kong Movie Data Base, Exposed To Danger is a thriller from Taiwan.

This is the only poster I can find online for Exposed To Danger (1982). Not sure what genre it’s trying to look like, but it’s not Women In Prison. Our posters are a lot cooler looking, by the way…

The movie starts off with a woman arriving somewhere on a boat. As she walks along the beach, she witnesses some kids attacking a turtle. This causes her to have flashbacks of being abused in a women’s prison (and my friend and I immediately recognized the images from the posters we had purchased all those years ago). Unfortunately, those flashbacks end and the movie goes on (and on and on) with no further Women In Prison action. I can’t really tell you what that movie was about, but a few other people have reviewed it online. It sounds like it might be closer to a slasher film of some sort, although the slasher action doesn’t really start until the last half hour.

My friend and I lost interest in trying to follow the plot because of one technical oddity: the copy of the movie that I had downloaded and burned to DVD seemed to have four different languages on it – two sets of subtitles and two audio tracks – and they were all playing at once. I figured that I had made a mistake and somehow chose to turn them all on before I burned the disk. In any case, it was extremely distracting and became quite hilarious to us. We wound up laughing hysterically while the movie played in the background. To be honest, it came at the end of an all day movie marathon and I’m not even sure if we actually finished it. If there was a grim slasher story playing out, we missed it.

Fast forward a few years (to last Friday), and I discovered a DVD in my collection that featured a movie called Cannibal Curse (1988). It is an actual manufactured DVD that I purchased somewhere in my travels. I knew nothing about it, but the movie was described as this:

“A woman tries to attract her reincarnated lover from her previous life but eventually turns to the aid of an evil sorcerer who rules over a tribe of cannibal midgets.”

Call me crazy, but it sounded like a perfect candidate for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I popped the disk into the player and sat back with a bag of popcorn ready to enjoy some crazy Hong Kong action/horror. Within the first few minutes I was laughing in disbelief. This brand new, manufactured DVD was doing the same thing that my cheap downloaded movie did several years ago: four languages – two sets of subtitles and two audio tracks – all playing at once. And there was no way to turn any of them off. I started to wonder if this was how the movie had been distributed back in the day. They knew it was going to several different markets, and they were too cheap to make four different prints, so they just put all four languages onto the one print. And now the cheapskate distributor of the DVD simply transferred the old print onto DVD.

This is, of course, pure speculation. But you know what? I kind of liked the movie this way. Maybe it was nostalgia for the experience my friend and I had had with Exposed To Danger. Maybe it just added to the zaniness of Cannibal Curse. I don’t know. The reviews I could find were all pretty negative. Asian Cult Cinema gives it one star and says “The story is preposterous and the acting is abysmal.” The movie is listed under the title Curse in there, by the way. It’s also known as Virgin’s Curse.

I suppose Cannibal Curse is a bad movie, but I found it to be strangely entertaining. Maybe my expectations had been sufficiently lowered by the online reviews I had seen prior to watching it (“Incredibly bad Hong Kong flick..” one guy says.). Maybe the quadruple linguistic assault elevated the experience for me. Who knows? The important thing is that Cannibal Curse (1988) is an example of a kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I don’t explore as often. The unique and sometimes wonderful world of Asian horror/action/exploitation cinema. And Cannibal Curse is an example of all three of those things. I know that there are others lurking in my library somewhere, waiting to be discovered. And I shall look forward to unearthing them on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.