Hou wang da zhan tian bing tian jiang (1979)

Monkey King With 72 Magic is another take on Journey to the West and as you may have learned this week, that means monsters against our hero Monkey King (Ting Wa-Chung). This one takes place before that, so you’ll learn how he was born from a large stone on the mythical Flower Fruit Mountain and tells how he led an army of other ape children.

The title refers to the 72 forms that Monkey King can transform into and you’ll see all of them — and one more because Yang Chien (Lung Siu Fei) knows 73 different arts — in a wild battle scene. There’s also a scene where the Monkey King transforms into the wackiest looking octopus ever. Thanks to Die Danger Die Die Kill, I now know that these effects come from Gozo Matsui who also made the gigantic reptilian menace in King of Snake.

Monkey goes to Heaven, steals some magical peaches and gets pursued by all manner of celestial avengers, including the wheels-on-magical feet adversary Na Cha (a male character played by female actress Liu Chuan Hua). Yes, this is a movie where a monkey goes absolutely wild and makes a mess out of Heaven and needs to be admonished by Buddha.

Taiwan, never change. I mean, you probably have changed a great deal since 1979, but I just saw a Wuxia puppet movie from there, Demigod: The Legend Begins and the art of making movie drugs martial arts fantasy movies with animal heroes and villains is still strong.

You can watch this on YouTube.

FANTASTIC FEST 2022: Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012)

Tutor and rocker Neil Stuart (co-writer Matt Farley) has returned to the small New England city of Rivertown that he left in disgrace after growing obsessed by a riverbeast. His fiancee is marrying someone else. His enemy, reporter Sparky Watts, is still hounding him to no end. And maybe his new student, the daughter of a noted pro athlete Frank Stone, has way too many questions. But this time, he just might turn his life around. And you know, prove that the creek-living creature is an actual thing.

I’ve been indulging in director Charles Roxburgh and his writing partner Farley’s movies and realizing that so often, I wish that I could see films that I really love again for the first time. This is that chance for me, as I’m absolutely tuned into everything in this movie, which is at once a 50s drive-in film that has talking moments that usually cover for the lack of action but here, the action is in the long conversations and songs and not in the creature rising from the river. Also: I absolutely am stunned by the William Castle-style opening and strobe warning of when the beast comes out to kill.

This movie hits so many topics like rudeness at wedding receptions, longing for lost love, the miracles of cat litter, local conspiracies driven by a hunch and, yes, cryptozoological menace. It also feels like sitting down and hearing a shaggy dog version of a story by your drunk or high best friend instead of actually getting to see the movie, except you totally get to see the movie.

Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You! is playing as part of the Burnt Ends part of Fantastic Fest. This is part of Molten Media, which has produced independent feature films since the late 1990s. According to Fantastic Fest, “the idiosyncratic cinema of Charles Roxburgh and Matt Farley pay homage to the regional low budget horror films of the late 1970s and early 1980s as they unravel bizarre tales set in and around lightly-fictionalized small New England towns. Akin to the manner in which John Waters and Kevin Smith cultivated their cult universes out of tight-knit communities of vivid personalities, Charlie and Farley’s films imagine a unique portrait of Americana as they recruit an eccentric ensemble of folksy friends and family to endearingly perform the offbeat vernaculars and campy melodrama of their wittily verbose scripts.”

Fantastic Fest Burnt Ends has awarded the filmmakers with the first annual Golden Spatula in recognition of their creative spirit, and a partial retrospective of their inventive catalog which includes Local Legends, Metal Detector Maniac and the world premiere of a special 2k restoration of their autumnal slasher Freaky Farley as well as more contemporary works which pursue a distinct, but just as wonderfully eclectic and wry comic sensibility.

You can get a virtual badge here.

You can also buy this on blu ray from Gold Ninja Video.

FANTASTIC FEST 2022: Demigod: The Legend Begins (2022)

PILI has been playing on TV in Taiwan since the 1984 and it looks wild to Western eyes, an example of Taiwanese art of bùdàixì glove puppetry. Unlike traditional puppetry, PILI uses computer-generated imagery during its action sequences. Also, in case you didn’t pick up on it from the movies on the site this week, Taiwan does some absolutely berserk wuxia films.

Demigod: The Legend Begins is the origin story for one of its most popular characters, Su Huan-jen. Not yet a powerful warrior but just a student, he seeks to escape the obligations and debt that he owes to the local librarian. Using his acupuncture skills, Huan-jen barely gets by. But when he has the chance to heal the Lord of Globe Castle, he gets to see the rich man’s sacred library as well as get involved in a war between humanity and the celestial kingdoms beyond mortal men. And when Su Huan-jen is framed for the lord’s murder, his own life is on the line in the midst of all this spiritual warfare.

Director Chris Huang Wen Chang and writers Huang Liang-hsun and He Yuan-yu have created a movie that looks astounding but has a story that makes you forget that you’re just watching puppets in action. They become living characters and draw you in. There’s nothing else I’ve seen like this and I can’t wait to hunt down more of this.

You can watch Demigod: The Legend Begins with a Fantastic Fest virtual badge here.

MIKE JUSTICE’S TOP 10 FAVORITE TRASHY 90’S THRILLERS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Justice is the only illegitimate offspring born of a short-lived union between a frustrated English horror movie star and an American film festival groupie. His legacy, therefore, is to obsessively pursue a litany of ill-defined ambitions in the industry (editor, director, actor) while also falling hard and fast for anything with an accent and/or mutton chops. Fortunately, he’s pretty good at distilling his various fizzles, faux pas, and let-downs into uproariously absurd, snarky tales filled with wit, wisdom, and (sometimes) redemption.

Mike is also one of my favorite people and his top ten lists on Facebook deserve to be preserved as much as this digital website can preserve his words. I am so happy that he has allowed them to be reprinted here. You can follow Mike on Facebook

 

10. Body of Evidence (1993): Nothing like 2022 to make one nostalgic for a more innocent era of sex, murder, courtrooms, and bondage. My TOP 10 FAVORITE TRASHY 90’s THRILLER marathon starts with Body of Evidence, a Basic Instinct ripoff starring Madonna as a Portland art gallery owner on trial for fucking people to death. Willem Defoe headlines opposite as her boy-toy lawyer who can’t resist her monotone charms. Julianne Moore co-stars as Defoe’s wife who we recognize as an authentic and tragic figure because she’s not blond. Even tacky thriller royalty Anne Archer turns up for a minute to snarl, “I wanted to keep my job—that didn’t include telling him his girlfriend was a coke-head slut!” Other choice lines of dramatic intrigue include: “It’s not a crime to be a great lay!” “Can you really screw someone to death?” and “She’s a killer, and the worst kind. A killer who disguised herself as a loving partner!”

9. Mother’s Boys (1993):  A Hand That Rocks the Cradle-inspired “suspense shocker” starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a Betty Broderick-esque mother from hell who’ll stop at nothing to reunite with the family she stomped out on three years earlier (especially her creepy Edward Furlong-knockoff son who she’s got the hots for). Since nobody’s interested in reconnecting with her crazy ass, she settles for terrorizing them instead. Scheming, chain-smoking, frog stabbing, forehead slashing, Volvo spray painting, attempted dog murder, attempted Vanessa Redgrave murder, and incestuous bubble baths ensue. The New York Times denounced it as a “confusing, fifth-rate imitation of Fatal Attraction” but Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said it was “a handsome picture” that afforded Jamie Lee Curtis “the most bravura role of her big-screen career.” Mother’s Boys is a big, brassy breakfast scramble of family melodrama, abnormal psychology, bonkers dialogue, jump scares, and Peter Gallagher eyebrows. I love it.

8. The Temp (1994): An intentionally hilarious (?) corporate whodunit from the director of Fright Night and Child’s Play about a sketchy secretary (Lara Flynn Boyle) who infiltrates a struggling Portland cookie company and may or may not start bumping executives off using, among other weapons, a paper shredder. It’s one of two “femme fatale on the corporate ladder” thrillers to make my list, but it’s the only one to co-star Miss Faye Dunaway as a ball-busting CEO who stomps around in tennis whites while hissing lines like, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed whore!” and “I’ve had more knives stuck in me than Julius Caesar!” Miss Dunaway was reportedly VERY demanding while on location in Portland, Oregon—and, according to her biography, VERY disappointed in the way her character turned out after Paramount ordered reshoots to turn “a darkly humorous satire” into a more straightforward thriller. “Once again, I could see myself being thrown into playing the extreme,” Dunaway sighs. “The new ending wasn’t enough to salvage the film, though. By the final scene, it didn’t matter who was the killer, the film had been dead for an hour at least.” Indeed, Paramount’s meddling resulted in a film so tonally inconsistent—and with a conclusion so ill-conceived—that reviewers were still furious weeks afterward. The Los Angeles Times published an anatomy of its box office failure, calling out studios for ruining movies “by committee.” The Temp is still very worthwhile, though—just ignore the ending.

7. Color of Night (1994): A bombastic, overhyped $40M “psycho-sexual” melodrama fashioned entirely from hubris and cocaine that’s every bit as unhinged as the psychotics it portrays. More of a slashy, stabby Brian DePalma throwback than a nineties-style erotic thriller, the Body Double-esque plot concerns Bruce Willis as a traumatized Manhattan psychiatrist (!) who ventures out to LA to take over a therapy group for violent neurotics (played by an unholy assemblage of some of the hammiest character actors in Hollywood), all of whom have a real problem using their indoor voice. Murders, plot holes, and scenery destroying ensue—“Everyone’s a suspect!” Then Willis starts banging a dangerous mystery chick with multiple personalities and a wig fetish. Then he’s attacked by a Pontiac Firebird. Then Leslie Ann Warren is a nymphomaniac who can’t stop screaming at people. Reviews were less-than-kind (but thoroughly on-the-nose).

Color of Night approaches badness from so many directions that one really must admire its imagination.” — Roger Ebert

“The enthusiastically nutty Color of Night has the single-mindedness of a bad dream, and about as much reliance on everyday logic.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times

“This wholly terrible movie is far more enjoyable and astonishing than many halfway good ones.”— Kim Newman, Sight & Sound

6. Diabolique (1996): Sharon Stone stars as a chain-smoking elementary school teacher in leopard-print lingerie who drowns her abusive lover in a bathtub. Then he comes back to life. Then Kathy Bates shows up as a detective with one breast. It’s (ostensibly) a remake of the elegantly perverse French classic Les Diaboliques (1955), only now it’s an eccentric neo-noir (set in Pittsburgh!) chock full of retro flourishes, campy costumes, and bitchy, hard boiled dialogue. If you take a shot every time Sharon Stone deadpans one of her trademark smart-ass one-liners, you’ll be dead by the 10 minute mark.

5. Jade (1995): Ever wonder what would happen if the director of The Exorcist teamed up with the writer of Showgirls to make an erotic action-thriller about a bored San Francisco socialite/clinical psychologist who moonlights for kicks as a blackmailing prostitute and might also be chopping up her johns with an antique hatchet? Well, this collaboration exists, and it’s called Jade. Entertainment website The Indiependent says, “Jade reads like it’s written by an A.I. robot that has watched 100 hours of erotic thriller movies and then produced a screenplay out of the jumble,” and it’s true. It’s a preposterous, ridiculously acted, aggressively mid-90’s hodgepodge of axe murders, alter egos, sleazy rich people, vehicular homicide, mysterious Asians, Dutch angles, Michael Biehn with a Joe Pantoliano mustache, a Loreena McKennitt theme song, and Linda Fiorentino, um, “making love” to a man with her high-heeled shoe. Another reviewer put it best when he said: “Every scene contains a beautiful or grotesque element, all of it incomprehensible. Whether it’s David Caruso’s portrait of dumb-ass rage as an assistant DA operating like Dirty Harry, to pubic hair collections and Giallo crime scenes, to a hit-and-run that viciously morphs into an insane car chase right out of Bullitt (1968). Jade somehow still has time for a steely-blue mansion climax that flows like Michael Mann in a stupor.” Although it was trashed by critics and bombed at the box office, William Friedkin maintains that JADE is his favorite out of everything he’s directed. Yes, he loves it more than The Exorcist, The French Connection, Cruising, To Live and Die In LA, Boys In the Band or his music video for the Barbra Streisand song, “Somewhere.”

4. Wild Things (1998): What TOP 10 FAVORITE TRASHY 90’s THRILLERS marathon would be complete without Wild Things (1998)? Called “The Ultimate 90’s Neo-Noir” (Slant Magazine), what begins as a humid sexploitation drama about two Florida high school vixens (Denise Richards, Neve Campbell) who accuse their guidance counsellor (Matt Dillon) of rape soon takes so many sweaty, sordid, wholly unpredictable turns that you’ll get whiplash. Extortion, blackmail, cat fights, threesomes, and murder ensue. Critics called it, “vulgar,” “demented,” and a “three-way collision between a soft-core sex film, a soap opera, and a B-grade noir”—and those were the POSITIVE reviews! Wild Things was to erotic thrillers what Scream (1996) was to slasher movies; a clever, self-aware, solidly entertaining throwback, more than happy to wallow in its own trashiness. Toss in some Kevin Bacon dick, some Theresa Russell camp as Denise Richards’ slutty mom, and Bill Murray (!!!) as a sleazy storefront defense attorney in a neck brace, and you’ve got one hot, steamy pile of entertainment.

3. Double Jeopardy (1999): Remember the one where Ashley Judd discovers her husband faked his death and framed her for his murder—so now she can kill him for real due to the “double jeopardy” procedural defense that states no one can be tried and convicted twice for the same crime? Oh, and Tommy Lee Jones is the dedicated parole officer/ex-law professor who’s chasing her? What a trashy-fun revenge thriller this is. Mystery, action, suspense, chills; it’s Deceived meets The Fugitive meets The Net—and it spent three weeks atop the U.S. box office during what was clearly a more innocent era. You wouldn’t think the guy who made Driving Miss Daisy (1989) would make such a great action director.

2. Disclosure (1994): Remember the one where Demi Moore is the new whiskey-voiced VP of a Seattle software firm who jumps Michael Douglas in her office, and then sues him for sexual harassment when he won’t bang her? Then he sues her back? Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, this Seattle-set techie-thriller starts off like a sleeker, more A-list version of The Temp (1993) but segues into a corporate conspiracy about defective CD-ROM manufacturing about halfway through. Along the way there’s backstabbing, sinister emails, clever dialogue, and Donald Sutherland in full reptilian mode as the smarmy CEO. Disclosure ticks all the boxes: power politics, courtroom battles, killer set design, colorful supporting characters, an Ennio Morricone score, and Michael Douglas being chased down a virtual reality corridor by Demi Moore’s avatar. Roger Ebert said watching Disclosure was like seeing “a Sharper Image catalog that walks and talks” and Gene Siskel called it, “Pure and simple trash masquerading as significance.” So?!

1. Malice (1993): Remember the one where Alec Baldwin plays a creepy-hot doctor with a God complex who moves to a New England college town and people start dying off? But that’s really not what it’s about? My favorite trashy thriller of the 1990’s is Malice. There are so many reasons why I love it, not the least of which is its completely bonkers script by Aaron Sorkin that serves almost as a proto-Wild Things (1998) in terms of how many plot twists can be crammed into one narrative. Furry surgeon Alec Baldwin rents a room from Nicole Kidman and her professor husband. When Nicole doubles over with abdominal pains, Alec rips out her ovaries. Fair enough, but now Nicole sues him for $20M and they both disappear. Then her dejected husband starts to uncover a labyrinthine conspiracy plot going back decades. “Malice is a medical thriller! No, it’s a courtroom drama! No, it’s a murder mystery!” Toss in a Jerry Goldsmith score, some warm, handsome Gordon Willis photography, and a surprise appearance by the late, great Anne Bancroft as a foul-mouthed, scotch-guzzling sociopath, and you’ve got what Roger Ebert called, “one of the busiest movies” he’d ever seen, and the only film he could recall “in which an entire subplot about a serial killer is thrown in simply for atmosphere.”

Hex vs. Witchcraft (1980)

Released the same year as Hex, this sorta sequel is less frightening and more gambling. And sex. Lots of sex. Sex where characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to you while they’re having it.

Chih-Hung Kuei directed this yet there are hardly any of the maggots and worms and murder and weirdness that you want. Instead, it’s about a compulsive gambler by the name of Cai Tou (James Yi Lui) whose bad luck is fixed when a mysterious elderly man fixes him up with the ghost of his daughter.

I mean, his last plan was to get his wife to sleep with the gangster he owed money to, which ended up with her decimating his scrotum and then leaving Cai Tou. Now, he has a spectral wife who is jealous of other women yet is only able to make love to her husband by possessing them.

We live in a weird world where some cultures have gambling movies as an actual genre. Let’s love the fact that so many odd and fascinating subcultures exist.

Hex (1980)

Chan Sau Ying (Ni Tien) is going to die from tuberculosis and even then her husband Chun Yu (Wong Yung) can’t stop abusing her. Her new servant Leung Yi Wah (Chan Sze Ka) takes pity on her and they work together to drown Chun Yu in a pond, but then Sau Ying watches as her husband rises from the swamp and seeks revenge.

Kuei Chih-Hung was making his version of Diabolique here but that movie didn’t end with a naked woman having blood slowly spit all over her and her entire nude body covered by painted spells.

Ghosts that spit green vomit, animal guts falling like rain and a grime and rain filled swamp location make this movie just feel messy and gross, which quite often is how I like it. Sure, it moves slow in parts — it is forty years old, after all — and some of the acting leans toward silly humor when the movie seems deadly serious, but when the last ten minutes give you the sleaziest exorcism you’ve even seen, there are no complaints.

Li Xiao Long zhuan qi (1976)

Bruce Lee’s death in 1973 didn’t cripple martial arts films. It could have. But the industry somehow took that loss and ended up making a ton of movies that cash in on the star’s death whether that means using clones of Lee or trying to tell his story.

Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth is an attempt by director and writer Ng See-yuen to tell us the tale of Lee’s life with Bruce Li as the man himself.

From his move to Seattle, battles with other kung fu schools and success and failures in Hollywood, the film stays pretty close to Lee’s life. I mean, it’s all fights, but maybe that was a big chunk of his life. It does feature his real-life best friend Unicorn Chan playing himself, as well as Ip Chun as Lee’s Wing Chun teacher, the legendary Ip Man. Ip Chun is the best person for that role, as he’s that legendary man’s son.

The end of this movie is a montage of all the ways Bruce did not die as well as a theory that he will come back in 1983. Man, I wish that was true, but it’s not, but then again in the wake of the Dragon’s death, we got so many little Dragons, right? I guess that’s the one good thing to come of it.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Shi er sheng xiao (1978)

Known as Dragon Zombies Return and Zodiac Fighters, this movie is the kind of movie I just let wash over me.

Polly Shang Kuan Ling-Feng plays East Sea Dragon, a woman who has spent a year in a cave to study her fighting style and now is searching for the other, well, zodiac fighters like Rooster, Rat, Ox, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Dog, Pig, Tiger and Rabbit. Everyone has a costume that ties into their sign and martial arts to match.

Their enemy? Tiger Shark, played by Lo Lieh, who has an army of crab men, a boat that launches rubber sharks and the Five Elements, Fire, Wood, Water, Air and Gold. You thought there were only four elements? You aren’t ready for this.

This is the story of a professional mourner who finds a magic cave and unites all of the animal forms of combat to battle rubber sharks. I have no other way to explain it. It’s one of the oddest movies I’ve seen — and just think about that and all that I have watched — and it’s so blobby and grainy and a bad transfer and you know, I kind of want it that way.

Want me to convince you?

Morricone’s theme from Exorcist II is in this.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Di wu ying (1983)

Pearl Cheung Ling made Wolf Devil Woman which is a movie I could watch any time you want to watch it with me. This was the first movie that she directed. She also wrote and produced these films, which is a major thing for a martial arts film to be a female-owned production.

A remake of Shaw Brothers’ film The Black ButterflyDark Lady of Kung Fu also has her in the lead as the Butterly Bandit, a vigilante who wears a butterfly mask, big black hat and a winged cape. She’s at once Robin Hood and Fagin, as in her other identity she’s Monkey G, leading a team of children she calls the Monkeys. And everyone thinks she’s a man, which is an issue that a princess in this movie is also grappling with. Yes, Madam Kim Simon is a woman who wants to be a man, and at the end of the film, the Butterfly Bandit tells her to be happy to be him and just be pleased with whatever makes them happy.

This is a 1983 kung fu movie being this progressive.

It’s crazy because one moment, you’re getting sick of all the comic relief and then this movie shocks you with violence or an incredible fight scene. There’s also a cannon that fires gold coins and a tough guy named Shadow who doesn’t like it when people step on his. Also: the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme song is in this.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Sun Wu Kong dai zhan fei ren kuo (1982)

Monkey Wars is a sequel or at least connected to New Pilgrims to the West and has Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy coming up against some Taoists and their ally a spider-woman who has created a base within the caves.

Director Chun-Liang Chen also made Child of PeachSpell of Magic and Magic Warriors, so you know the kind of lunacy that this will soon deliver to you. What you may not be prepared for is the final part of this movie which has the taoists joining up with bat people, some of whom use hang glider wings and others that are humanoid bats and there’s a battle in the sky. Truly, this is exactly what I was looking for.

Seriously: this movie has a human monkey fighting flying bat people when he isn’t growing so large that he can walk to Heaven and urinate all over his enemies. Can you imagine a movie that while being made, the filmmakers said, “Human spider people just aren’t enough. What else can we do?”

This movie cost less than what some Hollywood movies spend on plastic sporks at craft services. Yet somehow it has a wealth of ideas that you won’t get to experience anywhere else in the universe.

You can watch this on YouTube.