Wu zi tian shi (1978)

, You can call this War of the Wizards or The Phoenix but either way, this movie is astounding. It was co-directed by Chang Mei-Chun (DynastyRevenge of the Shogun Women) and Sadamasa Arikawa (the director of special effects for films such as Destroy All Monsters; Son of Godzilla and The Mighty Peking Man).

This played in the U.S. with a horrible dub but that doesn’t matter. What does is that this movie has fantastic visuals and seems closer to a fantasy children’s movie. I have no idea why it doesn’t get discussed at all because it’s just stunning.

Tai (Hsiu-Shen Liang) is a poor fisherman who reads all he can to become a better person. He finds the Magic Vessel of Plenty and the Bamboo Book of All Knowledge, which allows him to become a rich man, but he shares his wealth by buying his fellow townspeople food. This doesn’t impress the woman he’s in love with, Jasmine (Hoi Si-Man), who wants nothing to do with him even if he is rich and successful now.

One after another killer comes his way to take his life but end up killing one another first. He’s saved by Violet (Terry Hu) and Hyacinth (Chow Chi-Ming), who promise to protect him so he decides to marry them both. That’s stopped by two old wizards who claim that Tai is filled with lust and has no idea that fate is coming for him.

The sisters really work for an evil alien called Flower Fox (Betty Pei Ti) and Tai is going to need to transform into a silver-costumed sword-wielding hero if he hopes to break the sisters away and save his people. Then, he fights a rock monster and Richard Kiel, dressed as if he were in a Sinbad movie, which makes this movie so much better as he battles Tai with giant claws.

There’s also an incredible looking phoenix that yes, is a puppet, but who cares? Perhaps fantasy doesn’t need to look perfect to be perfect. When I read negative reviews of this, it upsets me because the people who feel that way have no joy inside them.

You can watch this on YouTube.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

You know, revoke my movie cred, because I hated every single moment of this movie and I’ve seen some respectable people fawn all over this movie and maybe the version on HBO Max is not the one you’ve all seen. Am I too old? Did I not grow up on Twitch? Could I have missed the idea of gender dysphoria through body horror even though I desperately hoped this movie would give me an insight into that?

Casey (Anna Cobb) lives alone with her widowed father and spends all day and night on the web, trying out online challenges like, well, the World’s Fair Challenge in which you have to say, “I want to go to the World’s Fair,” three times on camera before cutting yourself. She keeps watching videos where people turn into plastic — they claim — or losing touch with reality.

Michael J. Rogers — who was great in Beyond the Black Rainbow — is the best part of this movie. I mean that as a compliment even if it’s petty theft. He’s a middle-aged man who may or may not have guided others through the challenge. He worries that the forces behind the World’s Fair are taking over her and that she needs to keep sending him videos, like the one where she smears paint all over herself and tears a doll to shreds or when she sings and then starts screaming.

Cobb definitely has a future in acting as she is either able to lose herself in the character or that’s just her. And director and writer Jane Schoenbrun had a really solid idea here. But this movie just drones on and on and never seems to find anything, even at the end when the older man claims that he met Casey years later.

There’s a lot of talent that’s all kind of wasted in a modern take on found footage that meanders and loses its way and actually never has it. This is no different than watching any number of streams online or reading about creepypasta. I really wanted to walk away from this movie but then I thought about how weak every Iron Man Joe Bob Mutant Fam person was complaining about how hard Things was to make it through and I’ve watched Things more than twice. So I steadied myself and kept this going, hoping and praying for something, anything to move me. And nope.

So please: tell me what this was about and why it moved you so much. I have the feeling that — I hate even typing these words — movie Twitter has the need to validate itself by rallying around movies that feel like they have some level of ascetic meaning. It’s like being in a club and saying things like, “This movie really goes for it” and it’s just all generic garbage spewing forth from your keys. You are the people who say “sell me on this movie” or wait for others to give their blessing to something instead of having the courage of your own conviction.

Movies should make you feel something and not just joy when the final credits roll. I never need to see or think about this again other than on my deathbed contemplate the minutes that I wasted on this and I could have forced my wife to watch something better. Now I don’t get to pick a movie for forever.

PS: Fuck ASMR.

Ngû yaks (1982)

Golden Buddha Against the Snake Phantom AKA King Kong vs. the Snake Phantom is a Thai movie with just this description to go by: “A tribe of snake-men are out to wreak havoc on a Miao minority group. Old Chang is not only the witch-doctor of the Miao people, but he and his two sons also help defend them against the intruders.”

A woman gets impregnated by a snake at one point and Buddha himself strikes her down. There are also fire-breathing snakes that destroy a village. Monks can teleport, bad guys can turn into snakes, Buddha grows gigantic and has a battle with an equally huge snake man.

Director Chih Chen was in Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and also was an assistant director on that film. I wouldn’t look for anything from that movie to influence this one. What you will notice is a lot of distorted voices and a fuzzed out soundtrack that got me into the movie drugs space that I love so much.

There is no King Kong.

The filmmakers also needed gold snakes so they either have a rubber one painted that color or, as I suspect, they straight up painted some real snakes gold. Also some chickens get killed by snakes, so I should probably warn you about that.

Watch this on YouTube and see if you can understand as much as I did.

Duel of Fists (1971)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

In Duel of Fists, a Hong Kong engineer must travel to Thailand to find his long-lost professional boxer brother who is having problems with the mob. David Chiang is Hong Kong engineer cum kung fu expert Fan Ke. His dying father tells Ke that he has an older half-brother in Thailand. He knows nothing of him other than that he is a professional kick-boxer. He departs immediately for Thailand.

Meanwhile, half-brother Wen Lieh (Ti Lung) is being forced to box for some Bangkok gangsters because he needs the money for a life-saving operation for his mother. He must fight Cannon, a boxer notorious for killing men in the ring.

After meeting, and becoming friends, the two charismatic men finally discover they are brothers and band together to fight the evil cookie-cutter gangsters.

Shot mostly on location in Thailand, Duel of Fists is not among Chang Cheh’s best work. The story is predictable and the fights in the ring, although well-choreographed, are long and drawn out but packed with very little drama when compared to other Chang Cheh pairings with David and Ti. Even the showdown between Cannon and Wen Lieh lacks spirit. There is some improvement during the finale when the dynamic duo pair up against the gangsters, owing mostly to the loud ‘70s pimp clothing that David Chiang sports.

Now. Let’s talk about the girlfriends of our heroes. Wen Lieh’s ladylove Yulan (Ching Li) does nothing but stand around and worry for her man’s fate. Fan Ke meets a nice Thai girl named Meidai (Parwarna Liu Lan Ying) who dresses just as goofy as he does and does nothing but look doe-eyed in every scene.

Last, there are entire scenes that serve no purpose other than to promote the fact that they shot Duel of Fists on location in Thailand. There are plenty of glamour shots of Ti Lung riding a motorcycle through the streets of Bangkok and David Chiang’s character even has time to sightsee at some temples while looking for his brother. Viewers who are really into Thai kick boxing may find this film interesting and it’s nice to see Lung and Chiang in a modern setting with modern clothes and haircuts, but for the rest of us, it’s much less than a worthy effort from the team of Cheh, Chiang and Lung who brought us some of the greatest Shaw Bros. epics ever made. Watch those instead!

Amityville Karen (2022)

The true Amityville curse is that I must watch all of these films. Just look at this ever-expanding article and Letterboxd list.

Has everything been done in the world of 112 Ocean Avenue?

Director Shawn C. Phillips and writer Julie Anne Prescott say no and also want to speak to your manager.

Just look at this line: “Every neighborhood has a Karen and Amityville is no exception.”

Karen (Lauren Francesca) is so cold and mean to people that she insults them in her sleep. Her latest target is a local winery (run by James Duval!). After getting service that isn’t to her liking, she takes a bottle of wine. A bottle of cursed wine. I mean, this is Amityville after all.

That said, this movie may not need to be an hour and forty-five minutes. It could get tighter, but that said, it does have a death by corkscrew, which is always something that I enjoy in a film.

Somehow, the movie slides into an underground occult circle within the town — it’s Amityville, come on, be open — as well as female demons which means that yes, this movie may not have foreign investors demanding nudity but it has nudity all the same.

This is Phillips’ first solo film and he was wise to get Francesca as his lead. She’s really great in the role and is understated when you expect this to be out of control the whole time. The film nearly gets her to be a sympathetic figure if she wasn’t abusing everyone around her nearly all the time.

If you watch a lot of direct to streaming and disk horror, you’ll recognize a lot of the cast, including Jennifer Nangle, Caleb Thomas, Ashleeann Cittell, Derek K. Long, Marc Pearce, Mike Ferguson and Dawna Lee Heising.

I think what this movie needs are some fun taglines for the poster, however. So I will attempt to write a few in the hopes that they get used for the sequel:

For God’s sake, she wants to speak to your manager.

She’s so haunted that it’s unacceptable.

Do not lose her business.

All lives no longer matter.

Bleached. Bobbed. Possessed.

She demands death. And an apology.

I wait to see where Amityville movies go from here and raise you Amityvid-19Make Amityvilel Great Again and Critical Amityville Theory.

You can get this from SRS and MVD. You can learn more at the official Facebook page.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: Two Witches (2021)

EDITOR’S NOTE: I saw this at the always well-run Salem Horror Fest. It was first posted on October 27, 2021 and has been expanded for this blu ray release.

The Arrow blu ray release has two commentary tracks, one by director, cinematographer and editor Pierre Tsigaridis and another by producer Maxime Rancon; a two-part behind-the-scenes featurette, interviews with actor and associate producer Dina Silva, actor Marina Parodi, composer Gioacchino Marincola, a discussion of the piano music in the movie, test footage, a Q&A, a trailer, image gallery, a reversible sleeve with art by Ilan Sheady and an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel and a double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sheady. You can get it from MVD.

Sarah (Belle Adams) may have never intended to be a witch but comes face to face with the craft when she meets a strange woman at a restaurant. In contrast, Masha has always known that she will one day become one.

In Sarah’s story, “The Boogeywoman,” our heroine is pregnant and her husband cooly informs her that all her visions of witchcraft are just the hormones talking. Oh yeah? Then who is the stalker in the woods casting spells on photos of your wife? Then, as these things happen, a Ouija board gets involved and the darkness sees out.

In “Masha,” the titular protagonist is a woman who knows that her magical powers are there and waiting for her grandmother to die and pass them on to her. Despite her inability to find the man she feels will complete her, she soon finds the power — and the madness — to do pretty much anything she wants.

Although these stories don’t seem to be connected, they are at the end, as the film hints that these women are part of a larger universe. Director Pierre Tsigaridis told Horror Obsessive that “I was really influenced by Italian cinema…Italian horror movies in the ’70s were criticized by Americans because they didn’t follow a typical structure, more visuals over story. In Europe, that was more common.”

This movie starts off with a bang, featuring a witch devouring a baby, and then doesn’t really slow down all that much from there. You can see hints of everything from Suspiria (both versions) and The Beyond to Carrie, Single White Female and Drag Me to Hell in these stories. And the fact that the villain from the first story has an impact on the second excites me for how this series — I hope it’s a series! — of films grows.

Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection

Wow, was the new millennium twenty years ago? Mill Creek is reminding us how old we all are with the new Through the Decades: 2000s Collection. You get ten movies from that era across a variety of film types so there’s something here for everyone. You can order it from Deep Discount.

I found it pretty wild that there were several Neil LaBute movies on this, as other than his remake of The Wicker Man I had not watched many of his films. The 2000s seem as dark and cynical as the 70s on this set, which had to be some kind of post-millenial tension.

While there aren’t any extras, the films look great and you get a good variety for a decent price. My favorite part of these sets is that they make me watch movies I would have ordinarily never checked out, which is so much of the fun of getting deeper into film.

Here’s what’s on the set:

Nurse Betty (2000): Obsessed with her favorite soap opera character, Dr. David Ravell, Betty travels across the country to meet the man of her dreams while pursued by two hired killers.

One Night at McCool’s(2001): Three different men recall how the beautiful Jewel came into McCool’s one night and brought chaos with her. The problem is their stories just don’t seem to line up.

Spy Game (2001): Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir works under the table against agency politics to free Tom Bishop, the agent he mentored, after Bishop is captured in China during a mission gone wrong and sentenced to death in 24 hours.

The Emperor’s Club (2002): Idealistic prep schoolteacher William Hundert takes it upon himself to mentor the unruly, troublemaking son of a U.S. Senator.

The Shape of Things (2003): A quiet, unassuming man begins to change in a major way after meeting and falling for a beautiful art student, and his new personality doesn’t sit well with his best friend.

21 Grams (2003): A freak accident intersects the lives of a dying man, a grief-stricken mother, and an ex-con who found God in this gripping drama about consequence and human connection.

Baby Mama (2008): After learning that she has slim chances of getting pregnant, successful businesswoman Kate Holbrook clashes with her surrogate Angie on how best to behave when you’re expecting.

State of Play (2009): The killing of a congressional aide sends Washington, D.C. Journalist Cal McAffrey down a path of cover-ups, corruption, and corporate conspiracies.

The Hitcher (2007): When a young couple picks up a seemingly harmless hitchhiker, a good deed becomes a brutal, edge-of-your-seat fight for survival with the open road as the battlefield.

Cry Wolf (2005): Eight students at a well-to-do boarding school find that their usual games of lies and deception are no laughing matter when people start dying and no one can be trusted.

Clans of Intrigue (1977)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Someone has killed the three most powerful clan leaders in the Martial world. Legendary swordsman Chu Liu Hsiang (Ti Lung) has been accused of murdering the leaders of the three most powerful clans in the Martial world. Together with a mercenary named Yi (Ling Yun) and the chivalrous Black Pearl (Li Ching) he sets out to find the real killers. He must uncover the truth behind a plot before the culprits can frame him and gain absolute power.   

Hsiang follows one clue to the next and is eventually led to the Magic Palace, a place inhabited by a bunch of hot bi-sexual princesses. Had this been a category 3 film, Hsiang would have been extremely distracted. Instead, Hsiang discovers the identity of the (also non-binary) real killer. Along the way, he also uncovers a dangerous plot to gain control of the entire Martial world. 

Clans of Intrigue was made by the same team that made The Magic Blade is once again turns to a classic novel for its source material. But, Clans is lighter on action and heavier on narrative twists than it is predecessor. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great fights. This is, after all, a Shaw Brothers’ movie starring Ti Lung. The sword fights and Kung Fu are top notch. But, the overall emphasis is on finding the identity of the killer and aborting their evil plan. The writing is especially good with regards to all the double crosses between Princess Yin Chi (Pei Tei) and Kung Nan-Yen (Nora Miao) towards the end of the film.

True to form for a Shaw Bros. picture, the Shawscope visuals are vibrant with color and texture. The sets are lush and detailed and the costumes are particularly lavish in this film. Everyone looks perfect. Even when they’re fighting, not a hair falls out of place. 

If there ever was a reason to purchase a Region-Free DVD player in the early 2000s, the Celestial Pictures distribution of many of the Shaw classics was it. If you’re just starting to explore their catalog, Clans of Intrigue should be among your first purchases. 

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 2000s Collection: Cry Wolf (2005)

There weren’t all that many slashers of note in 2005 — The Devil’s RejectsHouse of Wax and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary are about all I can think of — but this movie sure made an effort.

Directed and co-written (with producer Beau Bauman) by Jeff Wadlow (Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island), Cry Wolf is all about Graham (Ethan Cohn), Mercedes (Sandra McCoy), Lewis (Paul James), Randall (Jesse Janzen), Regina (Kristy Wu), Tom (Jared Padalecki), Dodger (Lindy Booth) and Owen (Julian Morris) who are playing a game called Cry Wolf.

In this game, one of the players is the wolf and everyone else must guess who it is. It’s also known as Mafia and Werewolf. The players decide to include the entire school in the game and make up a story that a serial killer is attacking campuses, dressed in green camo, an orange ski mask, combat boots and black gloves.

As you can imagine, the killer becomes real and the game is that anyone could be the killer, including journalism professor Mr. Walker, who is having an affair with at least one of the potential wolves.

How 2000s is this movie? Well, American Online made an AIM virtual game to promote it.

And oh yeah — Jon Bon Jovi plays Mr. Walker.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection has some great movies for a great price like Nurse BettyOne Night at McCool’sSpy GameThe Emperor’s ClubThe Shape of Things21 GramsBaby MamaState of Play and The Hitcher. You can order it from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 2000s Collection: The Hitcher (2007)

In the 2000s, Platinum Dunes seemed like they were on a mission to remake every movie I ever loved.

Their boss, Michael Bay, said, “I loved it as a kid, and we can add some cool twists and turn it into a rocking film.”

Well, he’d already messed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror — and would also remake Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street — so I guess anything was on the table.

Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) and Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) are driving across the country when they meet hitchhiker John Ryder (Sean Bean) who they first nearly hit with their car, then pick up and are nearly killed when he goes wild with a knife.

There’s one difference between this remake and the original — beyond the fact that this movie is as unnecessary as the sequel and oh yeah, it sucks even worse — is that the protagonist and person torn in half by a truck are gender swapped.

I tell you that as to not spoil the movie but also there’s no reason why anyone should ever watch this.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection has some great movies for a great price like Nurse BettyOne Night at McCool’sSpy GameThe Emperor’s ClubThe Shape of Things21 GramsBaby MamaState of Play and Cry Wolf. You can order it from Deep Discount.