More over-the-top--though more refined than usual--Hong Kong horror madness from the Shaw brothers and director Kuei Chih-Hung (of the delirious BOXER'S OMEN). This “Hong Kong giallo” is neither an atmospheric art film nor a gross-out spectacle, although it contains elements of both.
CORPSE MANIA (SI YIU; 1981) was an extremely ambitious entry in the Hong Kong horror movie boom of the seventies and early eighties, which included anti-classics like KILLER SNAKES, HEX, BEWITCHED, CURSE OF EVIL and the aforementioned BOXER’S OMEN, all of which, like CORPSE MANIA, were made and released under the auspices of Run Run and Run me Shaw, and directed by the late Kuei Chih-Hung (1937-99).
The 19th century: a horrendous smell emanates from a residence across the street from an upscale brothel. A policeman is called in to investigate the residence, and he discovers an abandoned cobweb-filled house in which lies a woman’s maggot-ridden corpse. An autopsy is performed, revealing that the corpse was sexually violated and then strangled to death--making it the latest in a string of sex-murders that have occurred in the area.
The upscale brothel in question is the Hong House, run by the seductive Madam Lan Zui. There a strange man named Li turns up wanting to buy the freedom of Hongmei, a hoe who’s seriously ill. Turns out her illness is the reason Li is so interested; she expires quickly, allowing him to perform a creepy sex ritual that involves pouring flour on her corpse. Eventually the corpse is overrun with maggots, which turns him on even more.
Li is spotted violating the corpse and arrested. He’s interred in an insane asylum, but let out a month later to continue his reign of terror by killing a policeman and another woman.
The intrepid inspector Zhang is called in to investigate. Studying Li and his motives, Zhang discovers that he was screwed over financially by madam Lan and, it seems, wants revenge. Li’s next killing is especially gruesome, involving hideous facial mutilation. Further nastiness is in store, as is the revelation of a long-held secret…
This film is marked by extremely slick and stylish filmmaking, at least by the standards of early 1980s Hong Kong cinema: note the burnished lighting and artful use of mist and shadow, which recall the films of Mario Bava. The art direction is sumptuous and the period detail reasonably thorough. It can be viewed as something of a companion-piece to Tsui Hark’s BUTTERFLY MURDERS, another artful Hong Kong kill-fest.
Yet director Kuei Chih-Hung makes sure to deliver the exploitation movie goods, as evinced by the many lingering close-ups of maggot ridden corpses, some especially Shaw-friendly Kung Fu and dumb-assed comic relief (as when a drunk mistakenly believes a dead man to be sleeping). At points Kuei combines the artistic and exploitive, as in a gory but quite pretty underwater throat slashing.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with visually oriented films like this one, the narrative is a bit of a jumble. The pacing is erratic and the story difficult to follow, with off-screen narration utilized to move things along. That’s too bad, as CORPSE MANIA is otherwise quite a fine piece of work.
CORPSE MANIA (SI YIU)
Director: Kuei Chih-Hung
Producer: Mona Fong
Screenplay: Kuei Chih-Hung, On Szeto
Cinematography: Hsin Yeh Li
Editing: Shao His Chang, Hsing-Lung Chiang
Cast: Ni Tien, Yung Wang, Tsui Ling Yu, Siu-Kwan Lau, Erik Chan Ka Kei, Lap Ban Chan, Chok Chow Cheung, Ping Fong, Ging Man Fung