Although I began my serious horror junkie ways recently in 2007, my love affair with the Hong Kong horror flick began when a large group of friends and I got blindsided by the piss-your-pants-funny Mr Vampire on a baked potatoes movie night in 1996. As I was pretty much solely into kung fu movies at the time (OCD, anyone?), I didn’t begin to explore the world of Hong Kong horror until I started this blog. I needed to know: are all Hong Kong horror films padded with slapstick?
After watching the goofy ass yet still creepy Bless This House, which is considered to be one of the first serious HK horror flicks, I did a little research and found out that yes, at least in the 80s, most HK audiences preferred comedy. Now while I hate horror spoofs (Student Bodies, Return to Horror High) I do love a lot of comedy mixed with truly terrifying stalk and kill scenes. Simply put, In my journey through the world of horror as documented in this blog, I’ve found that I don’t like to get to the end of the movie and feel bad. Sue me, Eli Roth fans.
He Lives By Night is notable in the HK slasher genre because it borrows heavily from the giallo. However, where the giallo fills the running time with gratuitous sex or weird hallucinations a la Autopsy, He Lives By Night breaks up the scares with fat guys in glam makeup for no reason, three people eating $200 worth of tripe, chicken feet and dumplings for breakfast or a radio station security guard who keeps a box of weapons like spiky maces and brass knuckles behind the desk for employees to borrow. The film also does more than a little winking at Mr Hitchcock; when we first see the fat, pipe smoking police chief (Kent Cheng) we see a large silhouette of him alone in profile with his pipe.
Someone is murdering women by stabbing them and then strangling them with a white fishnet stocking, which is the killer’s fetish of choice. Now, I lived through the 80s as a young pop culture junkie, and the only pair of white fishnets I ever saw was in the ZZ Top video for “Legs,” but maybe they were a fashion staple in HK. Anyway, the film gives us a too-obvious choice of suspect in the obsessed fan of Sissy (Sylvia Chang) the late night radio host with the sexy voice and the face for radio. Because the fat police chief has the hots for Sissy, and his partner (Simon Yam) is an old classmate of hers, she helps the police with the investigation until of course the real killer is stalking her. It doesn’t help that she taunts him over the radio and figures out uncannily why he is killing. Just like in the giallo or the Hitchcock thriller, there is a damn good reason the killer went nuts.
The movie does have its disturbing parts, chiefly the scene in which a young woman is brutally murdered in her own home while her friend hides from the killer and watches. Whether by reason of good old misogyny or morality, most of the victims are not very nice people (the Carrie syndrome). I actually rooted for the killer after he murders the shoplifters who carjacked him.
I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it, but I wish if the writer wanted to go Western he had kept the Italian/British convention of hiding the killer’s identity til the end. It’s just not as much fun to watch the cops try to catch the killer when we the viewer already know who dun it.
Want more? These movies are sometimes hard to find, so I’m taking viewing suggestions. Lets look at more HK horror to try to get a handle on it and put it in context. So get out your glitter makeup and join me for a mini HK film fest.