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For over half a century, Hong Kong filmmakers have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of their art form, in the process, producing some of the vilest, most atrocious, and most unflinchingly gory horror movies Asia has ever seen.
Unless your stomach is lined with steel, it would be wise to steer clear of the following notorious productions. Dated as some of their special effects might be, these Hong Kong exploitation movies from the 80s are undoubtedly still capable of nauseating and traumatizing you.
- This list excludes Man Behind the Sun, which is widely agreed to be one of the most shocking movies ever made. It is too obvious a choice for entry.
- Transliterations are not in Mandarin but Cantonese, the regional Chinese dialect spoken in the former British colony.
- Practically every movie on this list was reclassified as Category III after the rating system was introduced in Hong Kong in 1988.
- Simply put, Hong Kong Category III movies are intended only for viewers age 18 and above. It is also inaccurate to consider all such shows as “video nasties” or purely exploitative. A movie could be classified as Category III for violence, excessive gore, sexual content, sensitive subject, etc.
1. The Beasts (山狗, San Gou)
If you’ve watched American Backwoods Horror classics such as I Spit on Your Grave, the story for The Beasts would be familiar to you.
Two siblings are brutalized by mountain thugs during a camping trip; the younger sister is gang-raped while her brother is tortured and killed. Faced with subsequent police indifference, the father of the victims then embarks on a bloody mission of vengeance. How the final leg of the story subsequently plays out is easily guessable.
Considered a cult classic by Cantonese movie aficionados, and representative of a new style of Cantonese film making in the early 80s, The Beasts is a thoroughly painful watch. Not only for its gore but also for its painstaking depiction of post-rape trauma.
Doubly distressing is the fact that producer Teddy Robin famously claimed that the story is based on a real-life incident, with the name “San Gou” also the Hong Kong colloquial term for hooligans that extort protection money from passers-by in the countryside. Is there any takeaway from this film at all, or is it no more than an excuse to mimic western-style cinematic violence? Unless you’re a student of filmmaking, you probably wouldn’t want to search for the answer from watching this legendary slaughter-fest.
2. Lost Souls (打蛇, Da Sheh)
In 1988, notorious filmmaker Mou Tun-Fei shocked the world with Men Behind the Sun, a gory, near-unwatchable depiction of World War II Japanese brutality that is still considered one of the most shocking movies ever made.
Before that, however, Mou long established his name in the exploitative genre with Lost Souls, an unforgivingly graphic depiction of the plight of illegal immigrants in Hong Kong during the early 1980s. As in, illegal immigrants who ended up imprisoned by unscrupulous local thugs determined to sell them for money.
Positively drenched in nudity, sexual torture, and bloody violence, Lost Souls dishes out its awful tale with a fanaticism that could only be described as a feverish determination to shatter any boundary of human decency. The most dreadful part of this movie? An extended, meticulously detailed male rape sequence. In contrast, a similar scene in Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters feels almost serene. Your dreams will absolutely be haunted by male howls just by tolerating a few seconds of that awful sequence.
3. Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (第一類型危險, Dai Yat Hou Yeng Ngai Him)
Today, Tsui Hark is hailed as one of Hong Kong’s most visionary filmmakers, deeply respected for his groundbreaking work on classics such as Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and Seven Swords.
Like other world-renowned directors, though, Tsui dabbled with cross-genre and exploitation movies before achieving mainstream recognition. For the latter, his single most notorious work is widely agreed to be 1980’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind.
Grim and chock-full of fiery but thoughtful political criticism, Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind tells the grim story of three nihilistic youths with the nasty, nasty past time of making bombs. Their explosive hobby soon sees them entangled with a gang of international criminals, the outcome of which, as you can guess, doesn’t go well for any of the young men.
Heavily censored by the British colonial government before cinematic release, the movie was a financial failure although it achieved cult status with certain circles of film lovers. If you intend to give this audacious production a try, be warned. Tsui Hark controversially included scenes of animal abuse. A mid-story sequence in the director’s cut also chillingly mirrors terrorist events of recent years.
4. Centipede Horror (蜈蚣咒, Wu Gong Chow)
Creepy crawlies have long been a staple in Cantonese horror films. In this 1982 film debut of Hong Kong 80s TV heartthrob Michael Miu, centipedes take center stage as the instrument of murder for a black magician. As in, victims are infested with the many-legged beasties before dying from poisoning. Or they are mind-controlled and used as scapegoats for other killings.
By today’s special effects standards, the beasties in Centipede Horror would likely come across as gimmicky. The Arthropods are too unnaturally large. They are decisively plastic-like as well.
That said, anyone with an aversion or phobia towards creepy crawlies should still steer clear of this nasty supernatural thriller. Of note, Centipede Horror is also one of several 80s Hong Kong exploitation movies that thrived on a brief fascination with Southeast Asian black magic. For authenticity of feel, the production even goes to the extent of hiring a veteran Malaysian Malay actor to play the role of a bomoh (Malay witch-doctor).
5. Devil Fetus (魔胎, Mo Toi)
Thanks to the antics of a certain pea soup spewing little girl in the 70s, demonic possession forever became a cherished trope in cinematic horror. In the 80s, empowered by rising regional demand and better technology, a slew of such films was made in Hong Kong. The end products range from the ludicrous to the downright ghastly.
For the latter, a most prominent, or infamous example, is 1983’s Devil Fetus. To give you an idea of how nauseating this show gets, author John Charles once described it as part of Hong Kong’s “early '80s gross-out cycle” of horror movies. The short of it, this is one 80s Cantonese horror film you shouldn’t watch before, during, or even hours after a meal.
The plot itself is semi-decent, though, revolving around a family besieged by a sex demon after a female member misguidedly purchased a mysterious vase. Note here, sex demon. An evil entity that thrives on carnal activities. The body horror special effects aside, Devil Fetus is infamous for its rape and sex scenes, one of which involves a rotting, zombie-like creature. Again, this is one film that shouldn’t be anywhere near your dining table. Actually, why even want to watch it at all? Do you seriously want to lose your appetite for a whole day?
6. Seeding of a Ghost (種鬼, Zoong Guai)
The simplest way to describe 1983’s Seeding of a Ghost is to say it is an Asian version of John Carpenter’s The Thing, one with copious amounts of Asian black magic thrown in. (Hong Kong exploitation movies in the 1980s often incorporate black magic)
The unfaithful wife of a taxi driver is raped and killed following a tiff with her wealthy lover. Her husband is then manipulated by supernatural forces into meeting a black magician. He subsequently agrees to sacrifice himself to perform a demonic impregnation ritual, one that would enact ghastly revenge on his hated enemies.
Compared to the other horror movies on this list, Seeding of a Ghost is tamer. The effects, including those used for the climactic confrontation, are also somewhat dated, probably even cheesy to more discerning viewers.
As an example of what to expect from a Hong Kong Category III horror movie, though, few other productions are superior. Revenge, sex, black magic, gore, violence, all five key ingredients are included in this flick. In short, if you’re doing an academic paper or likewise on the subject, Seeding of a Ghost is worth a look. Otherwise, leave it on the shelf. Viewers who are pregnant should obviously give this a wide berth too.
7. The Rape After (淫種, Yam Zoong)
Believe it or not, I watched this 1984 gorefest at age eleven, having gotten hold of the VCR tape from a classmate.
What do I remember from that sneaky viewing? It’s gruesome. Punishingly gruesome, particularly a mid-movie sequence involving the autopsy of a twisted and burnt corpse. While my classmate and I joked about the sequence for days after, both of us were utterly freaked out by what we saw. Needless to say, we had many sleepless nights thereafter too.
Technically, this grisly horror film is also a classic example of Category III exploitation storytelling. In spite of the English name, the story is really about a photographer tormented by the demonic offspring of his ex-lover after the latter was impregnated by a demon. To facilitate that storyline, the show dumps in scene after scene of gruesome body horror. Most of these, frankly, do not add to the plot. They are obviously just meant for shock.
The above considered, The Rape After is still noteworthy for its ambiance and lighting. Uniformly creepy and markedly lacking the sort of slapstick humor that plagued so many Hong Kong horror productions in the 80s, the whole production is an unnerving watch from start to end. The short of it, this is not something you should screen during a house party. It’s obviously also a movie you should keep well hidden from kids. Kids such as eleven-year-old me.
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