Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. Ced's favorite shows and adventures are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.
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.
- In a nutshell, 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 plays out is easily guessable.
Considered a cult classic by Cantonese movie aficionados, and representative of a new style of Hong Kong filmmaking in the early 80s, The Beasts is a thoroughly painful watch. Not just because of 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 by 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 mock documentary 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.
Absolutely 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. For most parts of the show, the captured immigrants are treated worse than pigs. More often than not, the thugs also appear more interested in torment than profit. With their overt glee frightfully realistic.
There’s even an extended, meticulously detailed male rape sequence to cap it all. In comparison, a similar scene in Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters feels almost serene. Your dreams will be haunted by male howls just by tolerating a few seconds of that awful sequence.
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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, though 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 instruments 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. It will make your skin crawl. Of note, Centipede Horror is also one of several 80s Hong Kong horror movies that thrived on a brief fascination with Southeast Asian black magic.
To achieve authenticity of feel, the production even went 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 Category III horror films was made in Hong Kong. The end products range from the ludicrous to the downright ghastly.
For the latter, a most prominent, or notorious example, is 1983’s Devil Fetus. A family is tormented by a sex demon after a female member misguidedly purchased a mysterious vase. Said torment includes a rotting, zombie-like creature raping a victim. The outcome of which is the reason for the name of the movie.
To give you an idea of how nauseating everything gets, author John Charles once described it as part of Hong Kong’s “early '80s gross-out cycle” of horror movies.
I myself would call it a Hong Kong experiment with body horror too. What’s noteworthy here? The special effects largely stand up to time. Even today, some of those grisly scenes make me flinch.
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 frankly, 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 wicked key ingredients are included in this horror 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 clearly traumatized 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 Hong Kong Category III exploitative storytelling. Despite 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 convoluted storyline, the show then dumps in scene after scene of gruesome body horror. Most of these, frankly, do not add to the plot. They are obviously just for shock.
The above considered, The Rape After is still noteworthy for its ambiance and lighting. Eerie and markedly lacking the sort of slapstick humor that plagued so many Hong Kong horror productions in the 80s, the whole production is an terrifying watch from start to end.
In other words, 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.
© 2019 Ced Yong