Si Yiu 1981
aka Corpse Mania
Directed by: Kuei Chich-Lung
Starring: Piao Chin, Yung Chung, Ni Tien
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I can tell by the messages I receive that you peeps who read my site are extremely knowledgeable on all things stalk and slash. You are well aware that 1981 was the rock and roll year of the category, but over the next few weeks, I’m going to feature a couple of films here on a SLASH above that you may not yet be aware of. No, really.
First up, we have Si Yiu, a Giallo/Slasher hybrid that chucks in only a few of the stereotypical trademarks of eighties Chinese horror. It’s from the legendary Shaw Brothers studio, which was basically the Warner Bros. or Paramount of Hong Kong movies. (They even copied the Warner logo!). From their distribution plant in Singapore, they supplied countless classic Martial Arts and Action features and continue to be involved in the broadcast industry to this day.
Director Kuei Chih-Hung worked exclusively for Shaw and left a legacy of exploitation films before his retirement in 1984, including a few horror titles throughout the early eighties. He co-directed the brilliant Fen Nu Qing Nian with Chang Cheh; – a movie, which quite obviously influenced the later work and successes of John Woo. His horror output was fairly diverse, but there’s little doubt that Si Yiu is by far the most superior of his terror filmography; both technically and in terms of logical plotting.
After a corpse is discovered in a house on a quiet street, the Police become concerned when the autopsy reports signs of necrophilia. As more bodies turn up, it seems a serial killer is on the loose. The Inspector is sure that he has his prime suspect in a husband who had been previously imprisoned for abuse of a corpse. His ability to avoid detection however is proving too much for the force and it’s left up to one man to track him down.
It is not unusual to see sequences and soundtracks from American Cinema copied and reproduced in Chinese flicks from this period. 1982’s Devil Returns has become notorious for literally duplicating numerous scenes from John Carpenter’s Halloween and if it had been released globally, I’m sure Moustspha Akkad would have sued. Kuei seems confident enough in his own ability not to tread that path and Si Yiu has some stand out moments of credibility. Hsin Yeh Li’s cinematography is absolutely breathtaking throughout and the use of pulsing crane shots mixed with superb lighting creates some decent tension and stylish visuals. The extravagant blend of rich colours and signature environments help to make the screen come alive and the action flows at times like an elegant carrack upon the ocean.
Whilst there’s no doubting that the Giallos of Argento and Bava seem to be the key sources of inspiration, Kuei also chucks in a wealth of slasher movie references. There’s a rehash of the age-old ‘killer in the backseat’ chestnut and the psycho mimics Michael Myers movement to superb effect. There’s a neat slo-mo stalking sequence, where the darkness of a secluded alley is brightened only by the odd street lamp reflecting from the maniac’s huge kitchen knife and one exceptional jump scare is built from a highly tense set piece that sees him hide underneath a victim’s bed. Whilst Kuei films have always incorporated lush photography, Si Yiu feels like the fruition of all that hard work. Some parts, like the one where a character powders down the corpse of his wife before committing the ‘evil deed’, are bordering on cinematic abstract art.
As this is a Kuei joint, you would be right to expect a lava of goo; and in this aspect, the film doesn’t disappoint. Paint red crimson is sprayed everywhere on numerous occasions and there’s a cool decapitation, a brutal stabbing, a slashed throat and a graphic image of a hugely disfigured face. If you think that sounds fairly outrageous, then watch out for the corpse shots that show two naked women covered in bundles of worms and wiggling maggots. I am guessing that they used dummies for these effects, but if they were actually performed by stunt women, then all due respect. It made my skin crawl just looking at it. They even find the space for a brief kung-fu fight, just to add a flash of self-culture awareness.
Because we are knee-deep in Giallo territory, we would be hoping for a good puzzle with numerous red-herrings. Well, the conclusion is very well staged and totally unexpected and refreshingly not in an audience cheating way. You must keep in mind that this is a Chinese version of an Italian sub-genre and not only that, but it’s from one of the most daring (dare I say maddest) director’s of the entire Shaw catalogue. This means that it doesn’t strictly play by the rules and I guess whether you enjoy it as much as I did will mostly come down to your experience and in effect acceptance of Hong Kong cinema.
I totally loved watching Si Yiu and it turned out to be much better than I had expected. Even fans of cheese will get a kick as the dialogue in some places is absolutely hilarious. My Mandarin is only very basic, but I knew that at times, what I was seeing in the subtitles was not what they were saying on the screen. I also liked the fact that the Inspector’s ‘official car’ was a London Black Taxi! It all adds up to a rarely mentioned slasher from the peak year that should be sitting on your shelf. My VCD was hard to come by, however I understand that it was released on DVD quite recently, so shouldn’t be too tough to track down.
Killer Guise: √√√