Corpse Mania (1981)
Director: Kuei Chih Hung
Writers: Chih-Hung Kuei and On Szeto
Starring: Ni Tien, Yung Wang and Tsui Ling Yu

The Plot: In the Guangzhou province of China, a serial killer is on the loose! However, to get to the bottom of our story, we must first look to the past; two years, specifically, before the murders had ever started occurring. In a small and tightly knit neighborhood, social deviant Li Zhengyuan is caught lying with the corpse of his wife who had recently passed away. Although her murder wasn’t proven, thus he was never arrested, his infatuation with rotting corpses was certainly shown. Li followed this act up by visiting the local brothel and paying for the freedom of a prostitute who was showing symptoms of a terminal disease. Li takes the woman home and before long she too passes away. Li is once again picked up for having sexual intercourse with a dead body and is arrested this time on sanitary charges. Skip forward two years, and women from the same brothel (the one that Li purchased the sick girl from) are now being murdered one by one. While this goes on, we also learn that Li has been released from prison. Could he be the culprit behind these devious acts?

The Review
The Shaw Bros. studio will forever be immortalized by their immense outpouring of martial art films during the 1970s and 80s. They were the household that invented the Kung Fu film as we know it and helped to solidify all facets of the genre. However, as fans of martial arts cinema, it is easy to casually glance over all of the other genres that they actually contributed to. We have covered a few of their non-action titles here on Varied Celluloid in the past, but this would be one of the first horror titles that I have actually seen. Despite their obscurity over such a long period of time, the Shaw studio has recently become relatively well known for their run of exploitation/horror titles in the past. It seems almost as if the studio would only do a horror title if they could cover someone with maggots or creepy crawlies, however, and our film today is no different. Corpse Mania is a horror title that came near the end of the Shaw studio’s most powerful run. A horror title that is partly an homage to the Italian giallo, and partly an excuse for buckets of red paint, it shows a great deal of creativity but inevitably winds up as a rather bland horror title.

While Corpse Mania may inevitably be remembered best as one of director Kuei Chih Hung’s weakest horror titles (he is afterall the director of The Boxers Omen and The Killer Snakes), it shouldn’t be totally forgotten. After all, this is a Hong Kong film that certainly does things in a very different fashion than what is expected of it. The movie itself kind of works like a Chinese giallo of sorts. Although the American “slasher” market was certainly having its upswing in popularity at the same exact time, Corpse Mania more closely resembles the Italian thrillers of old. The killer, Li Zhengyuan, vaguely resembles numerous villains within the giallo film world. In particular, I see him as a slight homage to the masked killer in Mario Bava’s Blood & Black Lace. The delivery of violence could also be seen as a part of the giallo homage, as the blood is frequent and seems to best resemble that previously mentioned “red paint”, but this is also indicative of the way films were made within the Shaw Bros. studio. In all reality, despite being known for violence, the giallo genre rarely featured much in regards to true “gore”. Corpse Mania actually presents much more brutality than would be found in the majority of giallo films not directed by Lucio Fulci. Truly, the only thing missing from Corpse Mania in order to make it a bonafide giallo is the “amateur sleuth” who attempts to solve the crime by his or herself. Instead, the police are given much more intelligence and respect than would be found in the world of Italian thrillers.

If there is one aspect of the movie that makes it stand out, as a Shaw production, it would be its aesthetic qualities. Despite the movie being a formulaic piece of horror, the atmosphere and tension built throughout the movie is actually worth mentioning. The movie does not have the same “shot on a backlot” look that many Shaw Bros. titles did. Although there are still some very obvious sets, they seem to be dressed better for this film than one might normally see in a martial arts title. We as viewers are so used to the work of Chang Cheh and Liu Chia Liang that we imagine all Shaw films resembling one another in this regard. Corpse Mania instead has a more natural style to it, with more fluid camerawork than one might expect from a flick like this. Due to the camera movement and the better lighting, Corpse Mania looks more technically advanced than most Shaw titles that many readers may have seen. To compliment the film further, this was made right in the wake of Chang Cheh’s Chinese Super Ninjas, which is potentially the cheapest looking Shaw film I can think of. Yet, here we are one year later and the same studio produces one of their most technically beautiful (and disgusting) films. I feel that this high quality camera work fits the less formal attitude of the genres outside of the martial arts realm. For some reason the camera work in the martial art genre always seemed frigid and held in place as a way of catching detail. As if the director and the choreographer couldn’t find a proper compromise. Films such as this one, as well as The Teahouse and Big Brother Cheng also featured more handheld camera work and horizontal panning camera work, which truly differentiated the Shaw Bros. style.

The worst aspects of Corpse Mania come in its narrative weaknesses. The film revolves around a great deal of dialogue centered scenes, like your average giallo, only Corpse Mania rarely keeps itself focused. So, throughout the film we run into a great number of logical errors and the movie itself seems to lose track. The project is nearly saved due to the rather entertaining climax, but it simply is not enough to diminish the slow and tedious film that came before it. This climax really delves into the logic of a giallo, which is another way of saying that it is completely illogical and unfair to the viewer. The film establishes one pattern of thinking when it comes to who is the murderer throughout the majority of the movie, but in true giallo fashion the tables are turned during the climax. Regardless, as I stated previously, the silliness of this climax can’t make up for the slow moving seventy minutes that arrived before it. With content as wild as necrophilia and nude women being rubbed in white powder, you would assume that this movie should be more exciting. Unfortunately, the movie is far too tame to really draw in its audience.

The Conclusion
Corpse Mania is a bland piece of giallo-inspired Hong Kong cinema. Although it does feature blood, boobies, and some disgusting scenes featuring maggots, this one never finds its groove. It has its merits, but overall, this one is only worth a rental at best.