• Oily Maniac



    Released by: 88 Films
    Release date: July 24, 2017
    Directed by: Meng Hua Ho
    Cast: Danny Lee, Ping Chen, Lily Li, Lun Hua, Feng Ku, Chok Chow Cheung, Chun Chin, Tien-Chu Chin, Feng Lin, Sau Kei Lee, Tsun Liu, Min Min, Fat Tsui, Ai-Ti Wan, Yuan-Shun Wu
    Year: 1976

    The Movie:

    Nefarious mobsters want to gain control of a coconut oil company from the man who owns it, but when they attack his daughter, he stabs one of them, is convicted of murder, and is sentenced to death. In prison, he is visited by his nephew, Ah Yung, who was crippled by polio as a child and now has to use crutches to get around. Uncle reveals to nephew his back tattoo, which features a way for impotent men to gain supernatural powers.

    Ah Yung works in the office of a devious lawyer who uses his cases to make himself and his mistress rich. Among those cases is that of a young woman who has been raped. Ah Yung uses the prayer formula from his uncle’s back tattoo and is transformed into an oily maniac that can melt into a roving black mass or solidify into humanoid form. After doing so, he gets revenge for the young rape victim by killing her attacker. Over the next several days, he uses his newfound powers to help more people, all the while hoping to avenge his uncle. He learns from a young woman who loves him that the cousin whom he loves is being duped by her lover, and that his own boss was part of a conspiracy to send is uncle to his death to help the bad guys steal his company. Even worse, his beloved cousin is again attacked, but this time the results are much more horrific.

    Oily Maniac is a bizarre film: one-third horror film, one-third superhero film, and one-third sexploitation. It takes a tall tale about an oily creature that must commit rape to survive and turns it on its head for modern audiences and mass consumption. Leaving the brutal sexual elements intact, it changes its nominal lead from a villainous monster into a misunderstood anti-hero, creating a suitable amount of sympathy by making its alter ego a crippled young man struck by unrequited love.

    The film is chock full of topless women getting raped, and the mix of brutality and superheroics may make some viewers uncomfortable. The special effects were ropey and outdated even in their day, but they do add to the quotient of bizarre histrionics the film offers up. Most of the performances, particularly that from Danny Lee, are very good, and there’s enough action and intrigue to hold the most jaded viewer’s attention.

    88 Films has released several Show Brothers films on Blu-ray so far, including both martial arts movies and horror films. One can only hope that an uncut Human Lanterns (1982) isn’t far behind.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shaw Brothers’ bizarre horror-superhero hybrid comes to Blu-ray in the U.K. courtesy of 88 Films’ Asia Collection. The film features an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high resolution, with the film presented in its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is gorgeous, to say the least. Detail remains high throughout the entire film, with only a few seconds here and there being soft, though such rare instances have everything to do with the film’s original camerawork and nothing to do with the transfer. Even scenes with opticals, such as the opening credit sequence, retain a high level of detail, as do the few scenes that were shot with a soft-focus filter. Whether it's the artificial plants of a courtyard set or real Malaysian exteriors, the flora of Southeast Asia is beautifully rendered. Clothes, faces, hair, and office interiors are likewise well realized. Colors are sharp, especially considering the year in which the film was made (1976), part of a period that wasn’t really known for its color resolution. Flesh tones are realistic, and gray scale looks good. There’s no crush, with detail in nighttime or darkened sequences holding up to the daytime and lighter sequences. Despite a pronounced lack of grain in all but one brief shot, the film doesn’t appear to have been heavily DNR’d (or sharpened, for that matter). What you see is what the film’s original materials look like, and nothing about it is disappointing. A wildly entertaining film gets a top-notch transfer.

    The film’s audio is in Mandarin LPCM 2.0. This reviewer can’t speak Mandarin and thus relied on the English subtitles, but there were no evident problems in the sole audio track. The soundtrack was as clean as the image, with no hiss or defects. Dialogue, sound effects, and music (you’ll notice that a cue from John Williams’s classic Jaws, 1975, score is repeated over and over again during the oily maniac attacks) are perfectly balanced. Speaking of the subtitles, they were apparently done by someone for whom English was not a first language (or, at least, by someone who doesn’t understand punctuation other than the occasional use of exclamation points or question marks). Regardless, the subtitles stood out and were easy to read.

    The film is placed on a BD25, which is no problem given that it runs under 90 minutes and features only one extra. That extra, “A Slippery Story,” is an “interview with academic and author Calum Waddell.” Waddell explores the film’s origins in Asian mythology, tracing its path from Indonesia and Malaysia to China by way of Hong Kong. He also reveals that the film was a remake of sorts of a 1950s b/w horror film from Shaw; that one, titled Curse of the Oily Man, featured the titular character as the rapist demon of myth, whereas Oily Maniac turns him into a superhero.

    Waddell explores this idea further in the liner notes, which begin, “There is an exhaustive book waiting to be penned on the cinematic superheroes that time forgot—and The Oily Maniac is just one such example.” While the notes certainly do cover Oily Maniac, they also cover other films in the Asian superhero subgenre. The notes appear in an 8-page, full-color booklet that also features a catalogue of other Celestial releases from 88 Films.

    There are no other extras, but given the beauty of the main feature, this really isn’t as problematic as it sounds.

    The Final Word:

    Oily Maniac is a comic-book style mashup of superheroic deeds and juvenile rape fantasies, one that mostly works, though the violent sexual elements may make some viewers uncomfortable. The film’s image is resplendent and the audio is solid, making this a superior effort from 88 Films.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!