• Black Magic 2 (88 Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: 88 Films
    Release date: June 11, 2018
    Directed by: Meng Hua Ho
    Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Liu Hui-Ju, Lily Li, Lin Wei-Tu
    Year: 1976
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    Black Magic 2 - Movie Review:

    In a rural Asian village, a group of young women go swimming. One of them is attacked by a crocodile and eaten. A local witch doctor hangs a dead chicken and recites a spell to draw the guilty crocodile to him, which he then kills and guts, retrieving an amulet the devoured girl had owned. The action then cuts to Hong Kong, where a man watches a young dancer in a discotheque, but the dancer leaves with someone else. She’s soon revealed to be the zombie servant of an 80-year-old black magician, Kang Cong, who remains young by drinking breast milk directly from the fleshly tap of young women. He also turns dead bodies into gorgeous sexpots by driving a nail into their heads, all the better to seduce men into paying him top dollars for sexual encounters.

    Meanwhile, two young doctors who are good friends argue about what can be causing a strange outbreak of physical disorders; some people in the city have developed puss-filled sores and worms under the skin on their backs. One of the doctors believes sorcery is to blame; the other doesn’t. When the two men witness a male victim’s disintegration, it becomes all too clear that the supernatural actually is involved.

    One of the doctor’s better halves also becomes the prey of Kang Cong. Her husband soon falls victim as well, leaving the other doctor and his wife to solve the mystery of what’s happening and to end Kang Cong’s supernatural reign of terror. Thankfully, the village witch doctor from the beginning of the film shows up and, after being attacked and mortally wounded, offers the second doctor his eyes. If the doctor eats the eyes, he will be able to see the effects of Kang Cong’s spells.

    Director Meng Hua Ho went to work for Shaw Brothers—the famous Asian film studio located in then British-controlled Hong Kong—in the mid-1950s, but by the mid-1970s, he was one of the company’s most important and prolific directors. Some of his films were even dubbed into English and released abroad. Two of those films had been back-to-back hits in 1975: The first, The Flying Guillotine, was a horror-tinged period martial arts action film, while the second, Black Magic, was a more straightforward, Western-inspired tale of supernatural terror. Naturally, both films were granted follow-ups by the studio, and Meng Hua Ho was assigned the sequel to the latter.

    Black Magic 2 (original title: Gou hun jiang tou) is more of a remake of Black Magic than a direct sequel. It doesn’t continue the first film’s characters or their stories, though it contains plenty of the same actors; instead, it offers new characters and situations upon which a similar story is predicated. It also ups the ante for on-screen nastiness; in addition to crocodiles being killed and split open, nails being driven into heads, mouths spewing blood onto wax voodoo dolls, and worms swimming beneath skin, there’s also ample amounts of sexual activity and female nudity.

    The film was clearly a knock-off of Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies (1966); women are victimized in much the same way, having their fingers pricked unsuspectingly and their blood collected, after which they are called to do the sexual bidding of a black magician (the latter is only hinted at in the Hammer classic but the subtext is clearly there). The wax voodoo dolls also look similar and are housed in similar tiny coffins, and when they catch fire, so do the zombies to which they belong. All this is not to say that the film is entirely unoriginal; if anything, Meng Hua Ho takes some of the basics from British Gothic cinema and builds a wildly berserk tale of sorcery around them, one that includes a loopy fight atop a cable car and occasional martial arts sequences.

    The film was dubbed into English in 1982 and released in the United States as Revenge of the Zombies. On an interesting anecdotal note, this viewer once sat up late on a summer weeknight to record the 1943 John Carradine film Revenge of the Zombies—which was listed in the TV Guide—only to find that it was Black Magic 2 (under its American title) instead. While it was heavily edited for television, a surprising amount of nastiness made it through the censors, shocking an impressionable mind that never forgot it!

    Black Magic 2 - Blu-ray Review:

    88 Films brings Black Magic 2 to Blu-ray through its 88 Asia Collection line. As with its predecessor, the film is presented with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. Restored to its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, the film looks phenomenal. Early on, skin tones look a little off (trending toward purple in the darker scenes), but the problem quickly resolves itself, so that after the action moves to the city, the film looks quite good and natural. Few films from the 1970s are as vivid as this one is in the color department; rather than being ugly and brown, it’s bright and beautiful, with brighter colors on the color spectrum looking neon. Reds, blues, and greens are gorgeous; they pop off the screen, lending an almost three-dimensional quality to the image. This is only helped by the high level of detail present. The film opens in rural Asia, where the habitat is mostly natural and external and looks astonishing in its level of detail. The clarity and sharpness continue when the film switches gears and moves to the city for the remainder of its action (though it also moves into a county estate—obviously comprised of a set—for occasional action set pieces). Interiors are every bit as sharp as exteriors and the colors every bit as beautiful. Even optical special effects sequences lose little of their vitality. That said, there appears to be some minor use of DNR to reduce noise in some scenes. It isn’t overused, and the image doesn’t devolve into a waxy mess. Nighttime scenes retain their detail and color, though a few have a slightly higher concentration of noise than the rest of the picture. On the whole, however, black levels are solid and the image has appropriate texture and depth. In other words, this is in line with the majority of 88 Films’ Shaw Brothers releases. (Now if only the label would release Human Skin Lanterns, 1982, on Blu.)

    88 Films includes two soundtracks for the film, both of them in lossless LPCM 2.0: the original track in Chinese, and an English dub track recorded for the early 1980s American release. Asian horror enthusiasts will want to listen to the original Chinese; optional English subtitles are provided. These titles are considerably different from the language spoken in the dub track, a positive thing given that the dub was designed to make the spoken language match the lips of the actors. Therefore, the subtitles are a more accurate reflection of the film’s original dialogue than the dubbing is. People interested in seeing Asian horror but having little patience with subtitles (shame on you, whomever you may be) will likely prefer the dub track, which is, admittedly, less distracting but also a far less rewarding experience. Both tracks are fairly clean and without any major blemishes, though the sound can be a bit tinny at times, likely a product of the original recordings.

    Unfortunately, there are no visual extras (meaning: no featurettes or trailers), but there is an audio commentary from Rock! Shock! Pop!’s own Ian Jane. As with the other tracks, the commentary utilizes lossless LPCM 2.0 sound. Creator of R!S!P! and a film reviewer in his own right, Jane packs the commentary with factoids, a mean feat given the sparsity of information about the film found on the Internet. Jane doesn’t stick to just the facts about the movie; he also dissects scenes and characters. He discusses the real-life violence aimed at a crocodile during the film’s opening scene, the musical cues that play throughout the movie, the plane that appears at the beginning of the film, the screenwriter, the director, various other crew members, the actors, some of the film’s flaws, the grue and other exploitation elements, the artistic compositions of the frame, and so much more. On a few occasions, Jane describes the action as it unfolds, but he doesn’t go overboard, and it’s always in service of helping viewers understand the movie’s plot, which might be confusing for some. Jane’s commentary was obviously prepared before recording and was not improvised while he watched the film, with the result being a superior track from someone who has done his research and is interested in both informing and entertaining his listeners. The only minor quibble is that he sometimes talks a little fast, but given the amount of information he crams into the 92-minute commentary, that may not be a bad thing.

    Finally, a four-page booklet containing liner notes by film historian Calum Waddell are included. Rather than reiterate or dissect specific plot points—or even cover the film’s director or cast at length—Waddell instead chooses to place Black Magic 2 within its cultural context. By comparing and contrasting it with American, Spanish, and Italian zombie flicks of the era, he posits its horrors within their proper position in the horror genre writ large: The film may have been influenced by I Walked With a Zombie (1943), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and Night of the Living Dead (1968), but it remains a very Asian creation, one that outdoes its contemporaries in a number of departments, not the least of which is the squeamish component.

    The case comes with a slipcover containing art from the original theatrical movie poster, as well as a reversible sleeve containing that same art or, alternately, newer art created specifically for this release.

    Black Magic 2 - The Final Word:

    Black Magic 2 is not the sequel its title suggests, but it remains a bizarre hybrid of American and British influences and Asian religious and cultural belief systems. In this regard, it somehow manages to be a blatant rip-off while forging new ground. Some viewers may not appreciate its audaciousness, but it manages to stand on its own merits, not the least of which is its progressive approach to visceral body horror. 88 Films’ BD release features gorgeously rendered colors and an excess of detail; even special effects sequences look great. There are few extras, but what is there is top-notch, particularly Ian Jane’s informative audio commentary.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author 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 2019.

    Click on the images below for full sized Black Magic 2 Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Haha... is this why Ian asked me if he talks too fast?
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Could be? I've never actually heard Ian talk (until now), so that could simply be the way he talks. You'll have to tell me, since you hear him on a daily basis!
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Maybe he does and I'm just used to it.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Social media has been around long enough that I've known people such as Ian for darned near 20 years and am only now just hearing their voices!