• The Devil (Massacre Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Massacre Video
    Released on: February 10th, 2020.
    Director: Jen-Chieh Chang
    Cast: Shao Tung Chou, Bao-Yu Wang, Hung Lieh Chen, Ti Ou
    Year: 1981
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    The Devil – Movie Review:

    When this one opens, a woman gets whacked in the head with a brick! From there, we head into the inner sanctum of a female witch. At her feet lies a man covered in soars and clearly in bad shape. It turns out that his stomach is full of snakes and worms and centipedes – we know this because he pukes some up and also because the witch cuts open his stomach to confirm that, yes, he is under a black magic curse. She grabs a snake and grinds it up into a potion (animal lovers be forewarned) and then mutters something about ‘fighting poison with poison’ before making him ingest it. He pukes more, and is then warned to take it easy for a while and specifically to stay away from women. He doesn’t listen and once he’s a bit better, he’s out there doing his thing – which results in more sores and more puking and then the appearance of the girl who got bonked in the head with a brick, no in spectral form.

    Elsewhere, the man who killed the girl (Shao Tung Chou) checks himself into a fancy hotel with some help from a kid/bellboy named… Ding Dong (Ti Ou), the son of the owner. Nobody at the hotel knows he’s the killer, in fact, everyone seems to like him just fine. Ding Dong, always hustling, decides he can make a few bucks by setting this eligible bachelor up with the hotel owner’s other child, who just so happens to be a beautiful young woman (Bao-Yu Wang). He does this by putting together a scheme where they’ll sit together at a movie, which doesn’t go well with the other guy Ding Dong set up with the same scheme... who is his cousin? Confusing. But again, Ding Dong is always hustling. At any rate, the two quickly fall in love and are married, at which point a stranger arrives and accuses the new groom of some nefarious activity in his past… like bonking innocent women on the head with bricks. The brother meant well but is promptly accused of being a witch and burned alive at the stake. Well, it turns out that the new groom is very much the sleazy conman that the dead guy recently burned accused him of being – which doesn’t bode well for his new bride or her family, especially once the ‘Tame Head Curse’ is invoked!

    Lots more puke, bugs and snakes (sometimes all three) occurs before it’s done, and we also get some nice dismemberment, a ghost with a weird googly eye makeup appliance (getting hit in the head with a brick will do that to you – give you a googly eye, that is) in this decidedly bizarre low budget Taiwanese horror picture from director Jen-Chieh Chang. It works on the same level as some of the horror pictures that came out via Shaw Brothers studio in years prior (think Black Magic, Black Magic 2, Hex and the like, or the non-Shaw 1982 picture Centipede Horror) in that it deals with Taoist magic and rituals and, not only that, isn’t afraid to go for the gross out. The effects are more icky than gory, there isn’t a lot of actual blood shed – but we get plenty of people with real worms and snakes crawling out of their mouths accompanied by a lot of bright green slime! You’ve got to hand it to the actors recruited to play the cursed characters in this film, as this doesn’t look like it would have been fun to work on at all.

    The story gets a little confusing in spots – in fact, it gets pretty muddled - but it wraps up quite nicely. Jen-Chieh Chang opens things with a bang, slows things down for some melodrama for a stretch, and then picks things up again in the last act, so you’ll need to stick with things during the slower middle stretch, but the payoff is worth it. Tonally this one is all over the place, bouncing from worm puking to romantic comedy and back again, but that’s kind of charming in its own bizarre way.

    As to the acting? Clearly Ding Dong steals the show. He’s a delightfully annoying little bugger who really has no place in a gross-out picture like this, yet somehow completely belongs here at the same time. High marks to the lady who plays the white and the other lady who plays the googly-eyed vengeful ghost – they’re both pretty cool. Shao Tung Chou also does well here, convincing us that he is in fact a very nice guy before turning the tables on the other characters in the film, and in turn the audience.

    Oh, and pay attention during the bar scene early in the film and listen carefully for a strange elevator music version of Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’ playing in the background.

    The Devil – Blu-ray Review:

    When you play the feature from the main menu on the disc, you’re greeted with a disclaimer that states:

    “Due to extremely poor storage conditions, the original negative to The Devil (the only known film materials) suffered severe mold and moisture damage. Although the film was meticulously cleaned, removing much of its surface dirt, the mold had irreparably eaten away at the emulsion, resulting in extensive splotching throughout. Furthermore, the text overlay elements for the title sequence could not be located and therefore, rather than creating distracting digital credits, we have left the film textless. The optical track negative was also severely warped due to poor storage, resulting in periodic warble. It's also worth noting that the negative represents an extended cut of the film. We have included the better known standard cut as a tape sourced extra.”

    The Devil comes to Blu-ray from Massacre Video taken from a new 4k scan of the original ‘moldtastic’ (their words, not mine) negative and framed in its original 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio, and while it’s easy to focus on things like ‘new 4k scan’ the emphasis should be on the word ‘moldtastic.’ As you can see from the screen caps below, the disclaimer is warranted and the elements used – again, the only known film source available for this film – were pretty much left rotting. To be fair, there most assuredly was extensive clean up done in an attempt to get this into something reasonably close to watchable, but the mold damage is clearly extensive and if the emulsion has been eaten away as stated (which is certainly seems to be), well, you can’t really get that back. The screen caps below tell the story, the image is frequently plagued by the ‘splotchiness’ noted at the start, resulting in what can sometimes look like green lighting dancing across the screen. This can wreak havoc with the colors sometimes, and print damage is common. That said, if you’re forgiving of this type of thing, you can become immune to after fifteen-minutes or so. Detail can look reasonably good in the infrequent sequences where the damage isn’t as noticeable, and the disc shows no problems with compression, noise reduction or edge enhancement. The feature takes up just under 21GBs of space on the 50GB disc. This is simply a matter of Massacre Video doing the best they could with what they had to work with and what they had to work with being in terrible shape. But if it comes down to this or nothing – which seems to be the case here - then clearly this is the better option, and given that the elements were in such rough shape, it’s a bit of a miracle that we even have this on Blu-ray at all.

    The only audio option on the disc is a Mandarin language LPCM Mono track. Optional (not burned in, as we’ve seen in the past) subtitles are provided in English. Again, referring back to the information in that disclaimer, there is some noticeable warbling at times but the audio, overall, does fare better than the video does. Expect some hiss, some audible scratches and some pops here and there but the levels are mostly balanced well. The subtitles are clean and easy to read. Past editions had only the English dub, so it’s great to have the original Chinese language option provided.

    The main extra on the disc is the ‘Alternative Video Cut’ which is transferred from the original 1" master tape and presented with English and Mandarin audio options and optional English subtitles. Those with an affection for the goofy English dub can enjoy it by way of this alternate version of the film. This version takes up 10GBs of space on the disc and is actually upscaled to 1080p. In terms of picture quality, here are a few screen caps from the tape sourced version:

    Clearly the element-sourced version, visible below, is the superior option even with the mold.

    The disc also offers up the alternate video title sequence. Also included on the disc is a 35mm theatrical trailer, a Mandarin video trailer, an English video trailer, a still gallery and trailers for a few other Massacre Video titles (Mr. No Legs and Tumbling Doll Of Flesh). Menus and chapter selection options are also provided on the disc.

    The Devil – The Final Word:

    The Devil is as ridiculously entertaining as it is ridiculously gross! The elements used for Massacre Video’s transfer have clearly been through the ringer, there’s no escaping that, but the movie holds up well and there are some decent extras on here. The film itself is a blast though. Recommended!

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