Corpse Mania (1981) – By Cary Conley

Well before Lucker, the Necrophagus and light years before Buttgereit’s Nekromantik series, the Shaw Brothers were breaking taboos that only the likes of Italy’s Joe D’Amato was brave enough to address, such as necrophilia.

Chih-hung Kuei, director of the famed The Boxer’s Omen and The Killer Snakes, directs what I can only describe as Hong Kong’s first—and likely only—Giallo.  Very Argento-esque, the film has bright, vivid blues and reds, a mysterious masked killer, and a very noir-like atmosphere filled with shadows and dark, foggy alleyways.  The film is also a bit of a police procedural, another theme so prevalent in Italian Giallo films.

Again, much like giallo films, there are several gory scenes such as several knifings and a decapitation.  There are also a couple of scenes with maggot-covered corpses being ravished by a necrophiliac.  While these scenes aren’t nearly as graphic as later films that covered the same territory (here the resident pervert merely caresses the corpses and sleeps beside them without ever actually abusing them), I would imagine the mere idea presented in a film from 1981 would be enough to keep it from being shown throughout the world.  These particular scenes aren’t gory or violent, or really even very sickening; in fact, aside from the numerous maggots, there isn’t much in these scenes that would create a gross-out factor.

Substituting style over substance, the plot is a bit contrived and has a few flaws, but this is a Hong Kong exploitation film, and much like Giallo, these films aren’t well-known for their fantastic scripting.  There is a murderer on the loose, spending a great deal of time killing hookers known for working in a certain house of prostitution.  Meanwhile, maggot-strewn corpses are being found along with evidence of said corpses being sexually abused.  Are the killer and pervert one and the same?  Are the murders a way to avenge a wrong perpetrated by the Madam of the whorehouse?

The film manages to create a fair bit of tension as lonely women walk down even lonelier fog-shrouded alleyways.  Except for the Chinese-language neon signs, these streets look for all the world like 19th century London.  One memorable scene reminiscent of gialli depicts a would-be murder victim fighting to reach the phone before she is completely pulled under the bed by the murderer.  She fights her way out from under the bed only to be jerked back under and away from the phone time and again.

This is a slightly artsy and very stylish film, not at all in line with the director’s usual output (although Kuei does have a penchant for the sexually perverse as in the BDSM scenes in Killer Snakes, etc.).  A very unusual film, not only for its time, but also for the production company—although not as lurid as the title or plot would indicate–it has only recently seen the light of day on U.S. shores and is worth a look.