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The Nine Demons (1984)
Director: Chang Cheh

review by Ian Shutter

A poisoned stew is entree to some introductory fighting as Gan Manor is targeted for a hostile takeover. Garish lighting and comical special effects are monstrous enough, as vengeful hero Joey acquires almighty sorcery from a devilish magician, but there's worse to come after initial success in rescuing his best chum from the villain's torture chamber. Plot-wise, it all does downhill from there and gaily leaps off the cliff-edge of story logic to abandon any follow-able narrative sense in favour of colourful madness.

Completely bonkers in its fast-paced mixture of superhero kung fu and horror tropes, The Nine Demons quickly becomes more noisily irritating than it is entertaining. The titular demons are flying skulls (that Joey likes to wear as his pantomime neck-chain) which incarnate as a gang of chattering children - often acrobatic in grass skirts, with similarly vampiric tendencies as their skull forms. The comedy routines hardly pause for breath, but the already-ridiculous pandemonium disco joke wears dangerously thin after just a couple of supernatural action set-pieces.

Despite having made a star of Jimmy Wang in wuxia classic, One-Armed Swordsman (1967), director Chang Cheh was at the very sorry end of his career here. This is a silly movie that practically pisses on its own genre's traditions while delivering none of the campy amusements and hyper-manic invention, or comparatively high quality special effects, that distinguished Tsui Hark's most groundbreaking fantasy epic Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983), never mind attempting to be being anything like a witty precursor to John Carpenter's cult-worthy Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

Previously, Cheh was Roy Ward Baker's co-director on the Hammer Studio and Shaw Brothers' co-production, The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974), so perhaps it was no big surprise that Cheh would re-visit costumed horror fu in this last gasp of his failing creativity. Of course, his exalted position as a godfather of Hong Kong pictures is beyond question, but watching The Nine Demons remains a quite sadly dispiriting, and rather annoyingly dismal, experience. It's a trashy movie that's best viewed as an under-achieving footnote to an illustrious CV, and if it wasn't for the beer I consumed while watching it I would certainly have enjoyed this DVD even less than my two star rating implies.

The Nine Demons



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