Friday, 23 January 2015

The Oily Maniac

Oil Be Back

The Oily Maniac
1976 Hong Kong 
Directed by Meng Hua Ho
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures 
Hong Kong DVD Region 3

It was just about ten years ago that I first saw The Oily Maniac at the cinema. I can date it fairly accurately because I went with my friends Teresa and @cultofthecinema and the former was pregnant with her first child at the time. However, her “mum to be” status didn’t stop her going to see a Shaw Brothers all nighter at the Curzon Soho consisting of these four films playing throughout the night - The Monkey Goes West (also directed by Meng Hua Ho and the first of the four Shaw Brothers Monkey movies), The Mighty Peking Man (a fun antidote to anyone with a love of King Kong), The Super Infra Man (aw, don’t even ask... but it’s awesome) and this one... The Oily Maniac.

I’d managed to grab the other three movies on Region 3, from the wonderful Hong Kong Shaw Brothers label Celestial Pictures, not long after I first saw them (along with a few other Shaw Brothers classics) but, for some reason, The Oily Maniac had always managed to elude me as a purchase and, sadly, the huge back catalogue put out by the label on R3 is now almost entirely extinct. Then, for Christmas 2014, my cousin Steve came to the rescue as he managed to source a second hand copy of the film from ebay, again on the Celestial Pictures DVD label. This company is renowned, at least with me and a small bunch of my friends, for treating these movies with absolute love and releasing them in pristine transfers, uncut, in their original language and with optional English subtitles that don’t, as some Hong Kong labels are guilty of, look like they’ve been translated by someone who managed to glance briefly at a UK Dictionary at some point in their life.

The movie has a simple plot and stars Tien Lung Chen (of the original Shaw Brothers movie of The Water Margin and the Shaw Brothers/Hammer produced movie The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, amongst others) as a man crippled by having polio in his youth and who works as a put upon young legal assistant for a bunch of less than scrupulous lawyers. However, when his Uncle is scheduled to be executed for accidentally killing one of a gang of villains who are threatening the local Coconut Oil Factory where his childhood lady friend works... things get complicated, in a kind of B-movie 1950s Western kind of plotting way. Just before his Uncle is executed, he reveals to our hero a big set of drawn and written instructions tattooed on his back on how to use a magic spell which will transform our mild mannered polio victim into a defender of justice. Tien copies down the instructions and follows them, digging a big hole in the middle of his living room, which he then jumps in, sinking into the seeping oil beneath. When he comes back up out of the hole he is transformed into... The Oily Maniac.

If this kind of oily plotting sounds kinda crude, well yeah.. it’s not very good. In fact it’s dire... so dire that I love it and can probably stand to watch it a few more times in my life, truth be told. The Oily Maniac goes on an oily rampage and tracks down, over the course of the film, the various villains and, in one case, villainess, who are all tied in with the back handed deals taking place around the Coconut Oil Factory.

Funnily enough, pretty much all the people in this film who end up on the slick end of The Oily Maniac’s wrath all seem to be either an inherent rapist or a woman who is seducing men to her advantage (and other bad things) as well as all being involved in the whole Coconut Oil fiasco. And when I say raping and seducing, there’s a handy guide to telling who is doing what to whom, subtly hidden within the genetic make-up of the film. That is to say, pretty much every woman in the film has her breasts bared at some point... mostly against her will. The ladies in question either have their bodices ripped away from them before being raped - and aggressive breast revealing does seem to be the most common form of communication between men and women in this movie, it has to be said - or they rip their own dresses off to get the attention of the men in their lives. Or men about to be in their lives, I guess.

Not to worry though because, when Tien Lung Chen is lurking nearby and senses this heavy handed nude injustice, he oils himself up to kill anyone with a penchant for revealing female flesh. That’s right... he finds the nearest funnel spewing oil... or can of oil... or some other kind of bizarrely handy receptacle of oil... just lying about on the street... and slathers himself up in it until his transformation takes place and, once more, he is... The Oily Maniac! A creature that looks like a badly latex shrouded, black monster with a glowing red heart and who destroys his enemies while making moans and wailing noises which, to be honest, sound like Lou Ferringo with a bad hangover rather than anything else I can think of right now.

Here he is... a creature who can suddenly turn himself into a badly superimposed oil slick so he can follow cars or appear halfway up someone’s wall before rearing up again in all his well oiled glory. Cut a limb off and he grows it back. Cut his head off and he grows it back. Pearce his glowing, pulsating red heart and... oh, wait a  minute. Nobody thinks of that. Why the heck has he got a flashing, pulsing, glowing red heart in the middle of all that oily skin? I’m sure it might have been scripted as being a weak spot at some stage in the game but... nope, it seems it’s completely superfluous in the final version of the movie as released. Instead, when The Oily Maniac starts becoming a bit of a nuisance and wanted by the police for his dastardly crimes against very bad people... the woman who once loved him finds another, not too complicated to work out, way of ending his black oily reign. I guess it’s what you would call standard oil procedure, in this case.

Standard oil procedure also seems to include plugging in a Johnny Williams score whenever the title creature comes out to play. At first, when the musical alarm bells start sounding (in this original presentation of the film, at least... it might have been “copyright censored” in any US releases), it sounds like composer Yung-Yu Chen is just nicking and rerecording Johhny Williams famous two note ostinato shark theme from Jaws. However, it’s not long before every time our black, leaky avenger roars onto the screen, the film makers just needle drop the famous melody straight from the original 1975 vinyl album of Jaws wholesale, in its original orchestration. This kind of thing goes on a lot in certain kinds of movies from countries where the copyright laws are... well... different to what they would be in any sensible usage. Hong Kong and Turkish cinema are hotbeds of musical lawsuits waiting to happen... don’t get me started. Anyway...

As I said, the story and dialogue in this one are pretty terrible and, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the quality of the acting performances are of an equal calibre in this case. Of course, with lines like the ones they’ve been given, I can only sympathise with the actors and actresses in this tale when it comes to the dim witted sentences they are asked to say out loud but at least the director tries to keep things interesting. The shot design is not the greatest in the world by anybody’s standards but it’s not horrible and there are some nice stylistic flourishes, such as when Tien Lung Chen “accidentally” catches the light fitting in his living room as he is pick axing his way through the floor to make his magic oil hole... the light then swings this way and that, making the lighting and movement in the subsequent shots of that scene quite interesting to look at.

However, as good as the camerawork is in certain sections of the movie, it doesn’t do anything to boost the quality of the film in this case. This doesn’t, however, stop the movie the director has “rigged up” from being a whole can of fun and if you are a fan of inept and, frankly, ridiculous looking monsters  surrounded by scenes of scantily clad, big bosomed ladies and bad acting, all supported by bits of a world famous Johnny Williams score, then you’re certainly in for a treat. As far as my involvement with the film goes and my viewing habits regarding it... well, all I can say is... oil be back.

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