BY GAV ELLINGER.
What attracted me to Hong Kong movies initially was the total unpredictability of the plots, which could fly off in unexpected directions at any given moment, and unlike most Hollywood movies refused to follow formulaic patterns. Yes, HK movies really were a law unto themselves and i found this aspect of crazy film-making very endearing and exciting. Some of the best horror and action movies to come out of Hong Kong were made during the early 80’s and Keith Li’s 1982 horror offering Centipede Horror (aka Centipede Curse) is no exception and is a perfect example of bonkers cinema which streamed out of the country during this era.
From the opening credits Centipede Horror may be too much for some viewers who have an aversion to all things creepy crawly, as we see close ups of giant centipedes slithering across branches while a narrative informs us that these things are extremely venomous and their bites can paralyse, aargh no kidding!
Our story starts as a character with the name of Kay and her friend Amy take a trip to SE Asia, the exact location never seems to be mentioned, and while out for a trek is attacked by giant centipedes in the woods. Her mother is concerned to learn that Kay has been taken to hospital and her brother Wai Lun sets off to find out what has happened to his sis, only to discover doctors are baffled and Kay can no longer speak. Her condition worsens, worms appearing on her body and finally dies. Wai Lun returns home where his mother begins to tell him of bad luck in the family stating his grandpa did shameful things in SE Asia that were unknown. Desperate to know the truth about his grandpa he sets out to meet his grand uncle who informs him of a village where a mysterious fire took place years earlier with many people burnt to death. Plagued by nightmare visions of crawling things and exploding urns Wai turns to his friend Chee who believes an evil spell was cast on Kay. Chee’s parents tell Wai of the village where many people died in the fire and he and Chee travel there. Chee wanders off and as Wai searches for her he hears strange eerie sounds like babies crying. He finds Chee who has been startled by an old man in the woods who tells them that somebody has deliberately burned down the village and a curse will fall on them.
Their friend Ping says he knows a priest who ‘rears’ ghosts by stealing the corpses of children and immersing two dolls in the oil melted down from their corpses! The dolls are put into little coffins, and prayers recited three times a day. After 49 days the dolls open their eyes and push open the coffins. The two dolls become his adopted ghosts and will obey all his commands. Wai and Chee then witness the priest perform a ritual on the corpse of a young woman with the help of the two ghosts named ‘little pea’ and ‘big pea’! This is one of the wackier scenes in the film as the priest beheads a chicken and covers the naked corpse in weird symbols using the chickens blood, while banging two bones together as the now re-animated cadaver writhes around on the floor only to suddenly stand up and proceed to spew forth a copious amount of blood filled with live scorpions! Yuck!
In flashback we discover the fire was started by Wai’s grandfather after his wife caught him cheating on her, and ‘accidently’ killing both his wife and lover decided to cover his crimes by setting fire to the house, however, his lovers baby was barbecued in the process which didnt go down very well with the baby’s father, the old man Chee had bumped into in the woods, and just so happened to be the local witch doctor! Whoops! With his family line cursed Wai discovers his only protection from the powers of evil is a strange talisman passed down to him by his family that had been given to his grandfather on his wedding day, and as the wizard attempts to destroy Wai with evil spells he fails as Wai is protected by the talisman. He casts a ‘sound’ spell on Chee in order to control her mind and make her obey his commands, and as the now possessed Chee removes the talisman from around Wai’s neck a battle between good and evil ensues between the priest and wizard.
The film really starts to get unsettling at this point, and 72 minutes into the movie, hey the centipedes return , hundreds of them, squirming and wriggling their way through every nook and cranny and heading straight towards Wai’s house under the control of the wizard. In retaliation the priest resurrects an army of undead zombie chickens (presumably to eat the centipedes!), this scene should raise a few laughs at the sheer ridiculousness of seeing a tirade of flaming chicken carcasses flying through the air launching an arial assault on the evil sorcerer. This poultry effort to kill the evil one fails however as he finally gets dispatched when Wai knocks a kettle of boiling water over the talisman, a snake slithers from it and burrows it’s way into the wizards head in gory detail. Just as you think that’s it, Chee wakes up, the spell broken, and the final minutes are taken up with barf-inducing close-up shots of live centipedes being vomited from her mouth! I can only hope that Margaret Li the actress who was subjected to this gross-out scene was paid well, but somehow i doubt it!
All in all Centipede Horror is an enjoyable piece of trash from the hayday of Hong Kong cinema (sitting nicely alongside such other classics like Seeding Of A Ghost and Devil Fetus) and well worth 90 minutes of your time, if you can find a copy that is!
Watch trailer here: