October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about kung fu horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Just when you think you’ve explored every avenue of freaky filmmaking, you stumble into the glorious realm of kung fu horror movies. The blend of Wushu sensibilities and extreme phantasmagoria results in a new style of intoxicating cinema that easily addles the senses of the audience. These movies hit hard, bouncing from one tone to the next in a matter of seconds. The moment you think you comprehend the characters and the universe, no doubt, something incredible will slap across the screen, causing your head to swim and your heart to palpitate.
Join the Boo Crew — a.k.a. Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly — as we hurl ourselves into this wild, wire-fu arena and determine the ten best bouts of cinema this utterly bonkers subgenre has to offer.
10. Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)
Jiangshi movies make up one of the strangest and most entertaining subgenres of horror cinema. These films are inspired by ancient Chinese mythology that pertains to hopping vampires, which is a fascinating element in and of itself. However, what makes the movies really special is their genre-mashing goofiness, combining horror, slapstick comedy, and martial arts to entertaining effect. Encounters of the Spooky Kind sits alongside the Mr. Vampire series as the pinnacle of Jiangshi fare. In the movie, Sammo Hung plays a poor sap who encounters the hopping creatures after his wife and boss hire an evil wizard to curse him. But he’s a kung fu master, and he uses his skills to overcome the supernatural threats. The fight choreography is outstanding and also allows Hung to showcase his prowess for physical comedy. (Kieran Fisher)
9. Silent Rage (1982)
We get it. Chuck Norris isn’t “cool” anymore. Happily, plenty of his earlier movies still are, and that includes his first foray into the horror genre: Silent Rage (his second and last, 1994’s Hellbound, is not worth discussing). Norris plays a small-town sheriff known for shutting down bad guys with a series of roundhouse kicks, but a genetically modified killer impervious to pain and capable of healing his wounds decides it’s time to vote this sheriff out of office. Permanently. Ron Silver plays the mad scientist, Brian Libby plays the mute killer, and Stephen Furst is also in it for some reason.
Norris’ martial arts are great fun. He’s doing spin kicks in jeans, people! It’s a creepily entertaining slasher that builds to an entertaining one-on-one fight scene with punches, chops, kicks, chokeholds, flips, throws, and slow-motion to die for. And if all that’s not enough? How about the fact that Norris’ character is named Dan Stevens, and a few months after the film’s release in 1982, a newborn boy was not-so-coincidentally named Daniel Jonathan Stevens, and that boy grew up to be… well, he kept the name, so he grew up to be Dan Stevens, director of The Guest. Anyway, Silent Rage is pretty damn cool. (Rob Hunter)
8. Rigor Mortis (2013)
Juno Mak’s moody movie isn’t clear-cut horror or simply a kung fu movie, but it’s a visually arresting film that pays tribute to the classic jiangshi saga Mr. Vampire and other greats of the subgenre. Actor Chin Siu-ho of the original film franchise plays a depressed version of himself who moves into an apartment building that turns out to be filled with ghostly neighbors. An endlessly intriguing, strange, and bleak movie, Rigor Mortis pulls off some seriously freaky visuals. Former Mr. Vampire actors and jiangshi film stars Anthony Chan, Billy Lau, Richard Ng, and Chung Fat round out the cast. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
Ching Siu-Tung’s A Chinese Ghost Story is unlike any movie you’ve ever experienced. It follows the naive scholar and debt collector Ling Choi-San (Leslie Cheung), who, by happenstance, falls in love with Lip Siu-Sin (Joey Wong), the ghost of a magistrates daughter bound to an afterlife of servitude to a Tree Demoness (Lau Siu-Ming) and forced into an arranged marriage with a giant mountain monster. When she tries to escape after falling for Ling Choi-San, the Demoness drags her to the underworld, forcing her lover and a Taoist monk to bring her back and put her soul to rest.
This film is brimming with ingenuity and imagination, pulling together classic 17th-century Chinese ghost stories with Evil Dead inspired cinematography, hyper stylistic lighting, and stop motion monsters straight out of Ray Harryhausen. Hell, the Taoist monk even has his own musical number, which is as charming as it is out of the fucking blue. The kung fu scenes are more of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon variety, with actors bounding between trees while zooming through the air, but it’s really the images in A Chinese Ghost Story that make it such a must-watch. You’ll never be able to unsee thousands of disembodied heads bursting out of a monster’s chest or a tongue that splits into a fleshy beak that reveals a face filled with tendrils, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem for you horror fans. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Versus (2000)
Versus is a simple flick. A gang of yakuza wants the mysterious Prisoner KSC2-303 dead. They’ve trapped him in the Forest of Resurrection. No one is leaving until the job is done. Enter: zombies. Director Ryuhei Kitamura is a damn madman, and he makes movies that feel like they shouldn’t be around other movies. His flicks deserve their own shelf, and probably their own list for that matter. Versus sets up a bunch of rules early on but quickly dismisses them when necessary. The most important element of the film is its energy. As long as it’s moving and the characters are wailing and clashing against each other, everything else doesn’t matter. You sweat when you watch Versus. It’s mayhem, and it’s a workout. (Brad Gullickson)