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Categories: Movie Reviews

The stylish and energetic martial arts classic is now on DVD with a range of bonus features.


Terracotta Distribution are the latest DVD company to have a crack at releasing rare and vintage Martial Arts films that are outside the normal vogue. Most of us who gain an interest normally do so through the likes of the Bruce Lee classics like Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury, but there were a number of films released theatrically in the UK that haven’t really been given that level of exposure like the Lee films. Some of them were retitled and repackaged to capitalize on Bruce Lee’s death; one actor was called Bruce Li, and there was one example of wordplay in the film title Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger.

One film that is getting a release from Terracotta through its Classic Kung Fu Collection series is The Nine Demons (1983), which is described by the distributor as “Kung Fu meets Hammer Horror.” All I will say before I continue is that if Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell ever needed a source material to create a brand new adventure for their iconic Evil Dead hero Ash, they should look no further than The Nine Demons, which was originally released around the same time as their original classic was topping the UK VHS video charts and making inroads on the UK cinema, setting house records at the likes of London’s Prince Charles Cinema.

The Nine Demons is not a movie you would watch for subtext, as a lot of the subtitled dialogue is so on-the-nose in its execution that you forgive it in the midst of all the terrific choreography and action, directed by Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh, who, according to the press notes, mentored John Woo during his early career. This Taiwanese film, in Mandarin with English Subtitles for the UK re-release, has all the hallmarks of a classic Martial Arts epic.

The plot involves two childhood friends, trained in deadly martial arts (which is firmly established even as the opening credits are rolling off the screen!) who are the only survivors of a massacre. One of them stumbles on a portal to Hell, where the lord of the underworld grants him magical demonic powers with the desire for revenge. The ‘Nine Demons’ (which manifest themselves in the form of women and children, who suck blood from their victims during the course of the film) are allowed to enter his body. However, it comes at a price in that he cannot break the bond, with the threat of dismemberment.

Jackie Chan might have been foremost with his creative fights in the likes of Rumble in the Bronx and Rush Hour, but The Nine Demons does contain similarly-styled fights using chains and bamboo during two key sequences. The visual effects are very much as you’d expect for the time, but add to the retro look of the film, which is shot for the most part on what appear to be a number of sound-stages, with location work as well. The fight scenes, as I say, are admirably edited and choreographed, with the participants demonstrating energetic and physical capability in a manner that is becoming of many of those offerings form the period.

The DVD release contains the following extras: an interview with Tai-Ping Yu and a stills gallery, plus the “Old-School English dub”, which has the title of The 9 Venoms. (Please note: the original Subtitled version is in 2.35:1, whilst the dubbed version is in a 4:3 format, so I’d recommend that you stick with the subtitled version to gain the full benefit of the film).

I actually enjoyed the overall energy and atmosphere of the piece at times, and it took me back to those heady days when my family would rent a VHS on a Friday evening after school, after which I’d watch the film myself a second time when I woke up on a Saturday morning. Mind you, for the unaware, the quality of VHS tapes was negligible back then, with a lot of films released in pan-and-scan and tapes often diminishing in quality as rentals increased with time. At least today, the technology of DVD means you can watch these films properly with no fear of bad quality (unless the disc is scratched).

Terracotta deserve to be applauded for bringing out this and other releases in the collection. Please do check out their other offerings.

The Nine Demons re-release is out now on DVD. 

Posted on Apr 27, 2016

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