On the heels of reviewing The Devil and by chance starting the theme of watching Hong Kong and Taiwan cinema "letting" their actors put creepy crawlers in their mouth for effect (in absent of effects), 1982's Centipede Horror arrives in expected less than refined fashion but carrying a genre box of freaky goodies satisfying the thirsty genre hordes (which in reality today amounts to about 12 people). This time, as opposed to The Devil however, we know the main cast got into the action and the creepy stars of the film take a backseat when our lead actress have them crawling out of their mouths not once... but twice. If you're going to work with centipedes, you WORK with centipedes! Viva pure disgust!
Pak Wai Lun's (Miu Kiu-Wai) sister Kay travels to South East Asia (as it's always referred to in the film but possibly the film is largely Indonesia set in actuality. A case of the filmmakers not wanting to be specific?) for vacation but is struck with a mysterious disease after a centipede attack. The brother travels to be with her but Kay dies from her increasingly horrifying condition and out of her body crawls live centipedes! Now trying to find an answer that may lie in the past, with old classmate Yeuk Chee (Margaret Lee) by his side the danger increases the longer Pak stays...
Really the only recipe for success needed for Centipede Horror is to push where it will sting. Director Keith Lee (whose only other directing credit was the year after at Shaw Brothers with The Supreme Swordsman) therefore bring a pretty clear structure but is not lazy or lacking skill to the degree where (most) the in between-time between the goodies supposed to be corresponding to the film's title is lackluster. After a close-up showcase of the centipedes and some narration explaining what dangerous things they are (accompanied by moody cinematography and aggressive sounds), Lee keeps matters moving. It's all moving from point A to B and so on in a sufficient manner, surrounded by part creepy crawler flick but largely witchcraft is the order of the day.
Also despite a low budget, the technical crew does show a knack for getting audience reaction via make-up, in particular anything concerning boils. After flirting with the supernatural genre and ghosts, it's clear via a slower middle section of showcasing the geography of Indonesia and bringing to light the past sins now inflicted upon our lead characters that a rebound is needed. It IS however the magic and genuine intellect present in many of these films that they manage to deliver upon a premise. Certain things lives up to the hype.
The last 20 therefore is a fine mix of priests dueling it out, a mixture of crude make-up as a result of the various centipede attacks and the physical elements bringing the last reel home in stunning fashion. The centipedes are plentiful, shot with an aura of nastiness and creepiness and what male lead Miu Kiu-Wai gets to go through working WITH these is nothing compared to queen of this movie Margaret Lee goes through. After being possessed by the evil priest (Hussein Hassan), Lee's switch in persona means a convincing sexiness enters her which is not revolutionary acting but it's a treat in combination that she at two points have live centipedes crawling out of her mouth. Add what looks like skeleton chickens as a tool to combat the centipede spell (and earlier some good ol' exploitation elements in the form of a naked exorcism involving adopted ghosts!) and the display is complete. Nothing is missed or goes unutilized and for that Keith Lee, Margaret Lee and the Centipede Horror lives up to a cult status amidst the audience that knows of it. Hong Kong cinema got busy and not everything worthy of the spotlight got it. Centipede Horror remains out of the spotlight but retains its acclaimed status.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson