Continuing the movie tradition (even if it's only one 2-3 movies that actually made it a tradition in Hong Kong) of going on vacation OUTSIDE of Hong Kong only to invite evil magic into your plot (also see Centipede Horror by the same writer and producer), Titus Ho's only directed movie (otherwise writer, planner and producer on various movies such as Flirting, Sex Beyond The Grave, Clan Feuds and The King Of Masks) invites us to a ghost-ridden Borneo (or set there anyway as it was possibly shot elsewhere) with scorpion spells, animal cruelty and a knack for intense nastiness. Not so much Borneo's credit there director Titus Ho's
A Hong Kong filming crew shooting programs about ghost stories and legends in their quest for sensational footage unknowingly unleashes the Red Dwarf ghost. As the directors (Ga Lun - Jumping Ash) goes back to Hong Kong to evaluate the footage, his reporter Stella (Poon Lai-Yin) and crew stay behind in a local village to take in the sights and traditions. One by one the crew drop dead under mysterious circumstances and it's soon apparent a scorpion spell has been set loose and it's honing in on Stella. A local development officer (Ken Tong, 1*) assists in the hunt for the source of the spell...
All round confusion but compelling intensity courtesy of this era comes at us during the beginning where the camera is intense, in our face, the cutting is frantic and unfortunately the animal cruelty rears its head for the first of several times during the movie. While we're never clear about this setup, we go with it and especially genre fans will get on board with the predictable, sometimes unpredictable and nasty sights a movie focusing on ghosts and black magic can offer. Red Spell Spells Red should feel like a really comfortable bed... even though Scorpion Horror would've been a more apt title. Of course the Hong Kong people are set up as career whores and Ga Lun's director care little for ancient traditions or respecting ancient grounds as the crew goes into the tomb of the Red Dwarf ghost. Even later village leader Dairoma (Centipede Horror's Hussein Hassan) faces resistance from his daughter about the old, inhumane way of thinking so there are trains of thoughts clashing here. Nothing too deep and usually Titus Ho keeps matters snappy and probes us where we should feel it instead.
As with Centipede Horror, the film feels like a tourist documentary for the unnamed S.E. Asia of the film (the subtitles actually does reveal it's Borneo in the end) but after the horny Hong Kongers meet their demise, Ho is off to the races and the skills of providing intensity and disgusting sights is well used during his only time here. One of the crew members being dragged through rivers by an unnamed force, trees coming to life to impale our stupid victims and leafs clinging on to human skin and ripped off slowly taking the face with them... the smorgasbord is plenty and neatly filled by the make-up team who also gives us body horror with scorpions crawling out of open wounds. A definite highlight.
Having said all that and Red Spell Spells Red does a lot of things in its sharp depiction of all this (an intensity, a sudden one even is a key in Ho's direction), unashamedly it's an exploitation picture for better or worse though. No rampant nudity is found but at pretty unwarranted moments we see through Poon Lai-Yin's shirt and her, albeit brief, bath scene is very transparent filmmaking too. It's for the better but viewers should be aware that there's three distinct scenes of animal cruelty and although they play into the story somewhat as in one example the local village slaughter animals to find and get rid the scorpion spell, it's gleefully shot in close up and extended as well. An era specific thing to get attention and although I can deal with it personally and roll along with the goodies Titus Ho DOES offer, it should serve as a warning to potential viewers.
A terrific little finale involving tons of scorpions, fire and a brave actor taking on BOTH those elements, the snap and intensity remains a staple in Ho's direction and of course it's crude, basic but genre-fans should get a kick out of the era specific intensity seeming seemingly only possible at this time. Perhaps the only time Titus Ho felt he could provide much of anything and much of the choices stick with you. Exploitation goodies and horrors are good traits of Red Spell Spells Red and what it's up for criticism for as well.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Speaking of Centipede Horror, it stars Ken Tong's fellow TVB actor Michael Miu and they were along with Felix Wong and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai very popular TV actors and dubbed TVB's Five Tigers. Shame not all of them did a movie of this type and during this time.