The director of the documentary Taiwan Black Movies, Hou Chi-Jan, surely would love or is in love with Chang Jen-Chieh's The Devil for the obvious reasons. Bringing in elements of the black magic and sorcery movies and realizing the only way to bring it up to disgusting levels is by doing it yourself (or in this case letting the actors put anything in their mouths), who knows how the casting session dialogue went but regardless, Chang Jen-Chieh puts the actors and effects team through hell by physically doing it all. Is it bearable shock tactics though?
Moving into a hotel run by a family, Koo Hau Sing (Sherman Wong) falls for the daughter Shirley (Wong Bo-Yuk) after some nifty matchmaking by the bellboy Ding Dong (Au Dai). While the rest of the family is suspicious about how fast the romance falls into place, a marriage IS arranged. Happiness doesn't last long though as Koo is a conman out to destroy the family for his own financial benefit. Sights of a dead girl suggests Koo has a past connected to murder though and a death in the hotel family triggers the need for an eye for an eye-stance, via the auntie (Lau Yin-Seung) who knows how to cast deadly spells...
Initially you're fooled into thinking Cheng Jen-Chieh's direction is all over the place and sloppy as we're genuinely confused by eerie shots of a train, a girl waiting only to be quickly and viciously killed off using a rock. Freeze frame, cue opening credits and a disgusting sequence showing our queen of black magic curing a deadly spell by diving into the guts of a boil-infested man and the maggots within. A punchy opening showcasing a skill in creating creepy, disgusting and PHYSICAL imagery, these may be crude make-up effects (and balloons used to inflate a stomach) but the angles, lighting and real worms and maggots used (not yet so much with the actors though) sells the movie well before the first reel is over and done with. If anything it also works for the foreign consumption the English dubbed print at hand here was aimed for. People want blood and guts so here we get guts and maggots in addition to a mysterious slasher movie opening. The stage is set.
Of course this story concerns an ass destined for comeuppance and while not an ounce of family melodrama resonates emotionally for real, the downtime between the physical effects set pieces presents no problem at all to bear. For all intents and purposes, there's nothing to be said here so the shaky lead in into romance and how quickly Shirley falls for Koo (he forcefully grabs her while they're at the cinema... so there), it's workable string for the gooey comeuppance tale that horror fans wouldn't have a problem with. Especially not at 86 minutes.
One of the keys for The Devil is also the on paper cheap tools of jarring camera work and sound design. But Chang Jen-Chieh is skilled enough to draw us in via extreme zoom in's and the sounds that accompany any sight of worms or maggots having been ejected from the human body. It's from an era where confidence in creating a grit, a dirty feel was not in shortage in and The Devil comes to life in a splendid way when laying it on thick visually and aurally.
The set pieces where the deadly spells deteriorate the victims (including Koo eventually) are of course a cast member in itself almost. Dead on effective make-up by the effects team involving black boils filled with pus and eventually the actors (or human stand in's) lying and twitching while real worms or snakes crawls out of their mouths adds to a terrific gooey time with The Devil. Simple story beats without a hint of emotion leads us quickly into these intense sections of the film and seemingly cheap tools such as loud noises, an overusage of the camera zoom is truly equal to craftsmanship on the whole from an angry, hungry and disgusting era of Taiwan and Hong Kong filmmaking.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson