Dial D For Demons (2000)
by: Billy Tang
As the glory days of nasty, foul, violent and exploitative movies wound down in Hong Kong (aka the Cat III era, 1992-1995), the handful of directors, such as the one at hand here, Billy Tang, who were at the forefront had to find something else to do. It certainly wasn't uncommon for established name directors and actors to jump between the ratings but a select few, the actual talent to be frank, only had their 15 minutes back in the day. Tang has worked pretty consistently though, churning out both uneven and surprisingly good b-movies (Sharp Guns being a good contender for that). Dial D For Demons isn't a throwback to the horror Tang used to associate himself in the 90s but another cash in on the popular horror craze influenced by overseas efforts such as Ring and The Sixth Sense.
Six friends travels to a remote resort to spend a mini-holiday there. Led by Bully (Jordan Chan), who can see ghosts, an uneasy feeling soon sets in. There is something lurking out there and it wants them, one by one...
Really the best way to examine Dial D For Demons thoroughly is to have some slight insight into the works of Billy Tang. Not strictly because of his Cat III background but he's always brought a good visual sense to his movies, Dial D For Demons being one of the better actually. Too bad that Tang and his main cohort Chung Kai Cheong seems to treat most of the film as visual practice only.
That the film pretty much rips off most horror movies in recent memory is not as bothersome as you would think. The approach here by Tang, after some flimsy situation comedy and soap opera dramatics is one of straight horror with a slight tendency to wink at the the audience. That latter choice is a flaw because he can't seem to make up his mind whether to distance himself from the cheap scares, make fun of it or take it seriously enough to create something uniquely his own. After a few relatively failed cheap scares, with some relatively failed humour attached to them, the movie finds a track to follow and becomes an exercise in how not to make your characters compelling.
All the characters are lured in by an extremely bad looking advertisement for this resort location and the way it's handled is ridiculous! So much so that one could only hope Tang is playing a gag on us here. If not, the evil is lurking in the newsPAPER as well. Actual characteristics can only be found in Jordan Chan's character, who has a terrific intro as the requisite one who sees dead people Why? He...just...does. The rest of the gallery consists of a bunch of crappy characters, acted out by a bunch of crappy actresses in tight clothing (Terence Yin is a big block of wood in this one also). By chucking out Jordan Chan for a larger part of the film subsequently, the humour momentum, albeit exaggerated, that he brought is quickly lost and a long section of the film certainly drags because we're stuck with the rest of the cast.
The aim for decent dread in this, so far, unexplained scenario quickly derails and what saves this b-movie from dropping down to C is a rather a terrific finale. I won't go into detail but after explaining the bizarre happenings, a very decent sense of dread enters and even the resolution between two characters, one now dead, is strangely touching. These scenes really aren't backed by a script however and since they do work on their own surprisingly well, contains some creative touches, it is a shame Tang seemed to realize late that the movie should be wrapped up. And what a great wrap-up it is, for a b-movie anyway.
Without the combined effort of Tang and director of photography Miu Kin Fai (The Eternal Evil Of Asia) , Dial D For Demons would've fallen totally flat however. The feeling of the production, at least beforehand, is that of a cheaply and quickly made one but Tang and Miu has rightfully taken time to come up with creative shots and compositions. The style choosen in lighting, the blue/green/red, is a horror staple but for the small film that it is, several camera moves and editing decisions are very good. It adds on to an atmosphere of dread that doesn't fully allow itself to work at all times but the film looks a lot more professional than was needed. Add to that some serviceable CGI and fun sound design and you have competent looking and sounding film. It obviously is a critique at the same time as the filmmakers are not equally busy with the technique and narrative, as they really should have been.
The final 20 minutes belong in a better horror horror movie, preferably by Billy Tang. The end product that is Dial D For Demons does contains its charms and atmosphere but on the whole, Billy Tang fans will get more out of this than the general viewer. Even if it's critique directed towards the movie by those fans. Now you're honed your skills even more Billy, let's start putting them to use again in combination with a good or at least better script!
A fine crisp, clean 1.75:1 print has been supplied by Universe and aside from some slight softness, this is a good presentation.
The Cantonese 2.0 Stereo Surround track is nicely spread out throughout the speakers. Dialogue sounds clear and the only bad mixing occurs right at the beginning where characters talking on the phone should be centered but instead reside in the left or right speaker. A Mandarin mono dub is also included.
The English subtitles on the whole seem fine and feature no grammar or spelling errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extras are a single Star's File for Jordan Chan and the trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson