Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster (2001)

Directed by: Soi Cheang
Written by: Soi Cheang & Chan Wing Sun
Producers: Joe Ma & Ivy Kong
Starring: Francis Ng,Josie ho, Sam Lee, Niki Chow & Michelle Yang

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Through certain successful horror movies from America, a plethora of movies in that genre has come out in Hong Kong. The problem is though that only a handful are well made because of that I was not very tempted to check out the entire roster of Hong Kong horror. I've merely gone through the critically acknowledged movies such as The Eye and Visible Secret and then there's Soi Cheang's Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster. The title alone would've made me ignore it if it weren't for three specific reasons.

1. In my interview with Bey Logan he mentioned Soi Cheang as a director he likes.
2. Francis Ng is in it.
3. It has received very much different responses from people, sounds like a movie I'd like to offer my views on.

The radio show Horror Hotline let people call in and talk about their supernatural or spooky encounters. The chinese-american reporter Mavis (Josie Ho from Purple Storm) have decided to do a segment on the growing popularity of the show and her team is there when then the caller Chris talks about the big head baby. After this the phones are off the hook and Mavis now decides to dig deeper into this urban myth. Tagging along is the shows producer Ben (Francis Ng) and as they dig deeper the myth starts to feel more real...

A plot involving the search for a baby with a big head is something either Wong Jing would shoot in a week or low budget maestros Troma would gladly take the premise on. Those two are associated more with humour but Soi Cheang is not interested in making the movie funny. Any apparent cheesiness in the story is fully ignored and Soi goes for a 100% serious horror entry. That's something you have to admire and while flawed in places, Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster turns out to be a fairly creepy and atmospheric tale.

Despite the concept of the film Soi manages to create a good aura of unease, sometimes through good old fashioned horror movie trickery (a good thing in the movie). A few characters goes into dark corners of rooms and there's the always creepy things appearing in the shadows, this time in combination with a very shrill sound design. The legend or myth about the baby is effectively build upon through flashbacks and witnesses who have seen it but the impact is not there at times. Your approving of Soi's film will depend on whether you think the plot lend itself to serious horror or not. For me it worked surprisingly well but the image I created of the baby felt rather silly in the movies more quiet bits. However when Soi Cheang turns the horror up a notch, the presence of the monster around us, whether silly or not, is creepy. There's basically only short moments of intensity but that and the sound design does a great deal to have us on the edge of your seat. It doesn't rival The Eye but is a contributing factor to why Soi's work in Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster is memorable. It's paced rather calmly, allowing us to devour what happens but the ending leaves one or two bits unexplained. Therefore it all halts at an ok level. On the other hand the script doesn't aim or allow for anything else really. Weaknesses are still weaknesses though. What I did like about the ending is the not so subtle homage to filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.

The japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata is someone who has shown masterful ability to create the right kind of mood in a horror film, mostly thanks to how he uses the camera. Especially in Ring and for the most part in Dark Water he rarely moves his camera an inch and in that way a calm but creepy feeling is created. We know things can suddenly explode but when it unexpectedly does it's a a very short burst that afterwards remains with us. Director Soi Cheang has traits of this but is firmly placed on the other end of the camera usage-spectrum. He's presents images in a more intense way but both ways are valid for creating scares. There are quiet sequences that you feel something is going to jump out at you but Soi always follows his characters and keeps things moving instead. He also likes to distance himself from people and events and I'm weak for these deep shots of empty corridors etc. that Soi presents, makes for a great painting in my opinion. Then there's the more subtle things that are created in post production like one second uses of slow motion to emphasize something a character has heard or thinking. A director can get lost in visuals-land but Soi doesn't lose grip on his narrative, which is THE most important thing.

Francis Ng brings star power to the movie but this is not the movie for him to showcase his best acting. The character develops enough for the movie to go on and reaches the ok level the movie is also at. He acts out Ben as a slightly tired and stressed out man but he also develops the interest in uncovering the mystery surrounding the big head baby. He may not show it as clearly as Josie Ho's character Mavis does but it's there underneath it all. Josie Ho brings out the determined and at times sensitive side to Mavis nicely. In her hands the character achieves more depth than what's written and Josie proves Purple Storm was not the start and end of her acting career. Sam Lee and Wilson Yip have cameos (more an extended one for Sam) but the acting surprise came from the westerners playing Josie Ho's crew. Their acting is award winning stuff compared to what we've seen these poor westerners do in Hong Kong movies over the years.

I think it'll be worth keeping a look out for future projects with Soi Cheang's name on it. To me it seems like Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster probably has qualities not all Hong Kong horror productions have.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the movie in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. A movie depending on darkness and colour needs a good transfer and Mei Ah has given us that. Only downside to this fairly new movie is some light print damage throughout.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty terrific.The surrounds in particular creates an eerie feeling and the mentioned excellent sound design is apparent all over the sound stage. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles has some honest mistakes but did the job of conveying the plot well. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Mei Ah have included a few extras for once. The main one is two endings to the film. A few minutes before the climax, the movie stops and let you choose either the original ending or an alternate one called Day Of The Dead. Having to choose while watching was a highly annoying choice and Mei Ah should've put this option before the movie (the two endings are also selectable via the main menu). The alternate ending has optional subtitles, Cantonese and Mandarin soundtracks but is presented in fullscreen only.

Then there's an non English subtitled making of (21 minutes 23 seconds) called Story Of Big Head Monster. It starts with the trailer and next we get the usual mix of interviews and some decent behind the scenes footage.

After that, it's usual Mei Ah offerings starting with the Databank. This contains a plot synopsis and a cast & crew listing. The Best Buy option leads to a trailer for Matt Chow's United We Stand, And Swim.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson