Arguably it’s all Jonathan Ross’ fault.
Back in 1990 – when Enter The Dragon was pretty much the only Hong Kong movie most of us had ever seen – Mr Ross, presented a run of films for Channel 4 under the banner Chinese Ghost Stories. The run included Mr Vampire, Close Encounters Of The Spooky Kind and Rouge.
Screenings at the Scala and some of London’s smaller indie cinemas made it official. Hong Kong horror movies were ‘a thing’. A very offbeat thing but definitely cool, in a culty geeks-in-the-know sort of way. Rigor Mortis is the film that all those geeks have been waiting for: Mr Vampire dragged hopping and biting into the 21st Century.
If you’re new to the whole jiangshi (reanimated corpse) genre then there are probably a few things you need to know.
One. Chinese vampires are nothing like European bloodsuckers. These guys have rigor mortis. So, they move with a slo-mo hop-and-hover technique that makes them look like drunken string puppets.
Two. For Van Helsing read Taoist priest – an adept, versed in magic and kung fu who uses solar mirrors, blood and written prayers to immobilise or destroy the undead.
Three. Chinese horror stories are not all that serious. Scary, yes, but often laugh out loud funny too.
Four. The Chinese have quite a different relationship with death than here in the West. The dead are family after all.
Five. Don’t expect to understand everything. Some things can’t be translated. Just enjoy the ride.
If you’re already a fan, then Rigor Mortis is gloriously familiar territory. A depressed, down-at-heel actor moves into a haunted apartment where the dead, including a pair of bloodily vengeful twins, just won’t stay down. The guy down the hall is a necromancer and sweet old Uncle Tung just hasn’t been the same since he fell down the stairs. All hell is about to break loose. Just as well, then, that the fry cook is a retired vampire hunter …
Director Juno Mak clearly knows and loves his source material. A cast of veteran Mr Vampire stars, including Anothony Chan, Billy Lau, Chin Siu-ho and Richard Ng, make light work of the layered plot. The visuals are moody and captivating. The humour is much darker than usual and this, combined with some striking effects work, delivers a jiangshi with serious attitude. It’s simply impossible not to love this crafted and clever homage. Inspired madness.