Movie Reviews

Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind: A Martial Arts Horror Comedy with Zombie Vampires

This film is funny, spooky, filled with action and Chinese mysticism and folklore. The name, Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), is a play on the science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), just to mimic the 70’s movie title.

The film was made in Hong Kong under the film company Bo Jo Films Co Ltd but can be easily found online through Amazon with subtitles or dubbing. This film was released to theatre in Christmas Eve in 1980 until January 8th 1981 in Hong Kong. The original title in Cantonese is Gwai Daa Gwai and in Mandarin is guĭdáguĭ. This translates to English as Ghosts Fights Ghosts.

This film was a great influence in horror for jiangshi films being the first kung fu horror comedy in the genre. Jiangshi translates to “stiff corspe” from Cantonese. Jiangshi films are a genre of horror that is based on Chinese tales about reanimated corpses being controlled by Taoist priests. The reanimated corpses can resemble the zombies and vampires like in Western cinema but they hop to get around and drain the lifeforce of their victim. Jiangshi translated is hopping vampire or hopping zombie. In the film, they discuss more about the folklore since it comes up often.

The story is about Bold Cheung, a married braggart merchant worker who likes hanging out with his friends sharing stories and doing childish dares. While hanging out with his friends he hears a story about a promiscuous “tofu” seller’s wife which rings very close to home with Bold Cheung. He goes home only to find two peeping toms outside of his door. He scolds them, they leave but his boss and his wife heard the commotion from the other room. His boss, Master Tam, escapes leaving his shoes behind which forces Cheung to confront his wife of the possible affair. She storms off angry making Cheung to make him feel guilty. But Master Tam worries that Cheung might find out about the affair so he hires a witch to get rid of Bold Cheung to avoid the embarrassment of being an adulterer and to be with Cheung’s wife at the same time. Then all the spooky hauntings and vampire stuff starts to happen to Bold Cheung. He gets help from a sorcerer with the superstitions becoming true, possessions and being hunted down by Jianshis until they could find a solution to Cheung’s problems.

Screenshot of Golden Harvest’s Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

This stars Sammo Hung who is a martial artist, actor, director and writer. This is a performer that has great comedic timing. In the 1980s, he usually starred alongside The Seven Little Fortunes performing group (a.k.a. The Lucky Seven) from his performing arts school in movies which consisted to have Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen and Yuen Wah in various leading roles. He stared, directed and wrote Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Like most of his other films, the martial arts and comedy are blended equally well. Everyone seems to be having a good time and looks like it shows on screen. This film is filled with a lot of martial arts scenes that keeps the movie constantly moving with a lot of energy.

The character Bold Cheung is this childish yet relatable guy in a weird situation. He has an ego problem bragging about his strength physically and emotionally. But he becomes frightened because of the undead coming back to haunt him.

Screenshot of Golden Harvest’s Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

The witch is a shady character muttering spells and cursing Cheung as a hired evil sorcerer. He shakes and possesses people voodoo style. He really is Cheung’s bigger nemesis in the film sending the undead after him and possessing people around him.

The version I watched was subtitled in English. This film is a mix of horror, comedy and martial arts. The movie can be gory with an ending that you can’t do today. The gory scenes are of the vampire’s special effects, the blood splatter scenes and “chicken fatality.” The film is never boring. It’s very energetic with a lot of mysticism and superstition like the idle hands do the devil’s work. The spooky factor isn’t intense like Friday the 13th but the vampire scenes and witchcraft scenes can be spooky to the unassuming.

The film has no “adult situations” in it but eludes to it with the affair discussed. The depictions of the promiscuous wife of Bold Cheung is weird to look at almost forty years later. She treated misogynistic matter by all the male characters. These scenes as short as they are in the film.

The film as endless fighting scenes and full of energy because of it. People are possessed by the Monkey God fighting in monkey style, fighting reanimated corpses, fighting ghosts that could punch back, witches and a relentless police force after Bold Cheung. There’s even a fight with sorcerer wands like swords. Cheung is definitely on the move.

Screenshot of Golden Harvest’s Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

The effects are mostly practical effects with heavy makeup, props, fake blood, costuming and real fire. If you miss practical effects, this film has an abundance of it. The costume design period accurate. The heavy makeup is spooky looking. The jiangshi makeup has this thick layer of greyish-blue makeup that makes their skin look blue but decaying off in a way.

The film is very colourful and doesn’t take place at night only. The film as a great dark blue glow for nighttime. The set design of the abandoned house and Master Tam house was well executed with drapery, colour schemes and interior design choices.

This film is a Halloween martial arts movie, possibly the Halloween martial arts movie or at least in a top ten list somewhere. The film boils down to do you believe in scary ghost stories? Then it shows you all the ghost stories it can.


Trailer for Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind

Genre: Horror / Action / Comedy
Year: 1980
Duration: 98 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four out of five stars

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