"They don't make 'em like that, anymore," goes the phrase, and anyone who watches "Black Magic" will be introduced to a fine example of the CINEMATIC "that"!
Twenty-plus years after Shaw Brothers released a horror film, they decided to revive the genre; no doubt, part of this must be because of "foreign" hits of the time like "The Exorcist". So it was (according to the late Linn Haynes' liner notes for this release) writer Ni Kuang inititiated the first script of what has been referred to as the "Jiangtou" sub-genre of chillers, Hong Kong style! This run of Shaw "voodoo" flicks differs from the Hollywood "voodoo" flicks in that ALL the characters are Asian, eliminating the element of racism often found in the latter productions.
Directed by the versatile Ho Meng-Hua, this movie will catch many who are seeing it for the first time as unpredictable as the "dark" practitioner portrayed by Ku Feng; he winds up being part of what can be best summed up as a love PENTAGON that involves Ti Lung, Lily Lee, Lo Lieh and Tanny Tien Ni. Love potions are the hot commodity wanted by Lo and Tanny's characters, and that only begins to hint at the mayhem that soon follows. It is no great revelation to say that, after Ku Feng's "wizard" role, ANY ACTOR or ACTRESS could've played the main parts; Lung, Lee, Lieh and Ni were utilized to boost box office. (If it was Ti Lung's belief--according to Haynes--that "serious" roles would help him break away from martial arts movies, was HE mistaken with "BM"! He does manage to do his part with the straightest of faces, to his credit.)
Beyond what few "clues" I've already laid out in the body (and title) of this review, no [REAL] spoilers will be mentioned because the first time of getting through "BM" will definitely leave its mark on those who survive to the end! There are BETTER Asian horror flicks, to be sure, but they can't be as FUN and WARPED like "BM" is! That ANY of this can still shock somebody (or make them go "EWWW!!", at least) twenty-five years after it was first released says something about how the talent made some HECK of a diversion! Further, that it was [initially] NOT intended for American audiences, but (back to Haynes) did wind up catching the attention of those who saw an edited version on "Black Belt Theater" is amazing, especially since there are NO martial arts whatsoever in it!
Typical of many Shaw movies, there's a story present, but so much is thrown on-screen in 95 minutes that characterizations and details are non-existant as a given. Such is the flavor of Kuang's script that suspenseful moments often PALE in comparison with the twisted, romantic melodrama. Stock music cues that flavor these "quiet" interludes are unintentionally hilarious, making the domestic scenes with Ti Lung, Lily Li, etc. of day-to-day existence a horror all their own; compared to the ACTUAL horror sequences (where the music is just right), the surging hormones of Lo Lieh and Tanny Tien Ni are SCARIER than any spell cast by Ku Feng!
Picture on the DVD is what's to be expected from Image's Shaw reissues; it's watchable, but it's not HD. I preferred the Mandarin dub (with subtitles), but the English dub offers more easy laughs, so the lovers of English soundtracks will get their money's worth. After the booklet, the disc has for "extras" production stills, a sampling of a media press kit and German lobby cards; more is here than on other Image/Shaw DVDs that include stills, so it's a most welcome addition.
Time has not been altogether kind to "BM" by its original intentions (designed to scare Asian moviegoers), but taken with a different interpetation as a horror/comedy, irreverent as "Scary Movie" or "Shaun Of The Dead", it entertains new audiences (albeit smaller ones) by costing a fraction of today's "big-budget" gambles. Even so, this movie's not for everybody (even some Shaw fans used to their martial arts movies ONLY) due to adult material, some of which [I'd argue] would be rated "NC-17" today, NOT "R"! Finally, if anyone DOES enjoy "BM" like I did, be sure to pick up Black Magic 2 from Tokyo Shock; knowing that their Shaw reissue IS from a HD master is reason aplenty for buying it because of the improved picture!
All the best, Brother Fang.