This review was originally published on a now defunct website in 2013.
Devil Fetus (Mo Tai) from 1983
directed by Hung-Chuen Lau
Devil Fetus is another almost otherworldly weird effort of the Hong Kong horror film industry. It’s even hard to make out what kind of horror movie it wants to be. Is it a haunted house movie? A movie about demonic possession like The Exorcist? Or a “devil baby” movie in the tradition of Rosemary’s Baby or Look who’s talking?
It’s none and all of those. But let us start from the beginning.
Suk Jing, a beautiful woman in her thirties and her sister, Mrs. Cheung, are attending an auction. As a strikingly ugly vase with a somewhat phallic shape is on sale, Suk Jing suddenly has a vision that forces her to purchase it for a ridiculously high price.
She returns to the house she is sharing with her sister’s family, a modern architecture nightmare from the 80s with a wood-panelled and overdecorated inside. I am still making up my mind if this is awful or awesome. I am tempted to go with the latter assumption.
The spacey mansion houses the families of the two sisters, the grandma and someone who is called “Uncle Fuk” (heh). By the way, the family connections are a little complicated – more on that later.
On the same evening, the lonely Suk Jing -her husband is on business travel in Japan- lying in bed and only wearing a n alluring silk gown, takes a closer look the vase. Something evil is bound to happen, signified by the fact that the awesome ominous synth-soundtrack kicks in for the first time, which sounds as if John Carpenter, the band “Goblin”(soundtrack for “Dawn of the Dead”among others) and the “Max Rebo Band” teamed up to score the movie. Indeed she ends up enjoying fondling the vase a little bit too much and has a vision of her having steamy sex with a lizard-skinned, white-haired devil.
Soon, she gets more and more attached to the vase and the sexy time she spends with it. Come on, don’t judge, witchcraft and loneliness are a fatal combination.
That goes on till one day her hubby comes back from Japan earlier than expected and catches her in the act with the demon.
His reaction, which strangely enough looks more like an act motivated by jealousy than by the sheer horror to see his wife making out with a demon, is to destroy the vase, which sets free a poisonous acid that melts his face and makes him fall through the window. Yes, stuff like that happens all the time during this flick.
A few days later, a funeral ceremony is taking place at the house. Suk Jing is showing regrets over her behaviour and does not feel very well – because, as it urns out, she is carrying a baby! Her pregnancy appears suspicious for her sister, as Suk Jing’s hubby has been in Japan for over six months. Did the movie finally settle for a tone, are we in for a moody “Rosemarie’s Baby” rip-off? Nope, wont happen, as in the next scene Suk Jing dies, when at night her dead husbands voice lures her into the hallway and a jumping cat scares her so much that it causes her falling over the stair rail. Well, I did not see that coming.
Another funeral ceremony scene follows. That family is really having a rough time, no doubt about it. This time, a Taoist priest is attendant and thanks to his magic powers he can see through the coffin’s lid as Suk Jing’s abdomen is swelling till it bursts and releases the eponymous devil fetus! Fortunately, the priest reacts in time and closes the coffin with a magic seal.
He reveals to Mrs. Cheung that the dead couple turned into maleficent ghosts who wont stop doing bad deeds till they are reincarnated. He installs a memorial tablet whose purpose is to ban the evil spirits, but it may not be moved under any circumstances. If you have seen a horror film or two, you know where this is going.
Introducing Ken, the son of Mrs. Cheung, who dons Jackie Chan’s hairdo from 1979 and is a master of Ken-do, appropriately enough. For some reason he has not appeared yet, even though he is living in the house. So Ken returns from training to home, where the family is merrily partying at the pool – life goes on, two mysterious and gruesome deaths in a row are not going to spoil their fun. He sets his eyes on a newly arrived, pretty young lady. He asks his brother Wai about her identity. “I think she is mum’s sister.” Ugh. But fortunately mom clears that up: “She is Jojo, aunties god-daughter.” Um. As I stated before, this family is kind of complicated.
Cue a budding romance between Ken and Jojo. Like many young people in love, they indulge in doing stupid things and to absolutely no one’s surprise, they accidentally move the memorial table
Bobby, the German shepherd of the family gets in contact with an incantation formula that fell from the table and again, ominous music tells us that something wicked this way comes.
Soon enough, Bobby suddenly pulls shenanigans like putting his head under a girl’s skirt and secretly watching Jojo showering. He surely lends a literal meaning to the word “horndog”. As Ken tries to remove him from the bathroom, Bobby becomes so aggressive that Ken does the single sensible thing in such a situation and kills him with a sword, thus spattering Jojo’s face and the room with dog blood in the process. For another inexplicable reason, Ken and his brother Wai decide to bury Bobby in the forest, naturally in the middle of the night. Wai stays a little longer at the dog’s grave to say farewell to his beloved companion. He should have refrained from that, because the demon is now jumping from Bobby’s corpse into his soul, a transition that is depicted with C-grade visual effects. The accompanying “futuristic” sound effects only add to the unintentional hilarity.
As soon as Wai assumes the role of the “main evil”, the movie enters its “stuff is happening”- phase. The curse of the evil spirit is in full effect now and its most devious mean is the randomness. Usually, a horror film sets up a set of rules that the villain has to apply to. Vampires cannot go into sunlight, Freddy is only able to attack his victims when they are asleep, the Cenobites can be banned by turning the cube etc. etc.
This trope does not apply in this case, as anything goes. One time, the demon can move walls and furniture, another time he shoots lasers from his eyes (!) and in the next moment he is possessing a car to kill someone. Then again, the demon makes Wai wearing girly makeup and masturbating furiously on his bed.
At the one-hour mark, the action-ante is upped noticeably. There is even a Wire-Fu fight involving the priest to be witnessed, again peppered with hilarious laser-effects. Here and there a few gross-out scenes are thrown in for good measure, like the depiction of corpse-eating or a poor chap getting his head squished by a moving wall. In its best moments, intended or not, the “kitchen sink” approach is working amazingly well. The growing awareness that the evil is almost invincible and the increasingly weird, almost misanthropic tone create a sense of dread that is quite effective.
To illustrate the increasing supernatural threat, the movie’s colour palette changes into a gaudy fever dream lit in candy colours, evoking memories of certain horror-themed 80s music videos. Speaking of the 80s, this movie really makes no effort to appear timeless and therefore it becomes a treasure chest for the fans of this infamous decade.
Finally, the showdown fires from all cylinders, with awesome prosthetics, half-assed stop-motion sequences and gallons of corn syrup. Add even more Wire-Fu goodness and obligatory 80s horror slime and you know you’re in for a treat. This scene pretty much plays like a precursor to Evil Dead 2 (one of my all-time favorites); there is even a creature with an elongating neck. Of course, the film closes on an ambiguous note. Is evil really defeated? That’s what we ask ourselves, still shaken from the experience, as cheesy yet awesome 80s synth-music is blaring over the end credits.
This movie has to be seen to be believed. It is filled with contradictions: Scenes of innocence and sleaze are alternating with each other at a breakneck pace. Dilettantism and greatness have never been closer than here. All of the depicted actions are not driven by character but by the necessity to further the plot, yet everything that happens feels gratuitous and off.
Fans of slime- and creature-centric 80s horror should definitely give this one a try, you might feel like taking three consecutive showers after finishing it, though. Devil Fetus is one trip of a movie. It belongs to those exploitation genre-gems that exhibit almost transcendental qualities, but for the faint of heart (or stomach) it ain’t. Highly recommended.
PS: There are two scenes of cruelty against animals, but they are obviously fake if you take a closer look, so no need to call PETA.