MAY 26, 2009
As I near the 1,000 review mark (!!!), I become more and more appreciative of obscure movies like Till Death Do We Scare (Cantonese: Xiao Sheng Pa Pa), because it’s getting harder to find movies that haven’t been tainted by praise (or damnation) or spoiled from the glut of existing reviews (pity the poor sod who sees Psycho for the first time nowadays, probably knowing perfectly well about the film’s two big twists). But of course, on the downside, if I only reviewed obscure movies, the site would likely lose a lot of readers. All about balance!
And Till Death... definitely fits the “obscure” category. The IMDb page has but one user comment, no external reviews, and a ghost town for a message board. Without a Sammo Hung to draw folks in it’s likely this movie will never reach its full awareness potential (though director Chia Yung Liu also made films like Game of Death, so it’s got a shot),. And that’s a bit of a shame, because it deserves to be seen, if only for its unparalleled levels of batshittedness.
To say the film seems made up as they went along is almost too kind; I’ve seen improv troupe performances with more traditional narrative. It starts off reasonably coherent enough: three men who died on their respective wedding days (to the same woman) come back as ghosts to try to find her a new love that will keep her happy. But their methods prove to be a bit baffling, some involve scaring the guy out of his mind by stretching their faces around. And then after a while, the movie changes gears entirely, as a minor character (the would-be new husband’s buddy) suddenly takes on the lead role, the three ghosts turn into umbrellas, and the guy has to travel to Ghost Island to put a pearl in the mouth of the Master Ghost. Or something.
Honestly, if you walked out of the room (or took a BC-style quick snooze) at the right moment, you would return and swear you were watching a different movie entirely. What was once a silly romance becomes a slapsticky adventure in a matter of seconds, and from then it gets even weirder: plot elements include a town made out of cardboard (even the cars), a giant vampire, a 30ish boy scout (possibly a ghost himself), and a quick bit where the new hero guy gets arrested for yelling at some cops, only to be released 10 seconds later before this particular subplot added any real significance to the story.
There’s also a photo of Marlon Brando. I won’t even try to explain that one.
Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t like the movie; on the contrary, I had a blast. I loved the kitchen sink approach and “Sure, why not” leaps of logic (how they even come to pick the guy that they do for their mutual love is beyond me - they just show up where he is performing a live radio show). I don’t think a single minute went by where I didn’t have a big smile on my face, or laughing and asking “What?” to the screen. I mean, within the first five minutes, a man has swallowed a bird, a priest has proposed to a woman as he performs her marriage to another man, and a hitman, seemingly operating under the Rube Goldberg manual, has taken a shot that sets off a chain of events involving ice sculptures and serving trays that ultimately finds someone being run over by a tractor. How can you NOT love this movie?
The 3rd act shift was a bit problematic for me though. While the new plot was not without its charms (I loved the paper car, which they operate Flintstones style), I missed the three ghosts, and wanted to stick with their story, increasingly bizarre as it might have been. Also, the “two buddies travel to a mysterious island” story deserves its own film (well, it sort of has one: Raw Force), not 20-25 minutes’ worth of another movie. It’s like the filmmakers wanted to make both movies, could only afford one, and opted to merely split the difference.
The weirdest thing about the movie, however, is that the effects are by Tom Savini. He clearly wasn’t giving it his full attention, as the creatures are obviously leftovers from other productions (Creepshow in particular), but it sort of adds to the bizarre charm. And it’s funny to see all these unreadable credits and then have “Tom Savini” tossed in there. They’re mostly confined to the film’s final 10 minutes, but fans should definitely check the film out, if for nothing else but to see his creations in a wholly unlikely scenario (sort of like KNB winning an Oscar for a goddamn Narnia movie).
Is there a DVD? No idea. If so it’s not on Amazon, so I’ve done all I can to find out. And as I mentioned earlier, the film is wholly obscure (this very review is the 3rd match you’ll find on Google, after its IMDb page and the Youtube clip I have posted below in lieu of a trailer, which I could not find), so finding it at Best Buy isn’t too likely either. But as always, if you find yourself in the vicinity of a screening or bootleg, by all means check it out. I am becoming a big fan of these special Grindhouse events, and I hope they continue (tonight’s crowd was much bigger than the last one, which is a good sign). And it was good timing, because I’ve had trouble following the last couple movies I saw, so now I have prime examples of how and how NOT to make a successfully incoherent movie. DO: Till Death Do We Scare. DON’T: Necessary Evil.
What say you?