When I was growing up, every day at 3:30 p.m., just as kids were arriving home from school, a local TV station screened cheesy 1950s and 60s horror and sci-fi movies featuring gruesome monsters, heavy doses of theremin music, and—more often than not—Vincent Price. I spent many childhood afternoons glued to the screen by spooky soundtracks and nightmare images too scary for an eight-year-old to absorb after dark.
I recently recalled those pleasantly creepy hours of couch-potatohood watching Shaw Brothers’ Enchanting Shadow , a 1960 release that, in that wacky Hong Kong movie way, combines a legendary director (Li Hanxiang), top stars (Le Di and Zhao Lei), great production design, and a slew of borrowed techniques from the Hollywood teen-scream B movies that were in vogue in US drive-in theatres at the time. Thus, a film that one minute seems on the verge of breaking out into huangmei opera makes a sudden turn into ominously trilling mood music (from a theremin ) and bloodcurdling screams that inevitably portend the arrival of a hideously deformed, bloodsucking ghoul.
Ghost stories are common in Chinese literature, opera, and movies, but they’re usually less gory and not as focused on death and decay as their Western counterparts; instead, romance and the path to reincarnation are frequent themes. Enchanting Shadow is based on Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio , a series of tales by the seventeenth century writer Pu Songling . In 1987, Tsui Hark produced a remake of Enchanting Shadow with superstars Leslie Cheung and Joey Wang in the leading roles. The Chinese title is the same as the original, but the remake is known in English as A Chinese Ghost Story . Directed by acclaimed action director Cheng Xiaodong, the later film adds a layer of high-end special effects and Tsui’s trademark postmodern sensibility to the quaint Shaw production.
In a way, that spoils the fun. If you’re looking for retro-campy chills and thrills this Halloween, the Shaw original is the way to go. No need to pause the Chinese movie viewing in order to feel your hair stand on end. Happily, with Enchanting Shadow, you can have it all!