The integration of the Cat. III rating on the Hong Kong film industry in the late 1970s proved to be a real boon for filmmakers to delve into the exploitation realm already on display in America and Europe at the time. While Lau Hung-chuen’s celebrated possession/creature feature effort “Devil Fetus” might fall outside the sphere of influence and importance of some of its compatriots in the scene, there’s little else needed to see the fun of this bizarre and over-the-top ride.
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After buying a strange vase at an auction, a woman and her grandmother Granny Cheng (Ouyang Sha-fei) return home with the object which soon involves both her and her husbands’ mysterious deaths. Years later, her sons Kent (Eddie Chan) and Kwo Wei (San Leung) are gathered at Granny Cheng’s with his mother for a birthday party with Juju (Liu Hsiu-ling), a family member who’s staying with them. After a series of strange events and hints of demonic possession strike the family, they turn to a Taoist priest to help exorcise the being, only to realize they’ve got something far more deadly on their hands.
Generally, “Devil Fetus” is a pretty straightforward offering. It wastes no time getting to the point, which is unleashing wild and over-the-top moments every chance possible. The opening arrival of the demon and his seduction of Suk-jing, where her husband arrives and attempts to interfere only to be turned into a hideous worm-faced figure who then kills himself in the matter of a few minutes, allows for a taste of what’s on display throughout here. With later scenes featuring a flying cat knocking a person off a balcony ledge and a funeral being interrupted by the sight of a woman’s belly swelling up and about to erupt into a giant pulsating fetus, there’s a strong start to a fantastic series of gross-out attacks. With a birthday cake filled with worms, disemboweling a dog to eat its uncooked remains and scenes of the possessed family member playing with the body of a victim all giving this a series of shocking and somewhat obvious sense that something’s going on, there’s a great foundation for the crazier action here. With a standout wizard battle that’s become the norm for these movies, attacks by levitating furniture and teleporting bodies flying around the room, the film packs in plenty of fun activity just as much as the over-the-top elements.
Still, even with the wildness out of the way, there’s more to like here. The idea of incorporating elements from outside the usual sphere of influence for these kinds of films adds hints of class that shouldn’t be here in a sleazy gore-fest like this. That includes the rather impressive suspenseful camerawork for some of the attacks by the possessed individuals. A night-time stroll through the courtyard of the family house showing the spirit floating along waiting for the opportunity to strike is quite creepy, much like the use of the dog’s point-of-view walking through the house into the bedroom before attacking Juju. Also quite impressive is a nighttime drive home from the hospital which includes the car coming under attack by supernatural means as the lights go out and are afflicted with a supernatural storm before meeting an unexpected end with a possessed body, making this quite enjoyable. As well, director Hung-chuen really goes overboard with the pacing and tempo, featuring these frantic scenes and ideas at such a mad pace that there’s little stopping this one once it gets going, which takes place incredibly early. The boundless energy and momentum is infectious, making for such a wholly engrossing effort with plenty to like about it.
That said, there are some issues here. The most obvious flaw is a chaotic and discordant storyline by writers Cheng Wen-hua and Lo Ging-jiu that fails spectacularly at making cohesive sense. Very rarely does anything happen within rational means, as the impetus for how the demon is trapped inside the vase to start with or how the creature’s release affects the family once it’s been released. These are important parts of the initial setup to get into the story. That this just bounds from one scene to the other with little regard to how anything makes sense, ranging from how the possession travels from animal to person and how the basic idea of the actions presented, doesn’t cause any concern in the family to leave the house quicker. How they end up defeating the demon makes no sense and the general idea of figuring out we are even in the future after the initial attack has to be inferred, making for a truly confusing mess of a storyline. Lastly, it’s hard to overlook the abysmal special effects work, utilizing hand-drawn animation for laser beams and energy weapons that resemble third-tier video-game work, and the wizard battle is so laughably filled with wire-work, frame-skipping and immobile puppets that all look out-of-date the moment they were filmed. Combined, these elements are enough to really hold the movie down.
As there’s so much wild and chaotic action featured here to the complete dismissal of storyline coherence and technical competence, “Devil Fetus” is a simplistic tale that is fun in the right mindset. Give the film a watch only if you’re willing to delve into the wackiness without worrying too much about the flaws, while those looking for more than just an onslaught of incompetent gross-out effects should avoid this one.