Massacre Video: The Devil (1981) - Reviewed

Posited somewhere between Lucio Fulci’s supernatural gross-out The City of the Living Dead and H. Tjut Djalil’s supremely bizarre black magic film Mystics in Bali is Taiwanese director Jen-Chieh Chang’s figurative and literal vomitorium of a horror movie The Devil.  Recently unearthed by Massacre Video, this long forgotten former VHS cult oddity has been given some breath of new life in the form of a new 4K scan though the original camera negative has deteriorated to such a moldy degree the film unspooling can be deathly hard on the eyes.  An early example of Taiwanese black magic horror rife with witchcraft and a few out-of-place kung-fu scenes, The Devil is mostly remembered as that worm and snake puking shocker that goes down in history as one of the most disgusting films ever made. 

Beginning as a seemingly straightforward story of a con man intent on cheating a hotel business family out of their life savings, this East Asian gutcruncher quickly descends into grotesque pandemonium with the arrival of a vengeful spirit carrying a supernatural virus which transforms its infected victims’ internal organs into snakes, worms and maggots.  If this doesn’t sound wretch inducing enough, Chang stages scene after slimy creepy crawly regurgitation scene with the poor cast members unlucky enough to have accepted this acting job literally stuffing their mouths full of live worms, snakes, centipedes and lord knows what else before throwing them up for the camera amid bubbly green bile.  Just to add insult to injury, there are scenes of gangrenous sores forming on an infected character’s body with fresh creepy crawlies seeping out of the open wounds.  It’s…that kind of movie…

Narratively, The Devil is far from perfect and tends to drag its feet for a good chunk of the eighty-six minute running time.  The story itself is muddled and not particularly compelling and the young bellhop working the hotel named Ding Dong (yes, you read that correctly) manages to annoy quicker than Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Visually the film is well lit and photographed though any kind of craftsmanship this thing may have had is obscured by the piss poor image quality on the last surviving print.  Performances are serviceable at best though the film quickly takes on the shape of a Fear Factor episode as infected characters are forced to convulse and spit mouthfuls of live snakes and worms on the ground. 

Far more weird, gross and incoherent than artistically or narratively successful, The Devil isn’t representative of quality filmmaking so much as it serves up a black magic geek show with elements of the Shaw Brothers peppered in amid the countless scenes of puking green bile and worms.  East Asian horror comes in all shapes and sizes but The Devil inhabits a curious ‘has to be seen to be believed’ subcategory loaded with sickening transgressions and a lot of creepy crawlie covered vomit.  The film is an occasionally tedious mess and ends on kind of a dismal anticlimactic note.  However, as it stands it is a one of a kind black magic horror freakout determined to make even the most utterly jaded gorehounds reach for their lunch bags in the event of an impromptu need to recycle said meal.  You've been warned.

--Andrew Kotwicki