Film Reviews

Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980) – Blu-ray Review

Encounter of the Spooky Kind was a hugely influential, genre-defining movie, written, directed by, and staring the Hong Kong cinema legend Sammo Hung. Released in 1980, it quickly became a huge hit domestically, and a firm cult classic around the world.

The plot is complex and twisted, but to summarise: it involves a cuckolded hero who ends up framed for murder; an evil sorcerer and his good disciple; and various ghosts and monsters. The sum of all of these elements is a ridiculously enjoyable film with superb stunt work and fight choreography, genuinely enjoyable acting, and some surprisingly funny moments.

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Released and available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, fans of the genre will be excited to get their hands on a restored version of this beloved movie. But have Eureka been able to do it justice? This new release comes with a cool looking Limited-Edition O-card Slipcase, and a booklet with an essay on the film by critic James Oliver, which also includes a reversible poster. All of which are great to see and would make an excellent, welcome addition to any Blu-ray.

Fortunately, it isn’t just fancy dressing. The quality of the restoration is exceptional. Though at times some of the cruder effects might show up more, fans of these films will already be well aware of the importance of allowing your imagination to do some of the heavy lifting. Yet most of the practical effects are excellent: if anything the restoration allows for a deeper appreciation of the impressive work done on a relatively paltry budget.

Encounter of the Spooky Kind draws heavily on Chinese folklore and culture, using imagery and ideas that can seem odd or even humorous without some level of understanding behind what the viewer is watching. This is why the commentary, by the always excellent Frank Djeng, is a welcome inclusion in this release.

In addition to being able to do the usual job of a commentary film expert and put the movie in context, he is also able to explain some of the word play, cultural references, and less familiar horror ideas. From informed explanations of Mao Shan sorcery, to the double meaning of a meal of sweet tofu, his cultural insights are even more riveting than his in depth movie knowledge.

It’s important to enjoy Djeng’s excellent commentary, because it’s the only special feature worth noting. This is a shame, as the blurb notes this is the movie responsible for almost single handedly kickstarting the wave of Jiangshi movies – films based on Chinese folk law – of the 80s and 90s.  It also used an innovative mix of horror and comedy. Surely it deserved a documentary of some kind, discussing it in the wider context and its lasting impact?

This lack of any original special features is the only problem with this release, but it’s a big one. Oliver’s written essay, as welcome an addition as it might be, feels like a half measure for such an important film. If you’re purchasing a Blu-ray – audio-visual physical media – it doesn’t seem unfair that you should expect an actual documentary to go with it. Even someone reading Oliver’s essay over some kind of footage would feel like an effort had been made. What you do get is a stills gallery, two trailers, an old interview with Hung, and alternative English credits from an older print.

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As a movie, Encounter of the Spooky Kind manages the difficult job of balancing humour and horror. It’s a recognised classic of cinema, and a truly important moment in the history of filmmaking. Because of that it’s hard to give it a low rating, but be aware what the rating is for: a genuinely beautiful restoration that comes with an enjoyable commentary. If, however, you’re hoping to get some added value to your pound, then this release will disappoint.

Encounter of the Spooky Kind is out on Blu-ray on 21st June from Eureka Entertainment.

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