Human Lanterns (1982)

The one attempt at merging horror with kung-fu that you’ve probably heard of is The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires from 1974. That one gets all the attention because not only was it the Shaw Brothers taking care of the kung-fu side of things, but it was Hammer Horror taking care of the Dracula / vampire side of things, and featuring Peter Cushing no less.

That movie is less of a disaster, I think, than as it is generally described. It’s still totally a mess, but I find it enjoyable enough.

But this one, Human Lanterns, pushes the boundaries on both the kung-fu side and the horror side. So if you’re looking for this very specific crossover of kung-fu action and horror, this is the better of the two movies.

Two men, both of some distinguished status in the city’s governance, don’t like each other all too much. Every year there is a lantern festival in the village, which is normally just a fun occasion for the villagers to show off their most decorative and elaborate lanterns outside their homes. Even though this year’s festival is still some months off, one of the men challenges the other to see who can produce the most impressive lantern of all for the festival. Both of these men are terribly arrogant and would like nothing more than to show the other up, so they both go to great lengths to ensure that their lantern earns the top prize.

All the while, there is an evil masked man, almost animalistic in his behavior, who creeps through the village at night, stalking people, then kidnapping them and taking them down into his lair, where he kills them, skins them, and uses their skin to construct his own lanterns. Literally, human lanterns.

People start disappearing, then we get rumors, accusations and allegations. Lots of plot to get through in the middle part.

There’s not enough blood in this movie. We get several sword fights and knife fights and other various weaponry, but nobody ends up with anything more than a scratch. Well, towards the end it picks up. And we get an unexpected rape scene. The movie is a little bit too long. All that plot in the middle drags it out. But, of course, we get a big showdown at the end. And the final battle is super impressive. Very nice camera work, nice lighting, excellent choreography (Shaw Brothers in charge of this one, too), very nice sets and cinematography. So, it takes a while to get to the good stuff, but it’s pretty great once you get there.

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