Rigor Mortis (Hong Kong, 2013) [NYAFF 2014]

Directed by Juno Mak and produced by Takashi Shimizu, Rigor Mortis is a horror film that pays tribute to the horror comedy series Mr. Vampire (1985-1992) and stars some of the original cast.

The film stars Chin Siu-ho as himself. He has moved into a public housing high rise because he has fallen on hard times and plans to commit suicide. As he dies, Chin is possessed by the powerful spirits of a set of twins who died in the very same apartment some time earlier. Chin is saved by Yau (Anthony Chan) a vampire hunter with an extensive knowledge of magic and the occult. Yau currently is a cook who runs a small fast food joint and is familiar with the locals in the building.

Auntie Mui (Hee Ching Paw) is a local woman who helps out the other tenants with sewing and other odd jobs. When her husband Uncle Tung (Richard Ng) is killed in a mysterious accident, Mui goes to Gau (Chung Fat) another local and practitioner of black magic, who brings her husband back from the dead by turning Tung into a vampire. Gau has manipulated the desperate Mui and using the spirits of the twins, creates an almost indestructible monster in Tung. Yau enlists the help of Chin to destroy the vampire and save the residents of the building.

Rigor Mortis is a strange but beautifully somber horror film with some interesting characters. While the original movies that it pays homage to were horror comedies, Rigor Mortis is dark with a malevolent tone. The film visually is washed out and grainy, accentuating the bleakness felt by Chin and foreshadows the impending danger unleashed by Gau.

Mui is a sympathetic woman with a strong presence that you can’t help but feel sorry for. She loved her husband and didn’t want to be left alone in the wake of his death. There is also Feng (Kara Hui), a young mother traumatized by the events that took place in Chin’s apartment long ago when the twins died violent deaths and her son Pak (Morris Ho), who Chin finds some measure of happiness by caring for them. The real star of the film, though is Chan’s Yau, a retired vampire hunter who walks around in underwear and a robe who has become disillusioned with life in general. Yau is truly a reluctant hero who does what he must to save his neighbors.

Rigor Mortis has a decent amount of blood and gore and its creepy factor is quite satisfying. Another enjoyable aspect of the movie is that the folklore of vampires in Southeast Asia is different from what we typically see in Western films. It’s a very good film that you should definitely check out.

Rigor Mortis is showing on July 4 at the Walter Reade Theater as a double feature with Mr. Vampire. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here.