3) Mr. Vampire
If you ever watched Ghostbusters and found yourself thinking, “this movie is pretty good, but it needs more flying kicks to the head,” I may have just what you’re looking for. It’s Mr. Vampire, a 1985 Hong Kong classic that pits a unibrowed Daoist priest against a menagerie of old school Chinese undead nasties.
The titular “vampire” is actually a Chinese hopping ghost, which means that instead of biting you, he stabs you with rigidly extended fingernails. It also means that garlic, stakes, and crosses are out; sticky rice, scraps of paper with prayers written on them, and the aforementioned jump-kicks are in. And yes, they do hop: according to folklore, rigor mortis prevents them from walking normally, so they have to jump around like frogs.
Typically for Hong Kong cinema, Mr. Vampire seems almost charmingly overstuffed to western sensibilities. One subplot involves one of the unibrowed excorcist’s assistants getting bit (well, finger-jabbed) by the vampire, and then trying to stave off his transformation by grinding his fangs down with a file. (Yes, he grows fangs, even though these vampires never bite anyone. Don’t ask me why.) Another involves a ghostly hooker with a heart of gold, who has a great pratfall early in the film where she gets knocked off a bicycle by a tree branch, while a children’s chorus on the soundtrack sings (according to the subtitles) “The lady ghost looks for a lover/ who would accept so shady a bride?”
In addition to being a laugh riot, Mr. Vampire is actually pretty damn creepy. Most of the ghosts can’t see, instead detecting their prey by smelling their breath. Naturally, this leads to a lot of unspeakably tense scenes where the heroes have to hold their breath until the monsters have left the area. If you don’t catch yourself holding your breath along with them, you are beyond help. Also, while the low level cannon-fodder hopping ghosts play up the ridiculous aspect of the folklore (i.e. the hopping), the Big Bad is somehow really menacing. It’s all available on youtube, but this is really a movie to rent so that you can giggle over it with your friends. Make sure no one gets *too* drunk, though: the mangled subtitles leave it more confusing than your average fare, and nothing kills the mood faster than having to catch someone up on the plot every five minutes.
Random trivia: The original Cantonese title translates more accurately to “Mr. Stiff Corpse.” This kind of thing happens a lot with Hong Kong movies… did you know that Hard Boiled is actually called “Spicy-Handed God of Cops?”