Ricky Lau’s comedy horror about hopping vampires and lovelorn ghosts just about holds it own, if you can turn a blind eye to the casual sexism, animal cruelty, infantile comedy and stodgy exposition.
If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, that’s because it’s not. Comedy horror alternatives are not thin on the ground these days and there are plenty of alternatives out there. It’s unlikely that this slapstick 80s take on Chinese folklore is going to burrow into your psyche; but there’s a manic energy and pleasingly threadbare finesse to a lot of Mr. Vampire that keeps it entertaining, on balance. Plus, the odd genuine wave of novelty as you watch something that feels like it was certainly pioneering at the time.
The meat of the plot revolves around a bunch of Jiangshi – Chinese folklore staples without an easy equivalent in the West – who maraud around Republic-era China. They’re sort of vampires and sort of zombies, and they hop around everywhere with an air more of inconvenience rather than genuine threat.
Lam Chin-ying’s Taoist master specialises in magical arts and is burdened with the task of keeping them under control, while keeping his horny incompetent trainees played by Ricky Hui and Chin Sui-ho in tow.
It doesn’t exactly fly out of the traps, and it does its best to put you off with some sub-Benny Hill suggestive pantomime along the way; but if you bear with it, you’ll be rewarded with a finale that provides energy, flourish, some pretty superb slapstick martial arts. Plus, a witch with a floating head!
Carry On meets The Evil Dead with everything that’s as good and bad as that combo suggests.