Shaw Brothers is a venerable brand name amongst Hong Kong film fans for its multi-decade string of kung-fu epics but there’s more to their filmography than meets the eye. If you go deep into their ’70s/’80s catalog, you’ll discover a fascinating underbelly of exploitation fare that is as wild as Japan’s better-known shockers from that era. A prime example is Oily Maniac, Shaw’s one-of-a-kind, grindhouse-esque take on the monster movie.
The bizarre plot plays out like a cheap 70’s comic book tarted up with plentiful sex and violence. A polio-stricken legal assistant (Danny Lee, well before The Killer) visits an old friend on death row and the man asks him to look out for his daughter. Since he is handicapped, the old man teaches him a spell that will allow him to become a super-strong creature made of oil so he can avenge any wrongdoings. However, the old codger warns him that those who misuse the spell will “die a horrible death…”
This setup seems predictable but Oily Maniac takes all manner of fascinating departures as it sets up a variety of evildoers for him to punish, including everyone from his corrupt boss to a bargain-basement plastic surgeon and even a pimp. There’s also a subplot involving the old man’s daughter, played by Shaw sex starlet Chen Ping, and some monkey business about people scheming to steal the coconut oil factory (!) belonging to her family.
Oily Maniac was inspired by a Malaysian legend but it really feels like The Blob, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and Swamp Thing all smashed together, with a little pinch of The Wolf Man thrown in for the oily maniac-back-to-man transformation scenes. Along the way, the viewer is treated to tons of cheap opticals, like Oily Maniac transforming into an oil slick to slither through pipes and under doors, and makeup effects that show the creature taking stabbings, shootings and dismemberment with no ill effect.
There’s also plenty of sleaze and skin, the latter mainly supplied by the buxom Chen Ping. Best of all, director Ho Meng-Hua makes the film’s smorgasbord approach to cheap thrills look effortless. He was something of a specialist at Shaw Brothers with budget-conscious FX-stravaganzas thanks to credits like Black Magic and Infra-Man and he digs into the sleaze and the monster movie elements with equal vigor, giving the film a heady one-two punch of sleaze and creature feature antics.
There’s so much about this flick for the schlock addict to love: the little reverb-drenched yell O.M. unleashes every time he attacks, the hilariously artsy handheld-cam breakdown scene that Lee gets early on, the jaw-dropping ‘he said/she said’ reenactments of the testimony in a rape trial scene that pops up from out of nowhere, the fact that the evil lawyer is rich but still drives his mistress to lover’s lane to have sex, the snippet of the Jaws theme used as O.M. stalks his victims…
One could go on for hours listing this film’s lurid charms but this review will stop here. If you’re interested in the highlights of Hong Kong exploitation, this is one of the necessary stops on that journey.
DVD/Blu-Ray Info: no U.S. release as of this writing. There’s an old, out-of-print region 3 disc that was remastered but is also a PAL-to-NTSC convert. More recently, 88 Films made a Region 2 blu-ray that apparently has a fresh master and new extras. The latter is probably the best bet for the adventurous viewer.