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Originally published Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 3:07 PM

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‘Rigor Mortis’: Spooky stiffs come alive in horror flick

A 2.5-star movie review of “Rigor Mortis”: Juno Mak’s directorial debut is a flawed homage to several strains of Asian cult horror cinema, but at heart it’s a pretty effective piece of scary storytelling that’s set in a decaying apartment building.


Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review ★★½  

‘Rigor Mortis,’ with Siu-ho Chin, Chung Fat, Anthony Chan, Kara Hui, Nina Paw. Directed by Juno Mak, from a screenplay by Lai-yin Leung and Philip Yung. 105 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Cantonese, with English subtitles. Pacific Place.

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Hopping vampires and longhaired, spidery spirit-girls.

If you know your way around Asian cult horror cinema, both of those spooks will sound familiar. If not, there’s still much to enjoy in Hong Kong native Juno Mak’s “Rigor Mortis,” a flawed pastiche of different horror genres that even includes a few actors from the likes of Ricky Lau’s 1985 semi-classic, “Mr. Vampire.”

Mak, a popular singer-turned-actor-turned-filmmaker, makes his directorial debut with “Rigor Mortis,” which comes up short on narrative details and could do with some economy where fantastic elements are concerned. But as a work of nightmarish broad strokes that intersect in wholly unexpected ways, “Rigor Mortis,” particularly in its second half, is hard to shake.

An ensemble cast stars as the residents of a decaying apartment building, with each character uniquely haunted by the supernatural residue of past or present tragedies. Into this community moves a washed-up actor (Siu-ho Chin) with a disturbing backstory that Mak and screenwriters Lai-yin Leung and Philip Yung visually suggest but, frustratingly, never clarify.

In time, the ghosts of twin girls involved in a murder-suicide become a powerful force in “Rigor Mortis,” as does the effort of one wizard (Chung Fat) to create a vampire while another wizard (Anthony Chan) tries to stop him. Meanwhile, a traumatized widow (Kara Hui) and her little son travel the hallways like living spirits, and a kindly seamstress (Nina Paw) undergoes some dark changes.

Mak and the writers gradually pull all this together in spectacular fashion, crashing character arcs into one another in startling, heartbreaking ways. Even if Mak’s drawn-out special effects seem like overkill, the bottom line is that he spins a good campfire yarn.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com



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