Ghost Eyes

Though director Gui Zihong’s classic 1973 film “The Bamboo House of Dolls” was filled with lurid details of sex and torture and “The Killer Snakes” made the following year oozed with perversity, he keeps this 1974 film surprisingly free of exploitation.  “Ghost Eyes” certainly has ample opportunity for large portions of sex and violence, but Gui steers oddly clear of them. One might wonder if the inclusion of some of these graphic elements would have given this film a higher profile over the years as opposed to becoming one of his more obscure works.  Instead the director creates a moody supernatural tale that though never truly frightening is effectively dark and pessimistic.
Gui paints a claustrophobic Hong Kong landscape that seems to almost be perpetually dark and rainy and in which danger is resident in all things natural and unnatural. The city is almost a breathing sore waiting for infection to settle in. Often Gui utilizes off-setting camera angles that give much of the proceedings an uneasy feeling and the tight enclosed interiors, deserted exteriors and use of shadow and light only add to the disturbing melancholy that overlays everything. In this sinister world nothing is as it appears – often the dangerous looking is mundane and the mundane can be deadly. The simple act of crossing the street has inherent risk and something as ordinary as a contact lens can be utterly destructive. Hong Kong is a battlefield in which both the supernatural and the real world are out to hurt you. The tone is set immediately when the film opens with a razor being rapidly sharpened, but this turns out only to be a barber readying himself to shave a customer – the real danger is in the well-dressed man who just walked in for a manicure.
Bao Ling (Chen Szu Chia) is an attractive manicurist in the shop and makes small talk with her new customer Shi (Antonio Ho a.k.a. Sze Wei) who has arrived as dusk sets and pointedly avoids being caught in a cross-mirror image. After leaving work Bao is nearly hit by a car and has her glasses broken in her fall. Her friendly customer turns up suddenly and tells her that he is an optometrist and that he will provide her with a pair of contact lenses. The next day she comes to his shop and is outfitted with the lenses. Later that night in the pouring rain he makes a house call to make sure everything is going well and he shines a light into her pupils – the next thing she knows it is the next day and something sexual happened to her in the interval. This doesn’t seem to faze her nearly as much as it would us, but soon other very strange things begin to happen. In the washroom of her work place she sees an old man washing his hands – but it turns out he died over a year ago and on her way home she comes across a mudslide with numerous people gasping to fight their way out – except there is nothing there and a passerby tells her to stay away from this area because many people died in a mudslide long ago.
When she goes to visit his shop to confront him it turns out that it was burnt down years before and the proprietor died in the fire – clearly these are contact lenses from Hell and she can't take them off! She keeps waking up in a broken down house on a ratty mattress and can’t recall how she got there and her appearance is soon that of the walking dead. Shi soon tires of having sex with her and demands that she bring fresh meat in the form of her pretty co-workers to this house and they are never seen of again except as desiccated corpses. Freaking out at this point she finally tells her boyfriend (Lin Wei Tu) what has happened and they realize that she must be possessed and they bring in a Taoist priest to take on this creature of the dead who will neither kill her or let her go – but the horror and hopelessness of the situation only increases.
This is a fairly enjoyably taut supernatural thriller that crosses you up a few times in your expectations and is unremittingly grim. It is not graphic though for the most part – the sex is always off screen as are most of the killings – though one is carried out quite nicely with the simplicity of a bloody arm reaching out of the water. Gui also increases the tension in other simple but effective ways – at one point the boyfriend is anxiously waiting for a phone call from Bao to see if she is alright and an annoying fat child is frazzling his and our nerves by playing a screechy laughing box. Another effective ploy is having Shi whistle the famous tune “The Love I Cannot Forget” from the film “Love without End” whenever he approaches to do evil. Was he a Linda Lin Dai fan? It will be hard to think of this hauntingly romantic song in the same way. The leading actors were certainly not high profile indicating that this film was far from first tier and the budget was probably in line with that but Gui compensates for this lack of quality acting and money with great technique and smarts – simple everyday sets, filming primarily at night, utilizing a jangly soundtrack, having a tight fast moving narrative, some fun make-up, scary looking extras, a few jolting moments, crisp editing and great camera placement. Appearing also is Ha Ping as one of Bao’s co-workers.

My rating for this film: 7.5