Horror Hotline . . . Big
If you haven’t completely tired of the myriad
of urban legend horror films that have followed on the heels of Blair Witch
Project and The Ring, you may want to give this low budget film a chance.
There were no expectations on my part regarding this offering – but with
a solid cast of Francis Ng, Sam Lee and Josie Ho I figured it might be
worth a few ludicrous laughs. I could not have been more wrong. The film
burrows into its subject with almost a manic seriousness and doesn’t allow
even one false note of humor to creep in. Considering that this urban
legend deals with a big headed baby one has to wonder how the cast kept
a straight face – but even taking into account the absurdity of every one
being terrorized by a big headed baby - the film managed to keep me up
way past my bed time and send the occasional chill coursing through my
body. I am not sure what this means – but I found both The Ring and Blair
Witch to be disappointingly dull and could not imagine how anyone found
them scary – no doubt if anyone sees this they might say the same about
me and this film – “you let a big headed baby creep you out?” The film
is nearly all suggestion as very little of a horror nature is actually
Part of the effectiveness of this film lies in
the very good performances given by the three main leads (though in truth
Sam’s role is only a large cameo) and also a few memorable ones by some
of the supporting actors – the medium and the old nurse (Bonnie Wong).
They all approach their roles with total sincerity as they react to the
events that begin to take shape around them. It is so refreshing to see
this in a Hong Kong horror film where so often they find it necessary to
throw in at least one character who supplies the supposed comic relief.
The real revelation here is Josie Ho who has been wasted in a number of
supporting bits since her bravura performance in Purple Storm. Switching
back and forth between Cantonese and excellent English, she drives the
film with an energetic and straight-ahead performance. She also looks terrific
in her boyish haircut and the camera stays on her face for considerable
screen time and her moments of fear and sadness are palpable.
Director Cheang Pou-soi – who also helmed the
effective low budget Diamond Hill – makes wonderful use of a limited budget.
Most of the film takes place in an office, an apartment, a deserted warehouse
and a hospital room – but within this limited claustrophobic space he utilizes
excellent camera movement, oblique up close angles, décor
(the way he makes Ng’s apartment so sterile by having everything white
is a great touch) and off setting colors to create a consistently apprehensive
Francis is a producer of a late night radio show
called Horror Hotline in which people call in with things that have happened
to them of a frightening nature. Josie Ho has come from America to make
a TV segment about the show – and her two assistants are gweilos thus leading
to her speaking English at times. One evening while she is filming, a caller
phones in with a tale that took place when he was in third grade. He along
with six other students and a teacher came across something incredibly
terrible one afternoon some twenty years ago. And then in a hoarse terrified
whisper he says it was a big headed baby and hangs up.
They don’t think much of it until they begin getting
a number of calls from other listeners also relating tales they had heard
of this same legend. Josie thinks this will give her segment a great angle
and pushes Ng into reluctantly investigating the story. What follows is
a tale of insanity, possession, communicating with the dead, a faceless
woman and a caged creature. At the same time, Ng’s girlfriend (Niki Chow)
is a nurse and one of her patients is a catatonic Sam Lee who is only able
to draw a picture . . . of a big headed baby. The film has two endings
available on the DVD which comes to a stop and allows you to choose one
(the second one is cooler) – but I have to say that both made little sense
as both confusingly devolve completely into a Blair Witch homage.
My rating for this film: 7.5
Distributed by Mei Ah
The transfer is fine - even the dark scenes
look good. During one scene the sound disappears for a minute or less.
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks - Dolby
The subtitles are Chinese or English or none.
There is a trailer for this film - and one
for United We Stand, Swim.
The menu has both endings.
There is a Making of section (which follows
the trailer for this film).