Category III (or CAT III) films — a ratings classification denoting a film’s more extreme content — are Chinese films that push the boundaries of what’s considered “acceptable” in mainstream entertainment. Where they diverge from esoteric or exotic oddities or the cult canon is that major studios funded these works and filled them with popular actors to be more palatable to Hong Kong’s more mainstream audience.
Although not all the films in this set from Vinegar Syndrome are CAT III per se, The Demon’s Baby, Erotic Nightmare and The Deadly Camp are meant to represent lines that fans of Hong Kong genre films are willing to cross. Unfortunately, the results are remedial across the board, with only Nightmare and only fleeting moments of Baby and Camp hitting the mark you might expect. In other words: You can find weirder, wilder and far more entertaining examples of CAT III (or CAT III-adjacent) cinema. One positive of note: Each film features actor Anthony Wong (Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs) in distinct dirtbag roles that at least illustrate range within the rancid.
All three films have been newly scanned and restored in 2K from their original narrative, with soundtracks in Cantonese stereo with newly translated English subtitles. They are stretched across a two-disc, region-free, limited-edition Blu-ray set.
The package comes with reversible sleeve artwork, a handsome spot-gloss hard slipcase and slipcover combo designed by Haunt Love, and a 40-page perfect-bound book featuring essays by film writers Bruce Holecheck and Erica Shultz, as well journalist Arnaud Lanuque’s interview with Wong.
The Demon’s Baby
Never underestimate the potential of nationalistic plundering to unleash a demonic plague. That’s the story in writer-director Kant Leung’s The Demon’s Baby – set shortly after China’s Qing dynasty. Here, tomb raiders tinker with trinkets that have trapped evil spirits – ones who seek pregnant hosts to bring on a reign of hellfire.
There are sumptuous, high-end period production values, as well as a lot of low-grade romantic intrigue before the supernatural shenanigans – perhaps too much, as there’s little to care about beyond a sweet, slight romance between a cook and a concubine in waiting. There is a bit of murder (courtesy of Wong’s character), a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac. But all of these people are just going to become meat sacs for the murderous demons … or their meals, as entire human bodies are yoinked into the cannibalistic chompers of effects that look like Total Recall’s Kuato were he hungry for flesh.
Frankly, it’s too little too late once The Demon’s Baby does pop off. Even then, next to CAT III classics like Seeding of a Ghost (released a full 15 years earlier), it feels remedial – like some sort of halfhearted riff on pregnancy cravings (which at least affords one perfect shot that’s like a demented reenactment of Lady and the Tramp).
Despite a forewarning of possible shot-to-shot inconsistencies, Vinegar Syndrome’s rescan looks great, with an appropriately vibrant color palette, and although clearly affected by an overdub delay, the soundtrack is sufficient. Extras include a video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Here, Wong plays Lok, a married businessman whose wife’s heart condition has paused their sex life and who awakens from nightly wet dreams without sealing the somnambulant deal. Upon paying $1,000 a pop to a mysterious monk (Berg Ng) who promises dreams to completion, Lok begins to encounter bad things in the real world, like decapitated pets and murdered mothers. Turns out this duplicitous monk has put Lok in a tight spot and a wet spot!
Select moments of Erotic Nightmare hit with enjoyably skeezy and dark comedic energy about the entwinement of emasculation and humiliation. And like a cross between A Nightmare on Elm Street and whatever 1990s softcore Skinemax title pops to mind, it brings new meaning to the idea of the little death; Wong shows some especially humorous herculean commitment to the bit, expressing pained agony in each dream while also plowing away as he has paid to do.
Still, this conceit would play better collapsed into a compelling Tales from the Crypt episode rather than the revenge story it becomes at the 50-minute mark. It also veers into distastefully drawn-out demonstrations of the monk’s casual, consistent and cruel abuse, along with some very convenient developments even for a narrative rigorously rooted in dream logic.
The technical presentation is solid, with a transfer capturing that gauzy / cheap aesthetic of late 20th-century genre work and a soundtrack that’s a bit sturdier than on The Demon’s Baby. Extras include a commentary track with film historian and author Samm Deighan.
The Deadly Camp
As Hong Kong’s answer to the sleek late-1990s American slasher revival, The Deadly Camp has violent verve on its side. It does a so-so job of simulating and smashing together Friday the 13th’s horny-teens-and-hillbillies vibe with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s visceral intensity.
A group of young folks heads to a secluded island, armed with a digital video camera and … well, that’s about all. Meanwhile, Wong heads up a quartet of crass degenerates, who come to accost both this group of kids and, unbeknownst to them, the developmentally disabled son of a serial murderer. His face swaddled in gauze and gymnast chalk caking the air with every strike he lands, this madman will turn his chainsaw toward everyone before the boat returns.
What director / co-writer Bowie Lau lacks in believable tension, he makes up for in a sort of genial aesthetic weirdness. One murder plays out over an oxymoronically peaceful song, a big windup to vengeance is accompanied by a montage of all the carnage we’ve previously seen, and there is an amusing turn in the final moments that recalls Evil Laugh (which Vinegar Syndrome rescued last year). Points also for hinging the big finish on Chekhov’s cleats. While no great shakes as slasher films go, The Deadly Camp is still the purest and most persuasively rendered of this set in regard to its genre goals.
Sturdy marks once again for the transfer and soundtrack here. Vinegar Syndrome always puts in yeoman’s work on each of its titles, and it’s a commendable conviction to quality even if the films don’t always add up. Horror podcasters The Hysteria Continues! contribute a commentary track on The Deadly Camp, and Anthony Wong: The CAT III King, a video essay about the actor by Deighan and fellow film historian Charles Perks.