The plot for this Shaw Brothers obscurity reads like a precursor to the later, trendsetting Hong Kong hit: The Eye (2002). Nearsighted manicurist Bao Ling (Chen Szu Chia) is stalked by suave stranger, Shi Jong Jie (Antonio Ho) who saves her from a near fatal car crash that wrecks her only pair of glasses. Claiming to be an optometrist, Shi gives Bao Ling a pair of possessed contact lenses whose unwanted side effects include the ability to see dead people. He also hypnotises her with his glowing eyeballs into performing lurid sex acts, night after night. Each morning the poor woman awakens to find herself naked in bed, inside a cobweb-ridden haunted house. It transpires Shi is merely a host body for a horny supernatural monster that wants Bao Ling to lure more nubile young women to its fetid lair.
Of all the directors at Shaw Brothers, Kuei Chi-hung was perhaps best suited to the horror genre. His work was defined by its fatalism and his horror movies in particular exude the kind of claustrophobic gloom that leaves viewers gasping for air. With Ghost Eyes, Kuei makes each plot twist another nail in Bao Ling’s coffin. In desperation she turns first to her horror fan boyfriend (Lam Wai-Tiu), then to a Taoist priest (Wong Ching-Ho) but each suffers a grisly demise. In traditional Hong Kong horror movies from Black Magic (1975) to Mr. Vampire (1985), the Taoist is a powerful figure who sets wrongs to right. Here, somewhat audaciously, all his incantations and exorcisms prove ineffectual. The ghost beats the old priest half to death with his bare fists then hypnotises Bao Ling into stabbing him, adding wanted for murder to her list of woes.
What is worse, in Cantonese culture Bao Ling’s ordeal makes her “bad luck”. Superstitious folk shun the poor woman (she is repeatedly told to “go to hell”) lest her fate rub off on them, while rational characters think she is crazy. This nihilistic approach makes for an admittedly gut-wrenching tale, albeit a rather depressing one. Watching Bao Ling snivel and beg as she is repeatedly violated (along the way she is also molested by a grave-dwelling rapist and a crazy wild haired hermit) is like seeing a lab rat being tortured. Unlike many EC comics derived horrors, there is no moral to this story. Bao Ling is an innocent victim who suffers and suffers, finding no solace in friends, family, religion, science or even her own resourcefulness, until finally, a nasty twist of fate consumes her whole. If true horror is awful things happening to decent people then Ghost Eyes encapsulates that idea perfectly, but on the other hand: brr… Upon close inspection, Bao Ling is as much a victim of rude or indifferent Hong Kong citizens as she is of the supernatural. Since she comes from Macao, the film may be vaguely allegorical about city slickers taking advantage of poor country folk.
Lead actress Chen Szu Chia draws considerable sympathy for her doomed heroine. A former beauty pageant winner, Chen Szu Chia was a regular in martial arts movies, including the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), and horror fare like Hex (1980) and A Bride’s Nightmare (1981), but never became a major star. Co-star Antonio Ho has a certain suave menace about him, not unlike a young Christopher Lee. Ho, sometimes billed as Szu Wei, was a virtuoso pianist and studied music and film in Madrid and Rome. He acted and wrote scripts while studying for a decade and also worked as an assistant director. The handsome actor was a regular in Shaw Brothers sex films such as The Call-Girls (1977) and Dreams of Eroticism (1977), but you can also see him such camp charmers as the studio’s Charlie’s Angels imitation Deadly Angels (1977) and the wacky Battle Wizard (1977).
The photography is striking, right from the opening credits wherein the camera slowly pulls back from a cackling green skull with glowing eyes. Hong Kong becomes a neon-lit hell on Earth from whence there is no escape. The film has some chilling sequences, including the unmasking of Shi as a rotting ghoul with a grotesque waggling tongue (his jaunty whistle sends genuine shivers down the spine), but too often uses the supernatural to gloss over some plot holes. The whole “I see dead people” angle has ultimately very little to do with the proceeding plot and the script can’t seem to make up its mind whether Shi is a ghost or a vampire that, though able to sneer off a crucifix has a peculiar aversion to cigarette smoke. Also that the monster is able to conjure an optician’s surgery with state-of-the-art equipment on a busy high street, then have it vanish overnight, is more than a little absurd.