The Spooky Bunch (1980)
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You know, there's a vast world of horror-related media out there, and there's no way that anyone would ever be able to read, watch, or listen to it all in a single lifetime—and that's in your own native language. What about horror from other cultures, languages, or eras? On top of that, horror hasn't always been as widespread as it is today, and genre-blending, like in the case of horror/comedy, still isn't that big and probably never will be.
If you follow tech news or peruse social media platforms, you've heard that AI and ChatGPT are all the rage. For this article, I thought I might become an "AI Prompt Engineer"—a fancy term for the next-generation "let me Google that for you." (Business Insider and Bloomberg say you can even make $335,000 a year doing it, with no background in tech!) Below is my attempt to qualify for one of these new, high-paying jobs, where I told ChatGPT to write all about a film called The Spooky Bunch from 1980.
You're not going to believe what it wrote.
Get ready to bow down before our new AI overlords.
Wasn't that something?
Good thing I'm here to pick up the AI slack, so you don't miss hearing about a ghost named Cat Shit.
Hong Kong in the 1980s
If you don't know where Hong Kong is, here's a map.
Hong Kong has a complex history of territorial invasion, colonialism, occupation, and sovereignty disputes that continue today. Back in the 1980s, many of the same battles were happening on the political stage while cultural and technological revolutions were taking hold. Cantopop culture was on the rise, Sony Walkmans became trendy, and Jackie Chan (Hong Kong native... British Hong Kong) found massive commercial success.
It was a happening place, one of the places to be, and the cinema was no exception. Hong Kong filmmakers were experimenting with storytelling, blending Hong Kong culture and storytelling, and creating movies that are fondly remembered today. One of which was The Spooky Bunch, a foray into combining horror and comedy with things that 21st-century brains would never have come up with.
The Spooky Bunch: How to Break a Family Curse, or Die Trying
A troupe of Cantonese opera performers gets invited by a man named Mr. Ma to perform on a remote island with the condition that one of the players, Ah Chi, plays a lead role instead of her usual bit part. Of course, Mr. Ma has an ulterior motive more than simple thespian pursuits. Mr. Ma also invites his nephew to visit and watch the performances in hopes that he can arrange a marriage between his nephew and Ah Chi.
Mr. Ma's nephew, by the way, is named Dick Ma.
Did You Know?
In most of the English-speaking world, the given name (what we know as "first name) comes first, followed by the family name (surname, aka last name). In Chinese and many other languages of the world, family names come first.
Anyway, back to Dick Ma.
The clever marriage plot by Mr. Ma is all to try and undo a curse on the Ma family by Ah Chi's grandfather. Mr. Ma believes that if they become one family, the curse will be broken. Unfortunately for Mr. Ma, his nephew isn't interested in settling down, and the curse isn't quite what Mr. Ma thinks it is, and vengeful ghosts begin appearing on the island almost immediately.
One of them is named Cat Shit.
The story begins by following the troupe backstage for a little lighthearted possession with Cat Shit, and it's all fun and games with Cat Shit until the other ghosts start killing people.
The film has quite a bit more gore than others from its time, and it also delves into superstition that pulls from Chinese history, folklore, and performing theater. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that the backstory of the curse is darker than you might think, and it leans a bit more toward ghost story horror than comedy.
That said, here are a few things that might pique your interest: military ghosts, mass possession, ripped trousers, a Scooby-Doo style chase with added acrobatics, levitating guns, a ghost laugh accompanying a floating lantern similar to that of Poe from The Legend of Zelda, a bizarre stop in the middle of the movie to play with street children, a random song and dance to trick a ghost into an odd game of copycat, a Buddhist head monk that shoots spiritual lasers from his fingertips, and, of course, Cat Shit in a basket.
The director of the film, Ann Hui, is a big deal in film and has now had an incredibly long and successful career in not only directing but also acting, producing, and screenwriting. She tends to make films that focus on marginalized people and tackle taboo subjects. Read more about Ann Hui here, also here, and watch a fascinating interview with her here. The Spooky Bunch was her second feature film in a filmography that now spans dozens over several decades.
The Spooky Bunch isn't exactly easy to get a hold of to watch, especially from any official source. A lot of films fade into history, lost to time. The slew of new releases and the ever-growing catalog of choices means that each piece of horror media out there gets a slimmer and slimmer chance to be seen every day. While I don't really do movie reviews, book reviews, or—well, any reviews—I sometimes do what I can to resurrect a bit of horror history so that it has a better chance of being discovered, even if it is only by one person. I know I've received some pretty obscure suggestions from people before, and while some didn't turn out to be to my taste, others were eye-opening in unexpected ways.
Relevant & Related
- You can watch The Spooky Bunch right here with English subtitles.
- While you're at it, check out some Cantonese Opera.
- Learn all about the horrible way the 1980s came to a close in China at Tiananmen Square.
- And take a trip into the past to see HD footage of Hong Kong from the 1980s.
- I've also written about a few strange things near Hong Kong: Hauntings of the Forbidden City in Beijing | The Jiajing Emperor | Langsuyar of Malaysian Folklore.
- For more films I've written about, check out: Incident in a Ghostland | Godzilla (1954) | Son of Frankenstein (1939)