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Plot: lesbian hitwomen face off against each other. A cop is caught in the crossfire.

Every director needs a muse. Roger Vadim had Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. Mario Imperoli and Silvio Amadio shared a muse in Gloria Guida. Luciano Ercoli had Nieves Navarro. Sergio Martino had Edwige Fenech. Lucio Fulci had Catriona MacColl. Jess Franco had Soledad Miranda and later Lina Romay. Joe D’Amato had Laura Gemser. Hong Kong exploitation mogul Jing Wong on the other hand had Chingmy Yau, who was not only his muse but also his mistress. Yau had been starring in various capacity in Wong movies since 1988 but it wasn’t until Naked Killer that she was given her own production. While it never quite reaches the pomp of God Of Gambers (1989) and its sequel nor channeling the sheer derivative efficacy of High Risk (1996), Naked Killer is every bit as much a valentine to Yau as it is a preamble to have Chingmy entangled in various risqué positions and flattering outfits. Naked Killer might not be Jing Wong’s best offering, but in the English-speaking world it’s certainly his most remembered.

Allegedly made in response to Yukio Noda’s Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974) with Miki Sugimoto, Jing Wong conceived Naked Killer as a Hong Kong action take on the Paul Verhoeven erotic thriller Basic Instinct (1992) while director Clarence Ford aimed for a contemporary take on Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972), itself a HK variant of The French Sex Murders (1972). What Naked Killer actually looks like, at least most of the time, is a stylish erotic take on Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990). If Jess Franco’s psychtronic sleaze epic Vampyros Lesbos (1971) was reimagined as a ‘90s HK action movie it would probably look something like this. Naked Killer ostensibly spawned an unrelated parallel franchise with Raped By An Angel (1993) (passed off as Naked Killer 2 in some territories, despite having no connections to the original) carrying over various cast and crew, and becoming a lucrative franchise of its own, spawning 5 installments from 1993 to 2003. Wong, ever the philistine, would revisit the lesbian hitwomen concept to increasing diminishing returns again in Naked Weapon (2002) with Maggie Q and Naked Soldier (2012) with Jenn Tse but neither came close to the enduring cult appeal of Naked Killer. For better or worse Naked Killer brought Category III to Europe and North America at large.

Up, front, and center of Naked Killer is Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, the fairer half of one of HK cinema’s most recognizable power couples, who competed in the 1987 Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant, but withdrew under the guise of health issues after controversial allegations of plastic surgery on her chin arose. The veracity of the allegations seem to have never been substantiated. Yau was one of the leading ladies of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and early 1990s. She frequently worked with exploitation mogul Jing Wong. Having played good girl roles prior to her excursion into trash with Wong, Yau became one of the Hong Kong’s biggest sex symbols of the decade. There’s something strangely poetic (or romantic) about Wong, then a married man, casting his mistress in many of his productions of the time. Yau might have been the decade’s HK sex symbol but she refused, like her contemporary Amy Yip, to do full nudity as to not limit her career options. Wong on his part goes to ridiculous lengths to show as much of Yau as possible but also goes out on a limb to never fully expose her. Over the course of a decade-long career, spanning 55 movies, Yau was nominated three times for Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Not just for respectable fare as I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995) and Hold You Tight (1998), but also for Naked Killer. In 1999 Chingmy Yau retired from acting and married Hong Kong fashion designer Shum Ka Wai, founder of fashion manufacturer I.T, with whom she has three children. Yau has been known for her charitable work and her eldest daughter Shen Yue recently modeled for UNICEF and has expressed no interest in entering showbusiness.

A recent string of random castration murders has the Hong Kong Police Force puzzled and detective Tinam (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) is assigned the latest of such cases. With results not forthcoming and Tinam still prone to projectile vomiting after accidently killing his police officer brother and unable to handle a gun, his commanding officer (Louis Roth) orders him to get a haircut. In the salon the HKPF detective witnesses a violent altercation between a particularly aggressive hairdresser and a flirty, scandily clad female client who identifies herself as Kitty (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) that ends with the hairdresser being repeatedly stabbed in the groin with a pair of shears. Kitty is able to flee the premises and Tinam gives chase. Kitty uses her ample womanly charms (and the detective’s gun) to convince him to let her go without questioning or making an arrest. A courtship between the two ensues as Kitty uses his pager to remain in contact. One day Kitty comes home to find her father (Chang Tseng), a food stand owner, killed by his wife’s lover Bee (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong). Kitty retaliates by infiltrating Bee’s Triad offices and killing absolutely everybody in sight before finally putting her crosshairs on the man she chose as target all along. On her way out she takes an older businesswoman hostage to facilitate her escape. As Bee’s henchmen close in on Kitty her hostage reveals herself to be Sister Cindy (Yiu Wai, as Kelly Yao), a retired special operative, and in the 70 second shoot-out that follows both women lay waste to all of the enemy agents as well as pretty much the entirety of the parking garage.

Recognizing Kitty’s penchant for casual mass slaughter and her appetite for wanton destruction Sister Cindy offers the young woman a deal. Either she will kill her or she can hand her over to law enforcement authorities which in no uncertain terms will mean life imprisonment. Kitty reluctantly agrees to become her disciple and before long she’s knee-deep into a regiment of martial arts - and special weapons training. On the side Sister Cindy instructs Kitty in the ways of seduction and destruction. Upon completion of her training she’s given a new identity and ordered to kill a high-ranking Yakuza target in a seedy nightclub. In retribution the Yakuza hire a pair of lesbian hitwomen Princess (Carrie Ng Ka-Lai) and Baby (Sugawara Madoka). Princess and Baby are revealed to be former disciples of Sister Cindy and will kill absolutely anybody for the right price, be they family or former mentors. Princess and Baby also happen to be lovers who don’t take kind to Sister Cindy having a new disciple. As the passion between Kitty and Tinam intensifies, the heat of the affair starts to spill over into their professional lives. In fact Kitty not only offers a solution of Tinam’s gun trauma but also solves his erectile problems at the same time. Princess and Baby are not amused by the male interloper as they secretly lust after Kitty. In the explosive finale Princess and Baby engage Kitty in battle to prove who gets to call herself the Naked Killer.

Unlike installments from the following decades Naked Killer has style to spare and will take every opportunity to relish in it. Its pop-art deco excesses easily match Jess Franco’s The Girl From Rio (1969) and The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) and Chingmy Yau gets to wear, and take off, some high-end fashion. The palette is vibrant and lively in its smattering pastel colors. During the final confrontation the rival hitwomen even don Phantom Of the Opera masks. The action direction by Lau Shung-Fung is up to par but it never reaches the creativity of the best work from Yuen Wo-Ping or Corey Yuen Kwai. 1992 was a particularly important year for Chingmy Yau as she would star in both Naked Killer and the manga adaptation City Hunter alongside Jackie Chan and Joey Wong. Yau had played a number of romantic and comedic roles by this point but Naked Killer was her first venture into something more erotic. Jing Wong was the subject of some controversy as he was engaged in a tryst with Yau while he was married. Hower, Wong always had a talent for spotting new talent and brought the world everybody from Sharla Cheung, Joey Wong, and Chingmy Yau to more recent belles as Valerie Chow, Charlie Yeung, Maggie Q, Jenn Tse and Candy Yuen Ka-Man.

The cast is as attractive as they come. Chingmy Yau is the obvious showstealer as the titular sexy assassin. Leading man Simon Yam, a model and Yau’s on-screen partner for much of the decade, is a strapping hunk. Sugawara Madoka, the only of the female cast to actually do any nudity, was Playmate Japan 1992. In fact if Naked Killer has a signature pose it is the crossing of one arm covering the chest. A pose that Chingmy Yau immortalized and etched in the memory of Hong Kong cinema fans worldwide, but that Sugawara Madoka also can be seen doing. Kelly Yao was both a singer and an actress but in recent years has found faith and now is an evangelical Christian. Carrie Ng on the other hand remains clothed through out while Sugawara does not. Ng had been acting for a decade by that point, while Sugawara acted in only a grand total of two movies in 1992-93. Wong’s juvenile humor is in full swing with Tinam’s partner (a cameo by Wong) mistaking a severed manhood for a sausage and T!nam’s tendency to projectile vomit. As always is Wong’s idea of humor far from sophisticated, crass, and wildly hit-and-miss. Category III movies had been around since the 1980s but it wasn’t until the explicit war atrocity expose Men Behind The Sun (1988) that directors and producers sought to capitalize on the taboo-prohibiliting rating. As far as Category III movies and the genre goes, Naked Killer is an extremely mild example of the form.

While Chingmy Yau has played a variety of roles for Wong over the years she remains the most identified with Naked Killer. Clearly it’s Wong’s valentine to his beloved mistress. Yau would make appearances in plenty of other Wong productions in the following years, including Future Cops (1993), City Hunter (1993), God of Gamblers Return (1994), and High Risk (1995). Jing Wong has returned to the lesbian hitwomen concept once every decade since Naked Killer. The episodes since have no connections to the original and as the productions became slicker much, if not all, of the mad frenetic energy that was present here has been increasingly sapped from the series. Naked Killer realizes just how ridiculous it is and continues to pile on until the entire thing threatens to collapse. That thankfully never happens, and whenever it does Wong throws in another shot of Chingmy Yau or Sugawara Madoka leering seductively at the camera. The Naked franchise has lost a lot of its luster over the ensuing two decades and Naked Killer remains by far the best of the bunch. Not only because it was the first but because it brims with style, oozes with excess and never takes itself too seriously. Perhaps God Of Gamblers (1989) is a much better title to get acquainted with Jing Wong’s deranged, mass audience antics – but there’s something about Naked Killer that he was never quite able to harness again. Naked Killer embodies the best of HK action cinema, although you shouldn’t take it too seriously. It certainly never does.

Plot: priest, metalhead, and conman must stop the Apocalypse

The Day Of the Beast is probably the single most important Spanish horror movie of the nineties. The picture won 6 Goyas, including the one for best director, and breathed new life into a genre once so prominent in Iberia. With the fantastiques of Paul Naschy and Jesús Franco, the portentious gothic horrors of Léon Klimovsky, Amando de Ossorio and Miguel Iglesias as well as the occult erotic potboilers of José Ramón Larraz definitely being a thing of the past director Álex de la Iglesia rejuvenated Spanish horror with his second feature The Day Of the Beast, a horror-comedy reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and Peter Jackson’s irreverent splatter horror debut feature Bad Taste (1987). As far as cultural importance goes it more or less was the Verónica (2017) of its day.

As the American horror landscape devolved into self-referential, self-reflexive, and meta-commentary, a brief genre resurgence occured in Spain. In the mid-to-late nineties directors as Alejandro Amenábar, Jaume Balagueró, and Álex de la Iglesia breathed new life into the once so flourishing Spanish horror industry. Each of these three men at some point early in their career tried their hand at the genre either in the form of slick dark thrillers or plain old-fashioned horror genre pieces. Amenábar directed the excellent Thesis (1996) and later the dreamy, surrealist Open Your Eyes (1997) (duly remade for the US market by Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky in 2001). Balagueró shot the atmospheric thriller The Nameless (1999), but wouldn’t find success until [Rec] (2007) almost a decade later. Álex de la Iglesia was more of a Spanish equivalent to early Peter Jackson, packing The Day Of the Beast with an equal amount of scares and laughs.

The director of The Day Of the Beast is Alejandro "Álex" de la Iglesia Mendoza, a screenwriter, producer, and erstwhile comic book artist. Prior to directing The Day Of the Beast, de la Iglesia helmed the subversive Acción Mutante (1993) that was produced by Pedro Almodóvar. Acción Mutante won two prizes at the Montréal Fantasia Festival, and three Goya's. The Day Of the Beast marked the first collaboration between de la Iglesia and producer Andrés Vicente Gómez. The Day Of the Beast is wonderful not only because it’s iconoclastic and irreverent much in the same way as Alucarda (1977) but, more importantly, because its mix of shocks and laughs serves a larger purpose; that of social satire. The Day Of the Beast has its share of slapstick comedy sequences but it never reverts into pure comedy. While it stays fairly lighthearted it always maintains an ominous, dark tone through out. Much in the fashion of earliest Peter Jackson, de la Iglesia uses humor to amplify the horror.

Basque Roman Catholic priest Father Ángel Berriartúa or simply Cura (Álex Angulo) has dedicated his life to deciphering Saint John's cryptic Book of Revelations at the Sanctuary of Aránzazu. The theologian has at long last discovered the numerical values denoting the date and place of birth of the Antichrist and the subsequent apocalypse. Which happens to be Christmas eve in Madrid, Spain. As he shares this knowledge with his monsignor sacerdote Anciano (Saturnino García) the latter is flattened by a falling cruciform. In a desperate, last bid attempt to come in the Dark Lord’s favor, Cura goes on a city-wide rampage commiting as much sin as possible, a quest that leaves him halfmad with terror and one that brings him to the attention of local media and law enforcement authorities. His deranged trek through Madrid brings him to the Carabanchel district where he meets dim-witted, loveable metalhead and record store owner José Maria (Santiago Segura), who offers him food and shelter because he appreciates the priest liking “heavy stuff”. José Maria hands Cura the demo tape of local metal act Satanika who, if rumors are to be believed, have affiliations with genuine Satanists. After visiting one of their shows Cura is convinced that José Maria is trustworthy ally and a partnership is formed. However, to summon the Dark Lord (and to stop the birth of the prophecized Antichrist) they require the help of a specialist in the occult.

José Maria suggests that Cavan (Armando De Razza), a public access TV medium and alleged connoisseur of and intendent to the secrets of the black arts, might be able to help on that end. The two break into the conman’s opulent apartment, scaring the living daylights out of Cavan’s supremely sluttish girlfriend Susana (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), and when negotiations breaks down they resort to plainly kidnapping the supposed medium. Cavan - the now battered and bloodied host of the paranormal talkshow “The Dark Side” - relays that in order to summon the Dark Lord they need to complete a ritual, one that is contingent on the pure, virgin blood. Cura immediately goes about securing said blood by attempting to talk José Maria’s saintly sister Mina (Nathalie Seseña) in voluntarily donating hers. With Mina not being open to the idea Cura is forced to kill her leading to a violent domestic dispute in which her matriarchal shotgun-toting mother Rosario (Terele Pávez) comes to her rescue, injuring and nearly killing the old padre in the process. The trio enact the ritual causing the Goatlord to appear, but the horned apparition leaves them no clues of the Satan spawn’s whereabouts.

After a daring escape from the Gran Vía (Capitol building, formerly the Carrión building) high-rise the trio is able to track down the unholy forces of evil to the Puerta de Europa (formerly known as the KIO Towers). After putting up a courageous fight José Maria is killed by the agents of Satán (Higinio Barbero). In a last desperate bid for survival Cura and Cavan, who since his mysterious disappearance has been replaced by the suave but entirely phony Nuevo Cavan (El Gran Wyoming), bundle their forces and face off against the lord with horns. Against impossible odds the duo somehow manages to succeed and soon find themselves as madly babbling drifters in the streets of Madrid while the rest of the world carries on with their mundane lives unaware of what has transpired.

The writing of Jorge Guerricaechevarría and de la Iglesia realizes how absurd the entire premise is, and amplify the whole by making every character a broad genre archetype. Cura is the priest in a crisis of faith who discovers the impending apocalypse. José Maria is a dim-witted death metal enthusiast (and record store owner) who throws shoplifters face-first through glass. Rosario, his mother, is the racist native who’d want all undesirables to stay at her pensione so she could blow them away with her rifle. Cavan is an alleged medium, who pretty much admits he’s a conman, but who engages in exorcisms and writes book on the occult and paranormal because that’s what his audience wants and who is he not to indulge them? Cavan’s girlfriend Susana serves no other purpose than to bounce around in skimpy lingerie and occassionally act as a damsel-in-distress when the script calls for one. Maria Grazia Cucinotta oddly reminds of a mid-to-late 1980s Lina Romay with her white wig. The three leads play off each other wonderfully. Cura is a babbling madman on a quest that nobody really understands, José Maria is a kind-hearted soul in a bulky physique that responds with “heavy” every time their situation gets worse, and Cavan acts a lone voice of reason that keeps both men holding on to what little remains of their sanity. In the end Cura and Cavan realize that the world has already gone to hell as nobody even has the slightest clue of the perilous journey they went through to prevent the apocalypse.

The cast of The Day Of the Beast were, for the most part, carryovers from de la Iglesia’s Acción Mutante (1993) or fresh new faces. Álex Angulo, Saturnino Garcia, and Santiago Segura all were in de la Iglesia’s debut feature with Angula scoring his most remembered role in the series Periodistas (1998). Segura turned up in the mid-90s Jess Franco debacle Killer Barbys (1996) alongside an aging Mariangela Giordano, but would redeem himself with de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango (1997) and reinvent himself as a Hollywood darling in the new millennium with bit parts in Blade II (2002), Beyond Re-Animator (2003), Guillermo del Toro’s comic book adaptation Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), Pacific Rim (2013), and the Torrente franchise (1998-2004). Maria Grazia Cucinotta was a former model and one of several curvaceous Mediterranean actresses (Monica Belucci and Penelope Cruz being the two most important other competitors at the time) tipped for international superstardom. The Day Of the Beast, along with a role in the domestic drama The Postman (1994), as well as a guest spot on the popular HBO series The Sopranos and a cameo in the Bond vehicle The World Is Not Enough (1999), set her on the road to superstardom. As these things go voluptuous Cucinotta has done little of note in the cinematic world since.

Needless to say The Day Of the Beast was probably the most important Spanish horror movie in 1995, back when the once so glorious genre had all dried up in the country. At various points it channels the spirit of some of the old masters and injects it with a much-needed boost of youthful energy and irreverence that, at its best, reminds of a young Peter Jackson. Few directors can manage to combine such contrasting (not to mention conflicting) genres as slapstick comedy, atmospheric horror and human drama without doing concessions to either. The Day Of the Beast knows what it is, and what it wants to be, and its enduring longevity comes from not only from its classic plot but that it never forgets that it is a horror production. True to its time it’s not nearly as thick on that earthen Mediterranean atmosphere of old and its rather demure on all fronts – more importantly, however, is that de la Iglesia paid homage to the old Iberian horror masters without ever coming across as rustic or plain old-fashioned. The Day Of the Beast was as slick and modern as they came in 1995, but it always remained vintage at heart.