Human Lanterns (1982)

Genres - Action, Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Martial Arts  |   Release Date - May 31, 1982 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - Hong Kong  |  
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Shaw Brothers produced some memorably bizarre genre hybrids in their time but Human Lanterns has to take the cake. This bizarre fusion of period swordplay film and Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style "rural horror" is not likely to suit all tastes: the two apparent protagonists are (deliberately) unsympathetic, the plot has a grim and brutal edge to it, and, despite some obvious last-minute trimming, the film packs a lot of brutal violence into its slender running time. That said, Human Lanterns can't be dismissed as a genre-blending oddity because it is surprisingly well made. The clever script combines its swordplay and horror elements with skill in a well-structured storyline with more on its mind than exploitable shocks. At its core, Human Lanterns is really a story about how pride and senseless cruelty can be the downfall of even the mightiest characters. The performances of the leads reflect this: both Chen Kuan-Tai and Tony Liu bring arrogant authority to their roles as the bickering, headstrong noblemen who drive the story and Lo Lieh's crazed killer burns with the half-crazed anger of someone who has let his grudge drive him insane. Behind the camera, Sun Chung directs the proceedings with a sharp sense of pacing, skillfully-edited outbursts of action, and a flair for creating a gothic atmosphere through photography and set design. Ultimately, Human Lanterns is probably a bit too grim and eccentric for a mass audience, but Shaw Brothers fans are likely to be impressed by its high level of artistry.