Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oily Maniac (1976)

A young man (The Super Inframan's Danny Lee), crippled by polio, learns a spell that transforms him into the titular character whenever he's covered in oil. He then spends the rest of the film violently punishing the unjust.

What's interesting with the movie is that, as a metaphor for virility, it works decently well. It's an adolescent power fantasy where the hero is impotent until his unctuous metamorphosis. There are loads (pardon the pun) of images of oil splashing thither and yon as a substitute for ejaculation. The Oily Maniac himself usually makes his entrance erupting out of oil or water.

Tehcnically, as with most Shaw Bros. flicks, the images stay in focus, and the boom mic stays out of frame. The camerawork is decently kinetic, but the editing tends toward the jump cut, though never to the point of incoherence. The sets are fairly poverty-stricken with the edges and bumps of the grass carpets blindingly obvious.

Unfortunately, as an exploitation movie, it's not quite successful. Coming from Shaw Bros. in the late '70s, you expect a certain level of insane fun. What you get is mean-spiritedness. Almost every character is vile and cardboard, and all the women, save one, are in the film solely to have their blouses ripped off and be groped.

Normally with an exploitation film, that should be fine and dandy. The problem is there's no light to balance the dark. With a subject as off-the-wall as this one, there really needs to be some humor present. To be fair, there's some unintentional humor, usually centered on Lee's search for oil so he can transform, but it's not enough to remove the sleazy churlishness of the rest of the picture.

The film's biggest problem, however, is its repetitive, formulaic story structure. Once the pattern is established with the first kill, we're treated to only slight variations of same for the remaining runtime. This goes right down to the shot compositions, and, regrettably, the mechanical format only bogs the picture down. It feels like the Filmation version of a monster movie. From the studio that brought us Avenging Eagle and The Super Inframan, we expect a little more inventiveness and originality.

There's a chance that I'm overlooking something special about this movie. Perhaps, on subsequent viewings, this supernatural revenge film will offer me something more. Nonetheless, as it stands now, I feel Oily Maniac is good for one watch, maybe with some friends and beers. Or just beers. Outside the wackiness of the core concept, there's just not enough to elevate the movie beyond "slightly above average."

MVT: The Oily one himself is really the reason to watch this. His costume is pretty shabby, though. You can see the ends of his sleeves and pants legs.

Make Or Break: The "Break" for me is the lack of originality and the formulaic structure. It really does start to border on tedium after the first few times. It's too bad that the same reason you'd watch this movie (the attacks) is the same reason it eludes greatness.

Score: 6/10


  1. I found this movie to be pretty hilarious. Everything about it was so over the top, I can't imagine anyone taking the "mean-spiritedness" seriously.

    Roughly all the Shaw's exploitation pictures were like this save for a handful of entries that were most definitely mean spirited. Not all their movies were shot on level of AVENGING EAGLE or 36 CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN. They were fully aware of what type of film they making here. The director Ho Meng Hua was an award winning director who helmed a lot of high class movies during the first part of his career. Around 1975 he pretty much did little else but exploitation movies till the early part of the 1980s.

    Also, this isn't the first time this Malay folktale has been made into a film, but I'd guess this one was likely the most fun out of the bunch. A late 50s version and one from a few years ago come to mind.

    The reason boom mikes stay out of the frame is because they didn't use them. These movies were shot silently then everything was dubbed in afterward.

  2. I personally didn't find any intentional humor in the movie (aside from the obvious over-the-top nature of the whole idea), and the unintentional humor just wasn't enough for me to be charmed by this movie. But even that wasn't the capper for me. It was that in almost every scene you get the same shot angles for the same actions. It got boring, and that's the cardinal sin of any exploitation movie, in my opinion. As I said in the review, maybe I'll catch something extra in subsequent views. It just didn't do it this time around.

    I forgot that most movies out of China used to be shot MOS. My bad.

    I'm no expert on Shaw Bros movies, just a fan. So, thanks for the history lesson. It's appreciated. :)