I have seen very little of Go Nagai’s Devilman anime outside of the OVAs released in the late Eighties/early Nineties. I do have, but haven’t watched any of, the anime from the Seventies (looking forward to it, though). I also have the original Mazinger Z series, although I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed that the US version Tranzor Z (a show I watched on television as often as possible back in the Eighties) is not available. I’ve also never seen any of the Cutie Honey series, but I am interested (who wouldn’t be interested in a naked female superhero?). I love Nagai’s work, however. He melds horror with science fiction with sex in a way I find gripping. His characters go through some serious crap, and you’re never sure who’s going to come out on the other side, even the main characters. It’s funny that, for how much I claim to admire his work, I’ve seen such a small sampling of it, but love is like that sometimes. So, why such a scattershot, seemingly unrelated introduction to a film like Lam Wah-Chuen’s Devil Girl 18 (aka Mo Neui 18)? Because the film itself is scattershot and seemingly unrelated to itself. It also has the word “Devil” in the title.
Two demons (one male, one female) escape from Hell and travel to Earth. There they possess the corpses of a duo of criminals (also one male, one female), and set about sucking the essence of forty-nine people who are “extremes of masculine and feminine” for some purpose which you will never fully understand (but rest assured, it’s bad). Meanwhile, Nurse May Liou is tending to the comatose (but hardly braindead) Jay Lee, an antiques dealer who has some experience with ghosts and demons (and gender identity swapping). May is engaged to Inspector Philip Kao, who is kind of/sort of investigating the trail of bodies left by the demons. And there’s a Taoist priest with a chubby apprentice (named, of course, Fatty) who keeps giving grief to a horny ghost who enjoys possessing young men’s’ bodies and engaging in marathon sex with prostitutes.
Possession is one of the more interesting things going on in this film, and that’s mostly due to the implications of what that means for the possessee. The loss of control, of identity, is something truly scary. It’s a scenario many people experience (or variations thereof) in their worst nightmares. Of course, said possessions, particularly in films of this ilk, also imbue the victims with special superpowers. For example, the horny ghost, while in corporeal form, has a cock the size of a baseball bat (shown by having the actor literally wave a baseball bat from between his legs, mercifully only in silhouette) and the sexual stamina of a dildo. The demon couple have more conventional superpowers, like shooting bolts from their fists and having champion-level martial arts skills. But in either case, the needs behind the possessions are selfish in nature. The horny ghost can’t make love in his normal state, and he wants to feel women’s flesh. He doesn’t think about how he bankrupts his victims with his proclivities. The demons desire to remain on Earth, and if they don’t complete their mission, their human bodies will explode (or something). Humans are never possessed in films purely for observational reasons. This only makes sense, since otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story in any of them. But we relate, because our bodies and minds are sacrosanct, and the violation of them, their possible obliteration, is horrifying on a gut level (in much the same way as the sympathy pains we get when characters cut themselves or step on a nail).
More prominent than that aspect here is the idea of the power that sex and the desire for pleasure hold in this cinematic world. Being a Category III film (and I’m not entirely sure why, considering how staid many of the sexual components in the film are when they’re not being played for laughs), sex plays a huge role in almost every scene. When the demons are introduced in Hell, the female attempts to entice her guard into letting her go free in exchange for sex. The female criminal on Earth (pre-possession) seduces the only other male member of the gang right in front of her boyfriend. May dresses in sexy lingerie and shows Philip some tit, but refuses to go all the way. The pros at the brothel gyrate and squeeze their boobs for their clients (but mostly for the camera). The female demon seduces a nightclub owner before sucking his essence (which is self-explanatory in its connotations) and exploding his head (also self-explanatory). Fatty only comes into his own (more or less, but mostly less) after he tries to lose his virginity at the brothel (there’s an iron bra involved). The big climax (ahem) involves characters engaging in sex (guess which two characters) in order to depower the demons, and this is the most important instance of them all. The male demon steals the essence of females, the female from males. They are separated in this aspect, as well as in their not touching each other in a sexual manner (or not that I can recall). By joining with each other through sex, the protagonists combine their essences (they also do it on a table decorated with the yin and yang symbol, underscoring the interconnectedness of the feminine and masculine opposites), and in this unity prove themselves more powerful than the antagonists.
And yet, for the inherent potential present in the film’s sexual features, both they, and the film on a whole, are simply wasted effort (and, to be frank, the effort doesn’t even seem to really be there, anyway). Now, I know absolutely zero about the background of this film’s production, but I feel confident in stating that the producers got their hands on some footage from several other films and just built what story they could around it (and Godfrey Ho wasn’t even involved, to my knowledge). To wit: while he’s in the hospital, Jay spends the whole time with bandages covering his face. All of the scenes where we can actually see him are in flashbacks (which have sweet fuck all to do with the sex demon narrative), and at no time in these sequences does he interact with any other character from the main story. Speaking of which, if you go into this expecting a Yukari Oshima film (as I did), prepare for disappointment. If the actress is in a collective five minutes of this film, that would be a lot. Sure, it’s always nice to see her, and she does get to do a little fighting, but it’s not nearly enough to raise the level of this movie even one iota. There are also scenes clearly taken from older films that are jammed into this film just to provide a bit of cheap action. All of which brings me to the film’s “humorous” attributes. There’s something to be said for juvenile-level slapstick and off-color jokes, but Devil Girl 18 has some of the weakest, most groan-inducing comedic moments ever put to film. This isn’t entirely unexpected, because the funny bone of many Hong Kong films does tend to be rather oddly misplaced, but it also doesn’t make them work any better. Also, the way the movie shifts between the funny scenes and the more serious scenes (which are, admittedly, still pretty goofy) really made me wonder just what the fuck Wah-Chuen was going for, or if he even cared at all. I’m positive, in his heart of hearts, only he knows for sure.
MVT: I like the base storyline, because it had real possibilities, none of which come to fruition.
Make or Break: When the “funny” music kicks in, and Nurse Liou is instructed to smell Jay’s breath for stinkiness (hint: it’s not he that stinks), you know you’re in for a long haul.