Watchable, if rather slow Asian horror.

From first-time director, Juno Mak, Rigor Mortis isn’t your normal vampire-based horror, as it introduces other elements, like ghosts, demons and a retired vampire hunter. Its budget of only $1.95 million has been used to its fullest, as we have a cast of well-known actors who aren’t strangers to the genre, plus the CGI touches are rather effective, with some good production values. Filmed entirely in a typical aging and dilapidated Hong Kong apartment block, Mak has used a dull, grayed palette, helping create a gloomy atmosphere, matching the mood of the film.

During the 80’s, Hong Kong was known for horror-films such as Mr. Vampire, with a number of the cast being reunited in Rigor Mortis. The difference in this effort being the lack of humor, which wouldn’t have gone down well in this more serious film.

Rigor Mortis
Directed by
Juno Mak
Anthony Chan, Siu-hou Chin, Kara Hui
Release Date
Nav’s Grade: C

We begin with an actor whose career has gone downhill and his wife leaving him, taking his son with her, and now the actor is severely depressed. He moves into a run down apartment complex where he decides to end it all by hanging himself, and while he’s hanging from a rope, he begins to see strange ghostly figures, but before he has time to die, a man rushes in and dramatically cuts the rope, saving his life. By almost dying, he has now allowed the demon-like ghosts of two sisters to enter his body.

We learn the man who saved the ex-actor’s life owns a small eating establishment attached to the building but he’s also an ex-vampire hunter, and with the help of a local priest, who’s also a practitioner of black magic, they exorcise the sisters from his body. Another resident is killed and his grief-stricken wife asks the priest to help bring him back, but by doing so, he creates a vampire. The ex-actor and vampire hunter must fight demons, ghosts and a vampire to put an end to the misery being visited on the other tenants.

The story unfolds rather slowly and fills in the character’s back-stories piecemeal, but we do learn just enough to keep them mostly interesting, although, we’re still left guessing at too many other aspects of the tale, which doesn’t do Rigor Mortis any favours. The acting was good and for the most part, the story itself was decent enough, but with so much material to use, we could have had a story that moved along at a quicker pace with far more going on. The effects were particularly good when you consider the small budget they had to spend and was better than a lot of US made films with twice that amount.

Spoiler Warning. What let the film down somewhat, was the convoluted ending as I couldn’t figure out what was going on. At first it appeared to be one of those twists, and I hope I’m not spoiling things if I’m wrong, like Donnie Darko, or Jacob’s Ladder, but on reflection, it was probably something else entirely, which I didn’t understand, and after watching the ending again, I’m still none-the-wiser. Rigor Mortis is worth watching if you like Asian horrors as I do, but just don’t expect too much from the film and you may just enjoy it.

Review by Nav Qateel