BCI has, as of late, been releasing some pretty interesting oddities through their Kung Fu Double Feature releases and their Eastern Horror double features, with this current pairing of Magic Of The Universe and Counter Destroyer standing as one of their strangest releases yet. While these discs aren't usually sourced from the best elements out there, at least they're being made available in affordable and easy to obtain packages that are supposedly actually legitimately licensed from the rights holders (which would seem odd, given the fact that a lot of them are taken from VHS sources – is that really all that's available?). At any rate, here is a quick rundown of what to look out for in this set…
Magic Of The Universe (1988):
In the first film on the set, a late eighties supernatural horror film from the Phillipines, we meet magician named Jamir who works at a traveling circus. While working on his act one day, he's going through the motions and performing his standard trick where he makes his daughter disappear into thin air, the only problem this time is that she doesn't come back! She's just gone, and it seems that some sinister magical forces have noticed his tricks and they aren't happy about how he's been using his magical powers and so they've decided to kidnap his daughter to make him pay.
Being a magician and all, at least he's got the ability to go after his daughter and so he embarks on a truly strange journey into the worlds that lay just beyond the physical plane of existence we all know of. His quest won't be a simple matter of popping into the realm of magic, grabbing his kid, and popping back, however as along the way he'll have to fend off attacks from the same evil forces that took her in the first place and who would like nothing more than to stop him from performing for good.
Magic Of The Universe is pretty wacky stuff, a strange mix of Filipino folk lore with more traditional horror movie elements that makes for a rather confusing but never the less rather enjoyable movie. The special effects aren't going to win any awards, in fact they're very obviously low budget and about as realistic as you'd expect but that's half the charm of the film and there are plenty of unintentionally funny moments scattered throughout the film (most of which involve the magician involved in various magical battles).
The film clips along at a good pace, and as such with the action happening quickly it isn't dull even when it is a little tricky to follow. The opening scene is pretty odd, as it shows us pretty much each and every one of the characters in a brief clip and shows the name of the performer underneath while some bad disco plays out, but then it stops very abruptly and the movie itself starts up. Horribly dubbed jungle dwelling natives show up at one point to make things difficult for the magician but eventually the problems they cause him seem like child's play compared to the demons and monsters that appear later on in the film. A strange evil magic queen with a giant head has something to do with all of this but what exactly she and the chubby kid she torments are up to is never really one hundred percent clear. Thankfully she doesn't have much dialogue instead she just looks cool and laughs a lot. Later on her head starts to melt and boil, which is always a nice touch but unfortunately for Jamir she also has the uncanny ability to shoot lightning out of her fingertips kind of like the Emperor does in Star Wars.
Counter Destroyer (1989):
In this late eighties oddity (which the packaging states is from Hong Kong though the presence of Sorapong Chatree indicates some Thai involvement, so this is likely a co-production of some sort – there are also a lot of western looking performers in this film too) a screenwriter named Joyce decides to take off to an island where she intends to start work on her latest film script. She shacks up in an old house not realizing that it is in fact actually quite haunted and before you know it, she has unwittingly released the evil spirits that live there.
Joyce now has to figure out how to get rid of the evil creatures she's unleashed – a killing machine with claws like Freddy Kruger albeit with an odd Asian twist, a Robovampire (basically a Robocop type guy), an evil priest and a bunch of bloodsucking minions – before they can create even more chaos. Good thing for her that there's a ninja warrior type guy running around clad all in white and making strange noises who shows up just in time to save Joyce and take on the monsters.
Produced by famed Asian schlockmeister Tomas Tang, the man who bankrolled pictures like Catman In Boxer's Blow and Robovampire, this one will leave you scratching your head and wondering what it was that you just watched. The plot is all over the place, with some subplots about various studios trying to finish a movie before the competition really not going anywhere and plenty of bits and pieces just thrown in here presumably to pad out the running time to feature length. It's a horrible movie, it makes very little sense, but it is a fun diversion in a wacky sort of way. One has to wonder if this was a follow up of sorts to the better known Robovampire as it borrows the metallic guy from that movie but it really doesn't seem to go anywhere with the story from that earlier film, so it's not necessarily a direct sequel.
Either way, whatever the Hell this movie is, it doesn't make a lick of sense but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining in that psychotronic sort of way. If you're able to kind of turn off your brain and just enjoy the lunacy this one makes for a fun watch. The aforementioned Robovampire is also known as Counter Destroyer but make no mistake, this is not the same movie despite the appearance of the Robovampire character himself. Throw in some bumbling cops, a strange soundtrack composed on a Casio keyboard, and some horrible, horrible dubbing and you've got yourself a movie.
Here's where the bad news comes in! Both of these have obviously been taken from VHS sources, no surprise there. However, it looks like what BCI has done here is made the films widescreen by matting off whatever subtitles were burned into the picture originally. This results in a considerably larger matte on the bottom than on the top of the screen, so not only is the picture cropped, it's not even really centered on the screen. Add to that the fact that the analogue tape sources weren't in the best of shape to begin with and you've got a really shoddy looking release with a soft image from start to finish. Colors are faded and reds tend to bleed, fine detail is lost, and the aspect ratio is botched.
Both of the movies in this set are presented here dubbed into English in Dolby Digital Mono tracks. Quality of the audio is roughly on par with that of the video, there's hiss present throughout and levels tend to fluctuate a bit from scene to scene. Part of this is probably due to the original source materials used for the tapes themselves and it's just trickled down to the DVD but regardless, neither movie sounds very good. You're able to understand things well enough but that's about it.
Aside from menus, chapter stops and the slipcase that fits over top of the keepcase in which the two discs are housed, this release is barebones, baby.
It's a shame that BCI doesn't have better materials to work with for some of these films as they'll definitely appeal to fans of Asian cult cinema. Regardless of the truly shoddy audio and video quality, it's nice to have these movies on DVD at all which makes Eastern Horror: Magic Of The Universe/Counter Destroyer recommended for those with a taste for the eclectic who can look past the poor quality (and the price is right) – everyone else, however, should just turn their heads and keep on walking, this is definitely a niche market release.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.