Seeding of a Ghost is the K2 of gross-out horror: a striding giant of shock cinema that represents the zenith of a certain strand of psychotropically baroque exercises in bad taste. It screens tonight as part of Metrograph's Shaw Brothers Horror series, and it's one of those pleasant coincidences of repertory film programming that this survey should take place around the same time as Hammer films have been in heavy circulation. The British production company, known for its gothic terrors, sparked the Hong Kong horror wave when they approached the Shaw Brothers for the kung fu crossover The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). The following year the Shaws hit paydirt with Black Magic, the storied studio's first outright horror film. That movie provides the template for the genre: an Eastern riff on The Exorcist incorporating Pu Songling-style folklore and fancified ritual as wizard types engage in elaborate proxy magic battles. With each subsequent film, there seems to be an attempt to outdo the predecessors when it comes to stomach-churning excesses involving maggots, centipedes, eels, animal brains, tentacles, and sundry other viscera delicately diced, prepared, and often consumed in lingering detail.
As one of the final Shaw Brothers films, Seeding of a Ghost is the perfection (some would say nadir) of this form. Set in modern-day Hong Kong, it begins with a philandering businessman initiating an affair with a croupier who is married to a taxi driver. After a lovers quarrel, the woman is left on the street, where she is sexually assaulted and killed by a pair of teenagers. Her husband is suspect #1, and with the police afraid of the kids' powerful attorneys, he turns to a grave-robbing wizard to exact revenge. They exhume the wife's corpse, slather it in magical coconut oil, and then the movie is open for business in crazytown as the culprits, the lover, and their families are subject to a string of shocking and perverse machinations of black magic that defy the limits of imagination in their almost psychedelic extravagance. Eventually, the wife's ghost is indeed seeded in a ritual that involves something like magically forced copulation with one of her assailants and transference of his soul into her uterus aided by the husband's draining blood directly into her womb through an IV. This then possesses the wife of her lover — a duel between the wizard and exorcists ensues — who gives birth to an undulating pile of gristle, fangs, and tentacles with a bleeding human head inside its jowls that proceeds to slaughter an entire cocktail party, setting the audience up for a race to make it to the bathroom before emptying the contents of their stomachs into their laps. Consider it expanded cinema.
Through it all, the entire enterprise remains somehow charming, and, all things considered, not particularly mean-spirited. Compared to the more notorious Boxer's Omen (also included in the series), which admittedly reaches more dizzying heights, Seeding of a Ghost is a far more consistently engaging and entertaining film. If you're up for the dare, bring a barf bag.