Centipede Horror (1982)

Every single time it rains, centipedes descend upon my apartment, much like white people heading to Burning Man. If you’ve never seen a centipede, then imagine Eugene Levy’s eyebrows, only with legs—a lot of legs. Fifteen pairs, to be exact. That’s right, fifteen pairs, which means thirty individual legs. Some species have 177 pairs of legs, which means—let me do math for you—354 individual legs. It’s fucking madness! That’s far more legs than necessary. I think four should be the limit; beyond that, you’re just a mutant asshole waving your freak flag too high. Whenever I see a centipede, I scream bloody murder. Then I commit it. My Swiffer mop has slayed many crawling eyebrows, and now the ghosts of these monsters haunt my apartment. They have cursed me, which is why my next-door neighbor plays “Black Magic Woman” on guitar every day and why my upstairs neighbor stomps around in wooden clogs and vacuums shattered glass at dawn. Nothing makes sense and life is not worth living.

Centipedes are Mother Nature’s giant fuck you. It’s her way of reminding us that she is the one with the power; the one who can strike fear and disgust into our feeble, stupid hearts. So it makes sense that if for some insane reason you had a bunch of centipedes at your disposal, then you’d make a horror movie about them.

A dewy-faced young lady named Kay asks her big brother Wai Lun (Hong Kong 80s dynamo Michael Miu) if she can take a trip to exotic Southeast Asia. Where in Southeast Asia? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. She just wants to go to a mall in Southeast Asia, the way someone might want to go to a mall in North America. But even though Kay is a grown-ass lady, she doesn’t want Wai Lun to tell their mom.

Turns out a nefarious crime had been committed by Wai Lun and Kay’s grandfather a long time ago and now the whole family is cursed. For this reason, they’re not allowed to visit Southeast Asia. Seems reasonable. But Kay goes anyway. Fortunately Wai Lun gives her a special necklace that protects her from evil spirits. Unfortunately, Kay takes it off because it’s ugly. So, she gets attacked by hundreds of centipedes. Despite having only two legs, a person could easily outrun a centipede, but sadly Kay fails. She thrashes in the middle of the jungle as centipedes scurry up her arms and legs, crawl over her face, and nestle in her hair. How could this happen? It’s that damned curse!

Wai Lun and his friend Yeuk-Chee visit a wizard to try to break the hex and save the family. The wizard happens to employ two ghost children to help exorcise evil spirits. Ghost children are the best children because they are neither seen nor heard. Now the good wizard must combat an evil wizard in a showdown that involves centipedes, more centipedes, and a fireball. Also, centipedes. And did I mention centipedes? Because there are centipedes. Everywhere. On the walls, along the floors, in the sink, and around the vents. The place is lousy with centipedes.

True story: once I found a centipede under my sheets and I had to burn down the entire building.  

Centipede Horror is an action-packed gift from Hong Kong director Keith Li. It’s a perfect little package filled with creepy crawlies, melodrama, evil spirits, a very cute dog, and mystics wearing headbands and frizzy wigs. The budget may be low, but the production value is high and ambitious. There are elaborate set pieces and flying fireball effects, and a plot that is cohesive and, dare I say, logical. Storylines meet and are tied neatly together, but there’s still room for plenty of invention and flashbacks that thrust the narrative forward. This is a film where everyone gives it their all, most especially Margaret Li as Yeuk-Chee. She actually vomits centipedes. Meaning she stuffed centipedes into her mouth and then spit them out onto the floor while someone held her hair back. That’s what we call dedication to the craft. Absolutely everyone in this film is brave enough to get buckets of centipedes thrown on them, and let’s not forget the chicken that gets a handful of feathers removed. I’m a fan of any movie that has insects en masse, and Centipede Horror does not disappoint. It claims its rightful place in the canon of bugsploitation, alongside Slugs, Phenomena, The Nest, Ticks, and all those 80s movies about bees.

The final showdown in Centipede Horror is a fist-pumper that makes you forget your Swiffer mop is covered in centipede legs. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore your neighbor playing “Black Magic Woman.”  

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