Horrible High Heels (1996) Movie Review

The Category III rating of Hong Kong cinema is as much a genre as it is a certificate. Coming to prominence in the 1990s, the rating was created to classify those films containing extreme violence and near-pornographic sex, allowing them to be released free from censorship. The first Category III was awarded in 1990 to “Men Behind the Sun” (a.k.a. “Camp 731″), a now-infamous semi-documentary that showed graphic depictions of Japanese wartime atrocities against the Chinese. The film broke many of the given cinematic taboos of the time, shocking viewers with intense scenes of torture and rape, while justifying its exploitative content with historical significance. Its success opened the floodgates, and the Hong Kong film industry vomited forth a bloody torrent of films which seemed desperate to out-do each other in terms pushing the envelope.

So you may be wondering: “What exactly is so horrible about these high heels?” Take a wild guess. Given that this is a Category III flick, I’m sure most of you will have figured out that the shoes in question are made from human skin. I guess the film deserves points for showing a spark of demented originality, providing a twist on the popular cannibal theme evident in Hong Kong cinema (see “The Untold Story”, “Bloody Buns”, etc.).

The plot of “Horrible High Heels” is quite hard to pin down. At heart, it’s the story of a maniac who kills people (usually naked young women, surprisingly enough), removes their skin, tans it and sells it to some unknowing shoemakers whose products are praised for their comfortable soft leather. The murderer has a decidedly unhealthy obsession with one of the shoe-making girls, leading to the expected voyeuristic scenes of stalking and abuse. This all sounds straightforward, until you throw in a subplot involving gangs whose link to the maniac is tenuous at best, several unconnected scenes of martial arts and gunplay, various characters who have nothing to do with the story but show up to have soft-core sex, and finally, a half-assed investigation by some lazy police officers.

Don’t worry if this sounds chaotic and convoluted: it is. Believe me, it really is. Perhaps the confusion has something to do with the fact that it took three directors to bring this masterpiece to the screen. Given the way the plot lurches wildly with a drunk’s regard for logic, it’s easy to imagine all three made their own films with the same actors, then edited the results together into one gibbering whole. The good news is that perhaps as a result of this, “Horrible High Heels” is never boring. The pace is fast, and the constant barrage of sex, violence and perversity is laid on in such a determined fashion that the lack of sense is easy to forgive.

The direction, though uneven, is energetic, and despite the obvious low budget, the film is atmospheric in a nasty, unpleasant way. The murder scenes are bloody and sadistic, with effects convincing enough to make this only for those with strong stomachs and a certain sensibility. There is also a great deal of sex, most of it very loud and energetic, though almost all of it is devoid of any eroticism. The whole film is pretty perverse, and I couldn’t really write this review without mentioning the scene where the killer takes a photograph of the woman he loves, cuts out the mouth, sticks it to the ass of a goose, and then proceeds to…well, you can probably guess.

Although all of this probably sounds quite hideous, that’s not really the case. “Horrible High Heels” is gonzo filmmaking in every sense of the word, and pretty hard to take seriously as it’s so far over the top. The acting is uniformly terrible, and the dialogue (or at least the subtitles) is of the “Damn you bastard! Now I must beat you!” variety. The killer is hilarious, constantly cackling and walking around in a blue pajama suit that he later whips off to reveal shining leopard skin underpants.

“Horrible High Heels” totally lacks the impact of films like “The Untold Story”, and never comes close to attaining the same level of horror or grotesquery. Here, there is no attempt to explain the actions of the maniac or to help the audience sympathize with his victims, so it’s pretty hard to care about what happens to any of them. At the end of the day, this isn’t really a criticism, as “Horrible High Heels” is exploitation pure and simple, a tacky barrage of unapologetic sex and violence.

Overall, “Horrible High Heels” is an enjoyable piece of dubious entertainment that kind of works on various levels. It’s a perverse and messy little piece of Grand Guignol, worth seeking out if you’re a fan of Category III films, or if you fancy checking out an extreme example of how far out Hong Kong cinema can get. Whichever is the case, it’s probably a good idea to have a few beers before watching to help things make a little more sense, or at least to put you in a more forgiving mood. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though; and dear God, watch out for that poor, unfortunate goose.

Wai On Chan, Cheng Chow, Keung-Bong Mo (director)
CAST: Billy Chow …. Teddy Bear
Yue Hei Man
Fui-On Shing …. Kuen
Dick Wei …. Police Captain


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About James Mudge

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James is a Scottish writer based in London. He is one of BeyondHollywood.com’s oldest tenured movie reviewer, specializing in all forms of cinema from the Asian continent, as well as the angst-strewn world of independent cinema and the plasma-filled caverns of the horror genre. James can be reached at jamesmudge (at) btinternet.com, preferably with offers of free drinks.

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