Film Review: The Jitters (1989)

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SYNOPSIS:

In Chinatown, merciless gang goes on nightly rampages of theft and destruction. Merchant Frank Lee has no way of fighting back – until he’s undead, murdered by the gangsters…but he returns to life transformed into a “Kyonshi” – Chinese version of a vampire – and ready to avenge his unjust death in a way that’s sure going to give you the Jitters.

REVIEW:

The Jitters
The Jitters is a film that follows in the hopping footsteps of ‘80s Chinese vampire films like Mr. Vampire and Spooky Encounters. If you’ve seen those films, you pretty much know what to expect here – there’s a few hopping undead Chinese men who come back because they were wronged, and they attack people who seem to know a lot of karate. Similarly, The Jitters is more comedy than horror, because for the most part it’s hard to make a hopping vampire seem especially terrifying.

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Set in Chinatown, the film focuses on an antiques and toy shop run by Frank Lee (Randy Atmadja), an old man who’s said to have a fortune stashed away yet continues to run his shop anyway. Alice (Marilyn Tokuda), who helps him run the shop, is terrorized by a group of gang members who trash the store and kill Frank during a kung fu fight. But things don’t end there – the leader of the gang wants to take all of Frank’s money, so he sends a bunch of hooligans to get it back.

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What they don’t expect is for Frank to come back from the dead as a hopping vampire, complete with huge teeth, traditional Chinese garb, and a lust for human blood. One would think an undead person with the inability to walk properly would be easy to deal with, but the goons are quickly dispatched by Mr. Lee. Alice gets help from her fiance Michael (Sal Viviano) as well as a couple of people who understand the Chinese magic that imbues Frank with undead life, and they battle the gang leader to stop them from trashing the store once and for all. The Jitters’ plot is fairly ridiculous throughout the film, and it appears that director John Fasano realizes this; there’s not much in the movie to suggest that he’s taking the plot seriously, and neither should the viewer.

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. It’s meant more to get laughs from this Chinese legend of hopping vampires rather than scare the audience – indeed, there are more scenes of slapstick humor than there are of actual terror. Unfortunately, The Jitters doesn’t have a solid script or good enough actors to pull off the sarcasm of the idea. The kung fu feels very forced, although Randy Atmadja does seem like he knows a thing or two about martial arts.

The gang members are bumbly, less dangerous than they’re meant to appear. Maybe that’s because the guys in the group are goofy dudes more interested in making bad jokes than stealing antiques or money. The film’s pretty boring throughout, too. It takes a while to get to the meat of the plot, which is pretty dull at that. There’s nothing more thematic in The Jitters than a group of gang members trying to steal some dead guy’s money – the storyline feels dull and basic because that’s exactly what it is. It would be more interesting if The Jitters made better use of the lore of the keung si, the Chinese hopping vampire, besides mocking it for most of the film.

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The vampires are actually secondary to the villainous gang members, and that lessens the impact and the scares that could potentially have been of some interest to viewers. Instead, Fasano would rather poke fun at the legends – the Chinese-laden stickers, the garb – than spending time figuring out how a hopping vampire could be legitimately scary.

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The only thing about The Jitters that might be of any interest to horror fans is a transformation scene about two-thirds of the way through the film, where a gang member turned into a keung si loses his skin and becomes a hulking, skeletal beast. There’s really no explanation for it, but it does have some good special effects: bubbling faces, bursting skin lesions, and other messy bits. But The Jitters won’t cause any shudders except for its bad acting and over-the-top cheese. It’s got a pretty corny soundtrack full of ‘80s synth and drum machines, too. If keung si films haven’t been your thing before, this movie won’t change your mind, and you’d be better off checking out the original Chinese films that take the hopping vampire conceit more seriously.

The Jitters (1989)

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About Ryne Barber

Along with doing reviews for HorrorNews.net, Ryne also writes for his own horror blog The Moon is a Dead World (http://www.themoonisadeadworld.net).

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