When members of the Dragon Hill gang venture inside a creepy cave they fall victim to ghostly kung fu mistress Kung Suen Mao Neong (Po Chin-Hsien). Having mastered the legendary “finger of doom”, Kung carries a set of Freddy Krueger-style poisoned talons that turn victims into her undead slaves. Meanwhile her onetime clan sisters assign a nameless heroine (Ivy Ling Po) to foil her evil schemes. Armed with her own fingers of doom, she sets about killing zombie minions across the land. Meanwhile, sword brothers Heaven Sword Lu Tien Bao (Chin Han) and Earth Sword Ju Jian (Chen Feng-Chen) are hiding out as humble umbrella makers after their Sky Wolf clan was wiped out by the evil Madame Kung. Aware that duplicitous swordsman Chang Kung Chin (Yeung Chi-Hing) was involved, the pair plan to blackmail him for some quick money but are sidetracked when they are caught between two mysterious women in white and their feuding zombie minions.
This Shaw Brothers swordplay movie with horrific overtones marked the directorial debut of Pao Hsueh-li. His movies typically veer towards the surreal and though Finger of Doom never attains the whacked-out weirdness levels of his delightful Battle Wizard (1977), having a heroine carted around in a collapsible red coffin by pasty faced zombies (to say nothing of holding lengthy conversations from therein) is strange enough. The film provides an atypical role for Huangmei Opera star Ivy Ling Po. Born in 1940, Ling Po appeared in a handful of minor movies in her early teens before she was discovered by legendary director Li Han-hsiang. Thereafter she regularly played male heroes in classic opera movies like The Love Eterne (1962) or swaggering tomboys as in the award-winning Lady General Hua Mulan (1963). She is very good as the enigmatic heroine and flings herself into the well-choreographed swordfights with great energy, but the plot is irritatingly obtuse.
While a prologue deftly establishes who is good and bad and what they are up to, the unfolding plot has the heroes play catch up with what we already know. As a former cinematographer, Hsueh-li lent his keen eye to a number of films co-directed with his prolific but less visually gifted mentor Chang Cheh. Here he indulges a handful of visual flourishes, including a sophisticated P.O.V. dolly shot towards the bloody aftermath of a massacre in the forest, and a striking fight staged inside a burning building. Occasionally confusing, thanks to its living dead heroine and villainess being styled almost identically, the film pulls off one good shock moment worthy of Hammer when foolish Jien is pulled inside the witch’s coffin, and a quasi-necrophiliac touch when she uses him as her zombie sex slave. Chin Han elevates the material with his intense performance. He later left Shaw Brothers and directed real-life spouse Ivy Ling Po in several popular opera movies throughout the Seventies.