POV – A Cursed Film

a.k.a. POV – norowareta firimu
directed by
 Norio Tsuruta

2012 / Toho Visual Entertainment / 92′
written by Norio Tsuruta
starring Haruna Kawaguchi, Mirai Shida

During the shoot of the low rent idol show of Mirai Shida (playing herself) with special guest Haruna Kawaguchi (playing herself too), something disturbing happens. The show’s gimmick of the week is to have the two teenagers watch ghost videos, but the videos that appear on screen aren’t the ones the director and the girl’s manager have vetted beforehand.

In fact, these videos contain much better footage than this sort of video usually does, and they all seem to be shot at Haruna’s former junior high school, which must be the most haunted school in Japan. Oh, and the videos continue playing when the DVD they are on isn’t actually in its laptop anymore. Haruna, who spent some time at her junior high hunting but never finding exactly the ghostly apparitions she now sees on screen, is convinced she is cursed, an idea that does not become weaker once the crew films the reflection of a female ghost in one of the studio windows.

Clearly, this situation affords a fine possibility for the show to hire the world’s most matter of fact psychic (who, we will learn, is psychic, not a mind reader) to help Haruna and finally get some really exciting footage. Alas, the psychic is sure that Haruna’s little ghost problem can only be solved inside of the junior high. Of course, once the film crew is inside the place, they’ll get to see more of ghosts than they asked for.

It looks like the found footage/POV horror sub-genre is suddenly somewhat hot again in Japan. This does not come as much of a surprise seeing as how ideally the genre is suited to low budgets, with footage that is generally supposed to look cheap, no need for complicated camera set-ups or sets, scripts that tend to the simple, and hordes of idols willing to act in everything being churned out by the Japanese entertainment machine. Somewhat surprisingly going by the standard of the POV genre in the USA and Europe, a lot of the newer Japanese POV films I have seen are actually decent or even better, with Koji Shiraishi’s Occult and this one being particular stand-outs that manage to fulfil all genre expectations yet also give the clichés they are working with small, effective twists.

POV and Occult invite some comparisons in other aspects than their respective quality, too. Both films are directed by men who have done good, sometimes great, work in the second row of Japanese horror directors. POV‘s Norio Tsuruta does not have anything quite as brilliant as Shiraishi’s Noroi or A Slit-Mouthed Woman in his filmography, but his films clearly show him to be someone who understands the horror genre and is intelligent enough to know that the point of making genre movies isn’t just giving people what they want from them but also surprising the audience with slight twists on and tweaks to a given formula.

POV is a perfect example of the latter. In its basic set-up, the film seems as generic as possible, with the usual non-characters going about their horror movie days, and the expected ghosts (though a lot more of them than you usually see in a film like this) doing the expected ghostly things. And what ‘s more generic than a middle part that mostly consists of people shaking their cameras, screaming, and running through a dark building? The film’s plot, however, is decidedly more clever than it at first appears, using the comfortably familiar spook show elements in service of something more sinister and more creepy, going into a semi-apocalyptic post-ending titles climax that is surprising and highly effective in its nature.

POV also one of the few films of its sub-genre that seems interested in using the discomfort the basics of Japanese idol culture can produce in a viewer who isn’t a total idiot, presenting the low rent entertainment biz in a subtly bad light, possibly even suggesting this sort of entertainment and its unspoken greed would be the perfect in-road for actual evil (or, ironically, that certain ghosts would see idol culture as a nice way to finally become famous).POV does not explore this aspect all that deeply (which is not coming as much of a surprise from a film that by necessity is itself a part of perhaps dubious, always looked down upon, circles of pop culture), but that does also mean it’s not getting preachy – and therefore annoyingly hypocritical – about it. It’s just an element that’s there to add more cultural resonance to the film.

Of course, all of POV‘s interesting subtext would be quite wasted if it did not also succeed at the bread and butter parts of a horror movie, the shocks, the moments of discomfort, and the all-purpose creepiness. Many of the film’s fright scenes are based on sometimes imaginative variations of pretty traditional Japanese ghosts and traditional POV horror shocks. About half of them tend to the more carnivalesque jump scare mode, and the grating on audience nerves by having the characters screech and shake their cameras, but there are also some exceedingly creepy scenes based on clever sound design, shadows, and my eternal favourite (that also turns a ghost story into something Weirder for me), scenes of time and space losing their usual consistence to threaten the characters. That last element is especially finely realized in the film’s first major climax, a scene I find too delightful/disturbing/effectively tense to spoil by describing it. Let’s just say it involves a disappearance, a camera, and a ghost moving towards the characters making rather disturbing noises (as Japanese ghosts are wont to, of course), and that it actually got to me.

Tsuruta – who also wrote the film – shows itself as a director very capable of using the more subtle parts of horror craft even in a context like POV horror that often doesn’t seem all that interested in them, with a real gift for pacing the suspense scenes beyond the usual running and screaming.

Thanks to him, POV is a surprisingly excellent piece of filmmaking.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Mr Wrong

dir. Gaylene Preston
1986 / 83′
written by Geoff Murphy, Gaylene Preston and Graeme Telly
from a story by Elizabeth Jane Howard
cinematography by
Thomas Burstyn
original music by Jonathan Crayford
starring Heather Bolton, David Letch, Margaret Umbers, Gary Stalker and Danny Mulheron
Mr Wrong
 is available on OOP VHS under the American title of Dark of the Night

Meg (Heather Bolton perfectly embodying a mixture of inexperience/naivety and hidden strength) has left her country home for the big city (I’d insert a joke about what “big city” means in New Zealand here, but that would be oh so inappropriate seeing where I live), where she works in an antiquities store. To make it easier to visit her parents over the weekends – and probably as a symbol of her freshly won independence – the young woman buys a used Jaguar.

Her first long drive with the car does not go quite as well as Meg would have hoped for. When she stops by the side of the road to take a night nap, she’s awoken by hard and pretty unhealthy sounding breathing noises from the back seat of the car that start whenever she turns off the interior lights. Worse, or at least even more frightening to her, there’s nothing and nobody to see on the back seat.

After that experience, Meg becomes increasingly nervous and afraid of the car, a state of affairs that is certainly not improved by further peculiar happenings surrounding it. After Meg has had a nightmare centring on a long-haired woman, she sees the exact same woman standing by the side of the road trying to hitch a ride in her waking life. For whatever reason, Meg stops for her.

However, the woman isn’t alone. A man (David Letch) gets in together with her, but he doesn’t seem to actually be together with the woman as Meg assumes. In fact, he doesn’t seem to know about the woman’s presence at all, which becomes understandable but not exactly less peculiar when she suddenly just disappears from the car. The guy is more than just a bit creepy too, and Meg has a hard time getting rid of him.

This experience is nearly enough to convince Meg of getting rid of her car as soon as possible, and when she learns that its last owner was a young woman about her age who was murdered, and whose killer has never been caught, our heroine does try to sell it off.

That, however, is much easier said than done, for the car begins to sabotage Meg’s efforts in ways that could be explained away by bad luck, if it weren’t clear to the young woman her car was haunted.

While all this is going on, a mysterious someone begins to send Meg roses – surely, this won’t have anything to do with the rather more horrible things going on in her life right now?

  
  
  

I know little about the movie scene in New Zealand (with the exception of being quite intimate with the films of Peter Jackson and Jane Campion), so I can’t really say how typical Gaylene Preston’s Mr Wrong is for the cinematic output of the country in the mid-80s. What I can say is that it is a pretty fantastic little film in mode and mood of the clever – and quite weird – ghost story. Given that this is based on one of the handful of supernatural tales Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote, the “clever and weird” part isn’t too much of a surprise; it is, however, quite a positive surprise how well the Weirdness of Howard’s story and Preston’s naturalistic eye on the New Zealand of the 80s complement each other.

As frequent readers of my ramblings will know by now, I am an admirer of low budget films that make use of the cheapest of all special effects – local colour – to set the mood of their stories, and am even more of an admirer of films that are letting the very real of a specific place and time collide with the Weird and the peculiar, so I am predisposed to liking Mr Wrong, as it is a film whose whole modus operandi is very much based on these techniques. Even better, Preston really knows what she’s doing in this regard, showing herself to be equally at home with taking a – slightly sarcastic – look at her central character’s live and times (I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were a certain autobiographical element at work here, either) and with slowly showing the seams and cracks of Meg’s existence where the disquiet and the strange can enter through, cracks, the film seems to say, even the most unspectacular of lives has. Are, after all, Meg’s life and that of her unhappy predecessor in car ownership all that different from each other? Preston doesn’t overstretch the parallels between the woman and the haunt. In fact, if you don’t want to see this aspect of the movie – that is most probably there to demonstrate something about the way a woman still has to fight for her independence (in the sense of self-ownership) – you will probably never notice it at all. It’s always excellent when a director is subtle with the treatment of her film’s metaphorical level.

From time to time, Mr Wrong is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s the kind of roughness that comes with the territory of making movies for little money in a place where making a movie can’t have been all that easy to begin with, and is offset by a direction that can be creative and imaginative without feeling the need to show off. After all, it’s clear to see for everyone that the director really knows how to use the idiom of the ghost story and the thriller without any need for her to point it out to her audience like a bad Hollywood actor trying once in his life for actual acting. Instead, Preston’s film impresses through an unassuming intelligence.


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan

dir. Nobuo Nakagawa
1959 / Shintoho Co. / 76′
written by Masayoshi Onuki and Yoshihiro Ishikawa
from the play by Nanboku Tsuruya IV
director of phogoraphy Tadashi Nishimoto
music by Michiaki Watanabe
starring Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Katsuko Wakasugi, Shuntaro Emi and Ryuzaburo Nakamura
Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan is available for online streaming through the Criterion Collection channel on Huluplus

Before he shocked audience sensibilities with the bizarre and inimitably grotesque Jigoku in 1960 veteran Japanese director Nobuo Nakagawa sent shivers down their spines with this stylish tale of ghostly revenge. Early on a director of everything from comedies to war-time documentaries, Nakagawa is most remembered for a number of supernatural horrors directed for Shintoho Co. in the latter half of the ’50s. Among those films 1959′s Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan may well be the best. Adapted from the famed (and oft-filmed) 19th century kabuki by playwright Nanboku Tsuruya IV, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan tells the classic story of innocence tormented, only to rise up from beyond the grave to grant evil its just deserts.

The first half of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan operates as a catalogue of atrocities perpetuated against a woman and her family from without and within. Central to the drama is ronin Tamiya Iemon (Shigeru Amachi), a samurai of ill-repute whose intentions of marrying Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), daughter of the Yotsuya family, are thwarted by his would-be father-in-law Samon. One dreary evening, enraged by the elder’s insults, Iemon slaughters both Yotsuya Samon as well as the father of Sato Yomoshichi (Ryuzaburo Nakamura), a talented young swordsman betrothed to Iwa’s sister Sode (Noriko Kitazawa). Witnessed by ne’er-do-well Naosuke (Shintaro Emi), who is himself obsessed with Sode, Iemon finds himself in an alliance of convenience, and following a plan by Naosuke to blame the deaths of fathers Yotsuya and Sato on a local rough who had troubled the families in the past. Yomoshichi quickly joins up with the two schemers, believing that they wish to help avenge the families by hunting down those responsible, only to find himself at the edge of their swords as well.

Some time later, all obstacles to their success seemingly overcome, Iemon and Naosuke each take up residence in Edo with their respective sister. While Sode refuses to marry Naosuke, demanding that her family be avenged before such can come to pass, Iemon settles uncomfortably into a married life with Iwa and has a son. It doesn’t take long for Iemon to grow tired of his pedestrian lifestyle, doing unsatisfying work to support his wife and child and losing most of his earnings to gambling. When a chance encounter finds him in the good graces of the wealthy Ito’s, and their beautiful daughter Ume, he sees a chance for escape. Soon Iemon, the Ito’s, Naosuke and even a local masseuse are scheming to absolve Iemon of his familial obligations, but when Iwa proves too devoted to her husband he takes drastic, irreversible action.

Convincing masseuse Takuetsu to seduce his wife so that he might have proper grounds to divorce her, Iemon secretly plots to kill the pair as adulterers – his right, by law. Knowing that Iwa will never willingly accept Takuetsu’s advances, Iemon instead guarantees her demise by feeding her a deadly, disfiguring poison. Iwa discovers too late her husband’s treachery, and the depth of his crimes against her family, but before throwing both herself and her child on a blade curses his name, vowing to avenge her misfortunes with nothing less than the eradication of the Tamiya family line. Takuetsu becomes collateral damage, killed to support the facade of adultery, and is dumped along with Iwa into a canal. Convinced that all obstacles have again been overcome Iemon commences with his marriage to Ume, blind to the possibility that his late wife’s spirit might seek revenge…

  
  
  

Adapted in a streamlined fashion by Masayoshi Onuki and Yoshihiro Ishikawa to fit the fiscal and temporal constraints of Shintoho Co.’s typically low-budget fare, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan nevertheless crams a lot of complex character-driven drama into its first few acts. Those unprepared for director Nakagawa’s brisk pacing may find themselves a bit lost in it all, as schemes build upon schemes and ever more outwardly upstanding citizens conspire against young Iwa. It can feel quite chaotic at times, though I dare say that was likely the point. As quickly as things develop it seems improbable, if not impossible, that Iwa could ever have understood the awful depth of human cruelty amassing against her until it was too late, something that makes her plight all the more sympathetic and her eventual revenge all the more satisfying. Katsuko Wakasugi (Ghost of the Girl Diver) lends the role a necessary frailty, seeming a truly helpless victim until the truth of things is revealed to her. From that moment her characterization changes into that of a driven monstrosity, the inhumanity pitted against her giving rise to a suitably inhuman instrument of vengeance.

The versatile and underrated Shigeru Amachi (Black Line, Jigoku), here appearing as the scheming Iemon, plays in pitch-perfect contrast to both iterations of the Iwa character. In the film’s early acts, when Iemon has the upper hand, Amachi is positively psychopathic, utterly remorseless in his actions and forever distant, cold, dangerous. In his day-to-day torments of Iwa he is wantonly despicable, but in his scheme to poison her, playing the dutiful and loving husband all the while, he disturbs, becoming nothing but a murderous beast masquerading as a man. Even the pretense of humanity is dropped once the tables ultimately turn, and the cornered Iemon reverts to a state of frightened, caged animalism.  Only at death’s door does a glimmer of genuine humanity shine from within him, the damned Iemon praying too late for his slaughtered wife’s forgiveness.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa skillfully manages the film’s breezy but complex drama, complementing it with a variety of interesting visual motifs (like a recurrence of vertically striped imagery and a notable emphasis on the color red) and otherworldly compositions that often feel like paintings-in-motion. By contrast the latter half of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan is positively alive with indelible fantasy imagery – a corpse carried across a field of yellow flowers, a body rising from a pool of murky red, Iemon lost on a sea of shutters, a man falling, slowly, onto the flooded floor of an impossible room-turned-marshland. At its height Nakagawa’s work here is absolutely haunting, glimpses of half-remembered nightmares obscured by shadow and punctuated with rich primary color. The style here is highly reflective of that seen in Jigoku and elsewhere throughout Nakagawa’s career, and this flair for the fantastic served the director well as he transitioned to the Toei Co. payroll following Shintoho Co.’s bankruptcy in 1961.

As could be said of so much of the great genre cinema, it would have been easy for Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan to be a mundane outing, another in a long line of adaptations of a story all too familiar, but a favorable confluence of just the right elements have conspired to make it something far greater than that. While Jigoku, with its abstract proclivities and abundant gore (a real rarity in 1960), remains the best known of his films in the West the more substantively accessible Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan may well be Nakagawa’s masterpiece, a classic tale retold in a manner that’s thrilling and unique and oh so spooky. This is vintage Japanese genre cinema at its absolute best, and a must-see for anyone keen on the same.

Though currently unavailable on domestic home video, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan is available for online streaming through the Criterion channel on Huluplus

Grave Encounters

dir. The Vicious Brothers
2011 / Twin Engine Films / 95′
written by The Vicious Brothers
cinematography by Tony Mirza
original music by Quynne Craddock
starring Sean Rogerson, Ashley Gryzko, Merwin Mondesir, Mackenzie Gray, and Juan Riedinger
available on dvd through Amazon.com

(Don’t) stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The footage Grave Encounters consists of is purportedly edited down from footage shot by the team of the ghost hunting TV show “Grave Encounters” during the filming of their rather fatal sixth episode.

An appropriately smug and somewhat cynical team of five (Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Merwin Mondesir, Mackenzie Gray and Juan Riedinger) sets out to spend a night locked in one of those creepy former asylums for the mentally ill that dot the US landscape (at least if I can believe what the horror movies – who clearly wouldn’t lie to me – tell me). The ghost hunters don’t go in expecting to actually find anything supernatural, obviously, but as long as they can pretend to be creeped out, it’ll be good, successful reality TV, right?

Fortunately for the movie’s audience, and very unfortunately for the film’s protagonists, they will encounter quite a bit more paranormal activity than they ever could have expected or wished for. And while the things the crew first encounters, like doors moving by themselves, may only be a little creepy, later developments have a much more dangerous and disturbing bend. Clearly, not everybody – if anybody – will make it out of the place alive.

By now, I think, there are enough found footage/fake documentary/POV horror movies about ghost hunting TV people around to make up their own little sub-sub-genre. Unlike the other films of this sort I had the dubious honour of watching, Grave Encounters is actually a pretty good film.

  
  

The film does of course have its share of flaws. I think the interview parts before the crew is locked in could have been cut down a little, to make the film’s start a little pacier. As it stands, the actual meat of the narrative begins about forty minutes into the film, just at the point when I was beginning to lose my patience with it a little.

I also could have gone without the overuse of the jerky zoom lens style in the interview sequences – it’s the sort of thing nobody holding a camera in a professional or semi-professional capacity actually does (not even the directors of photography of ghost hunting reality shows), and it threatens the poor helpless audience with seasickness. Once the interview segments are over, the zoom lens is fortunately retired forever, so I’m not even sure why it’s used this extensively early on at all.

Grave Encounter‘s biggest problem is probably the quality of its special effects. About half of the effects do actually look pretty decent to my eyes, but the other half (let me just say big-mouthed ghosts) looks too much like bad digital fakery and too little like terrible things from beyond. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that this is strictly a low budget affair, and even when the execution of the effects seems problematic, they’re usually trying to show something creepy or conceptually interesting. When in doubt, I take a badly realized but interesting thing over something that looks slick but is basically boring.

As far as flaws in independently produced horror go, these are rather minor ones, and they are overshadowed by the things Grave Encounters‘ directors – going under the somewhat silly moniker The Vicious Brothers – do right.

  
  

Prime among things that the film does right, is the way it treats its characters. Even though they are presented as slightly pompous and deeply dishonest towards their audience (I think this is what people call realism), the film still allows them more than enough sympathetic traits to make it easy enough for an audience (or at least me) to empathize with them. I’m not talking great character depth here – I doubt great character depth is anything POV horror can even achieve – but enough depth to make the characters human. The script certainly gets help here by actors who may be a little broad in their approach sometimes but are pretty good at switching from their early on-camera ghost hunting pomposity to people completely out of their depth and scared out of their wits.

Some of the things our not so intrepid protagonists have to face are pretty scary on a conceptual and on a concrete level, but even when they only encounter standard ghosts, these are standard ghosts doing ghostly things thematically appropriate for an empty asylum setting. These activities can’t help but add a historical dimension to the ghosts, making them not just disquieting or frightening for the things they do to others, but also the things that have been done to them; a victim turned into a monster by outside forces is often more effective than a mere monster.

Aside from ghosts, though, there are also a few things making the protagonists’ lives harder that come from the Weirder side of the tracks than mere dead people walking around being rude. The Vicious Brothers do some very effective things with temporal and spatial anomalies that suggest the influence of Daniel Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It’s exactly elements like these nods to Danielewski what most films of the contemporary (post-crappy-Paranormal-Activity, in contrast to the post-Blair Witch one) POV horror genre are too often missing for my taste. Hauntings of this kind are visually cheap to realize and give a film an added dimension of the frighteningly strange and unreal that rubs nicely against the hyper-realism of the POV-form, but I’m afraid too many horror directors working right now are in love with the straightforwardly scary.

Consequently, I’m glad that Grave Encounters dares to be this decisive bit different from its brethren. Now, where did I leave that EMP-meter?


The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Prikosnoveniye

a.k.a. (The) Contact
Year:
1992    Runtime: 92′  Director: Albert S. Mkrtchyan
Writer: Andrei Goryunov  Cinematography: Boris Kocherev   Music: Leonid Desyatnikov
Cast: Aleksandr Zuyev, Maryana Polteva, Vsevolod Abdulov, Igor Pushkaryov, Aleksandra Kharitonova

Olga Nikolayevna kills her little son Kolya and then herself. Andrey (Aleksandr Zuyev), the most laid-back and friendly cop in Russia, gets on the case. His investigation leads the policeman to Olga’s lover. At first, the man – who has an undefeatable alibi – tries to warn Andrey off from any further enquiries, but when the cop persists and waves off any danger, the man explains that he knows well why Olga and Kolya died: Olga’s father had convinced her that the afterlife needed her, life on Earth being no good anyhow, and after a long time, she agreed. The most troubling part of that story is the fact that Olga’s father has been dead for twelve years. Supposedly, the father’s shrouded ghost had been visiting his daughter regularly for years.

Shortly after their talk, Andrey’s witness hangs himself.

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Whistle and I’ll Come to You

Year: 2010   Runtime: 54′   Director: Andy DeEmmony
Writer: Neil Cross   Music: Norwell & Green   Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Cast: John Hurt, Gemma Jones, Lesley Sharp, Sophie Thompson

Retired astronomer James Parkin (John Hurt) has been taking care of his wife Alice (Gemma Jones), who is suffering from some form of senile dementia, for a few years now, but, because of his own age, has to put her into a nursing home.

In an attempt to distract himself from the resulting sadness, and his feeling of having already lost his wife and their love to the ravages of age while they are both still alive, Parkin goes on vacation in an old hotel somewhere on the coast. While going walking along the coastline (or “rambling”, as he prefers to call it), Parkin finds a ring with a Latin inscription translated as “Who is this who is coming?” buried in the sand. He takes the ring with him. From this moment on, Parkin is haunted by something that he might or might not have carried around with himself all along. On the beach, a fearful, shrouded shape that fills Parkin with inexplicable terror is following him; in his hotel, his sleep is disturbed by scratching noises and nightmares that soon enough turn into someone or something banging on his door. As a scientist, Parkin is sceptical of all supernatural explanations, but his fear tells him something different.

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Don’t Look Up

a.k.a. Joyu-rei
company: Bandai Visual Co.
year: 1996
runtime: 75′
director: Hideo Nakata
cast: Yurei Yanagi, Yasuyo Shirashima,
Kei Ishibashi, Dan Li,
Ren Ohsugi
writers: Hideo Nakata
and Hiroshi Takahashi
cinematography: Takeshi Hamada
music: Akifumi Kawamura
Not on home video in the USA

Director Toshio Murai (Yurei Yanagi) is shooting what looks like a stylish, old-fashioned melodrama on a very tight schedule, but doesn’t seem to have much of a problem coping with the latter.

Something about the dailies of the first day of shooting isn’t right, though. At one point, the face of the movie’s lead actress Hitomi (Yasuyo Shirashima) is suddenly superimposed with the face of another actress, then the whole film disappears and turns into an older movie, complete with a long-haired woman lurking in the background. Obviously, the film stock they are using are outtakes that were supposed to be thrown out, but somehow landed in the wrong place. Murai thinks he remembers the film from his childhood, but apart from asking someone working in the studio’s archive to take a look at it, he just shrugs and continues his work.

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Night of Horror

company: Little Warsaw Productions
year: 1978
runtime: 73′
director: Tony Malanowksi
cast: Jeff Canfield, Gae Schmitt,
Rebecca Bach, Phil Davis,
Tony Malanowski, Steve Sandkuhler
writers: Tony Malanowski,
Rebecca Bach, Gae Schmitt
cinematography: Jeff Canfield
music: Jim Ball
OOP in the USA

When I was talking about Curse of the Cannibal Confederates some years ago I could hardly suspect that film to be its director’s Tony Malanowski’s more commercial (aka containing zombies) remake of his earth-shattering first movie, Night of Horror.

Fortunately, Stephen Thrower’s wonderful book “Nightmare USA” cured me of my ignorance, and now, finally, the time has come to for me to take a look at Malanowski’s debut.

So, there’s this guy, sitting with his back to the camera in the bar of his hobby cellar until another guy arrives, who will sometimes turn his face far enough in the direction of the camera that we will be able to see it in profile. They begin to mumble to each other, half of their dialogue impenetrable, the other half unfortunately not – there’s something about guy one being in a band. Or something. We are allowed to experience the dullness and emptiness of their lives for quite a while, until guy number one begins to tell his friend a true story (which a block o’ text appearing before the movie promised to be entertaining; you can never trust those darn lying text blocks). Some months ago, following the death of his dad (stepdad?), guy number one packed his half-brother and two girls into a caravan, drove around in it and drove around in it and drove around in it until he fell in love with one of the girls – named Colleen –  for the terrible things she did to a Poe poem. Then they drove around some more. Days and days of real-time driving later, Colleen saw the ghost of a dead confederate soldier.

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The Living Skeleton (Kyuketsu Dokuro Sen)

Reminiscent of those for Toho’s 1958 sci-fi / crime / horror opus The H-Man, the moody opening credits to Shochiku’s tale of ghostly revenge sets the tone perfectly for the strange film to follow.  The score, in ways suspiciously evocative of John Barry’s work on the James Bond series, is by Noboru Nishiyama, who seems to have worked on little else.  A full review of the film can be found here.

The Living Skeleton

rating:
a.k.a. Kyuketsu dokuro sen
(lit. Vampire Skeleton Ship)
company: Shochiku Films
year: 1968
runtime: 80′
director: Hiroshi Matsuno
cast: Kikko Matsuoka, Masumi Okada,
Yasunori Irikawa, Ko Nishimura,
Nobuo Kaneko, Norihiko Yamamoto
writers: Kyuzo Kobayashi
and Kikuma Shimoiizaki
cinematography: Masayuki Kato
music: Noboru Nishiyama
not on home video in the USA
order this title from Amazon.co.jp

This 1968 horror effort from Shochiku may not be the most obscure of pre-70s Japanese genre stuffs, but it’ll do in a pinch.  Released day and date with the same company’s oft overlooked Genocide – War of the Insects, this tale of ghostly vengeance emanating from a mysterious fog-bound ship received little in the way of attention in the United States or elsewhere upon release, and doesn’t appear to had any kind of wide distribution anywhere outside Japan.  Though far form rare (Shochiku released the film on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD – the latter of which has seen no fewer than three budget priced re-releases in the past few years), The Living Skeleton still rates as ‘unknown’ for all but the most ardent of genre cinephiles – a sad fact well deserving of change.

Effectively the last of the short run of genre efforts Shochiku produced in 1967 and 1968, The Living Skeleton looks to have also been the most tightly budgeted, not that this hampers it in the least.  Minimalist design and a utilization of real locations coupled with an intelligent application of black and white ‘Scope photography help lend much-needed effectiveness to the film’s bizarre series of events.
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