13-nin Renzoku Boukouma

a.k.a. 13-Victim Serial Attacker / Serial Rapist
Year:
1978   Company: Shin-Toho Film Company   Runtime: 60′
Director: Koji Wakamatsu   Writers: Koji Wakamatsu    Cinematography: Hideo Ito
Music: Kaoru Abe   Cast: Kumiko Araki, Mayuko Hino, Kayoko Sugi, Maya Takagi, Ami Takatori, Tensan Umatsu

Ferociously independent writer and director Koji Wakamatsu (United Red Army, Secrets Behind the Wall) has never been one to trifle over the social acceptability of his work, and is well known for his combination of sociopolitical commentary and extreme sex and violence.  Even with that in mind this is a tough one.  Wakamatsu’s 1978 obscurity 13-Victim Serial Attacker concerns a troubled young man who bikes around Tokyo on a seemingly meaningless quest to rape and murder any young woman he finds.  It’s a bleak, discouraging film that offers neither justification nor excuses for its content, and though broadly categorized as “pink” erotica and even horror, trying to classify it as entertainment of any sort is missing the point.

Thematically 13-Victim Serial Attacker can be seen as a direct offshoot of Wakamatsu’s earlier Secrets Behind the Wall, which focused partly on the rise of a homicidal sexual deviant in an anonymous Japanese apartment complex.  Indeed, an early montage of endless indistinguishable apartment buildings echos the past film nicely.  13-Victim Serial Attacker‘s simple and repetitive narrative follows a similarly misguided youth, but perhaps misguided isn’t the word.  Unguided may be more apt.  Shuffling aimlessly about the banal artifices of postwar prosperity, the attitude of the unnamed offender speaks as much of boredom and time-fed anxiety as it does of psychopathy.

The opening moments of the film have our unnamed and overweight protagonist whittling together a custom firearm in a rundown metal works before stuffing it into his omnipresent overalls and speeding off on his bicycle.  He soon finds himself in an apartment complex, where he picks a tenant at random and infiltrates her home by pretending to be a policeman.  Once inside he viciously assaults the inhabitant, a young stay-at-home wife, raping her until he reaches a hollow satisfaction and then unloading his firearm into her uterus.  The brief opening credits fade in over a static shot of her sad remains, sprawled bloody and lifeless and treated with all the respect one might grant a heap of dirty laundry.  When we meet up with the young man again he is wandering around Tokyo Bay, killing time before an opportunity to strike once again arises.

The rest of 13-Victim Serial Attacker follows in a similar vein, as our anonymous assailant happens upon victim after victim, many of whom seem at least as adrift as himself.  A pair of hot-headed lovers near a commuter line, a young artist by the sea, and a host of faceless others are needlessly attacked and murdered in spaces as small as automobiles or public restrooms and as expansive as undeveloped industrial land.  Wakamatsu shows grim imagination in some of the assaults, as when a prostitute and her gent are tied back-to-back by their limbs before the attacker begins his deadly business.  The director also incites reaction from his audience through his brutal and honest depictions of rape, with several of the victims appearing to enjoy themselves as they seek a respite from the violence in the fleeting comfort of sexual arousal.

The most substantial development of the film again echos an earlier Wakamatsu production, as the nameless creature at the story’s center captures a policewoman and holds her hostage in an abandoned warehouse, assaulting her again and again.  The narrative thread reminds strongly of the director’s first independent production, The Embryo Hunts in Secret, in which a well to do businessman takes a female associate hostage and forces her into a variety of degrading subservient behaviors.  That film, which speaks of the oppressive nature of power and the necessity of rebellion, offers the audience a satisfyingly gruesome out.  Here there is nothing of the kind.  After the policewoman misbehaves, nearly drawing the police into her kidnapper’s hideaway, he simply draws his gun and shoots her.  She ends her appearance like so many others, as another statistic to be rattled off on the radio news.

Throughout 13-Victim Serial Attacker the audience is given very little in the way of insight into the character’s reasoning, and the purpose of his actions remains elusive.  When his final victim, a young blind woman, asks him if he enjoys killing he responds as honestly as he likely can – “I don’t know.”  When she summarily asks if why he kills he has no answer for her at all.  Oddly, the only understanding the audience is really allowed to develop for the eponymous serial attacker comes by way of the film’s score, a collection of sparse avante-garde improvisations by renowned alto saxophonist Kaoru Abe, who would die later the same year of a drug overdose.  The harshness of Abe’s performances evoke sensations of loneliness and interminable angst, while a brief encounter between the attacker and Abe, in cameo, draws a rare emotional reaction, a single tearful eye, from the former.

13-Victim Serial Attacker ends abruptly, and with violence every bit as sudden and needless as the rest.  With the police unable to stop him the army (!?) is called into action, and an unstoppable social monster meets the irresistible force of military intervention.  As the sun literally sets on our protagonist’s violent spree, a solitary jeep lies in ambush.  Their meeting is torrid and bloody, and as the unknown man dies his voice fades into the inhuman shriek of Abe’s saxophone.  Wakamatsu’s parting shots recall the opening scene, with the man’s bullet-riddled body floating in Tokyo Bay, the army having left it behind as though it were nothing more than an innocuous bit of garbage.  Its a final act of inhumanity in a film overflowing with them, and Wakamatsu leaves the audience to contemplate its consequence.

As a brutal example of Wakamatsu’s rebellious cinematic spirit 13-Victim Serial Attacker is striking, with exceptional photography from ace cinematographer Hideo Ito (In the Realm of the Senses, here working in cost-effective 16mm) and haunting musical contributions from the late Kaoru Abe.  Its capacity to offend also ranks higher than just about anything else I’ve had the pleasure to cover here, though with Wakamatsu one should always expect a little confrontation.  Those with a hankering for a bit of intellectual pursuit will find the most satisfaction here, while those looking for a good night out would do best to avoid Wakamatsu all together.

And now, a brief note on the title used here.  13-Victim Serial Attacker is my own rough translation from the original Japanese title.  The more common translation of Serial Rapist just isn’t accurate, eliminating the numerical beginning and lending the word boukouma (literally something like “habitual act of violence”) a more precise meaning than it seems to have.  The word nin that follows the number 13 literally means “man” or “person”, and has been translated here as “victim” since these are the people that the word is, in this case, referring to.  Keep in mind that I am in no way trained in the Japanese language, but in the absence of a suitable official English title for this rarely seen film I have done my best.  Whine if you must.

Contagion

Year: 1987    Runtime: 91′  Director: Karl Zwicky
Writer: Ken Methold  Cinematography: John Stokes   Music: Frank Strangio
Cast: John Doyle, Nicola Bartlett, Ray Barrett, Nathalie Gaffney, Pamela Hawkesford

Real estate agent Mark (John Doyle) is driving through the Australian bush when he sees a woman being kidnapped by your typical rape-hungry backwoods person. The following rather timid rescue attempt doesn’t work out too well for Mark, for the backwoods guy isn’t alone. A few minutes later, Mark finds himself stretched over his own car’s hood and raped by a guy who dresses up in a mouse mask for the occasion.

Afterwards (we don’t get to see the rape), the backwoodsies (that’s the technical term, I think) take Mark and the girl to their camp. In a surprising twist of fate, Mark manages to escape after a time and even stumbles into killing one of his tormentors. Next thing he knows, Mark finds himself – still in the bush – breaking down in front of an aggressively blasé woman named Cleo (Nathalie Gaffney). Unimpressed by the backwoods rapist threat, Cleo takes Mark to a mansion where she lives with another girl called Helen (Pamela Hawkesford) and an older guy with an upperclass accent and Hugh Hefner’s dress sense (that is, none) called Rupert (Ray Barrett).

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I Spit on Your Grave

a.k.a. Day of the Woman
Year: 1978   Company: Cinemagic Pictures   Runtime: 101′
Director: Meir Zarchi   Writer: Meir Zarchi   Cinematography: Nouri Haviv
Cast: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleeman, Alexis Magnotti
Disc company: Starz / Anchor Bay   Video: 1080p 1.78:1    Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 2/08/2011   Product link: Amazon.com

A young female author from New York City takes a trip into the backwoods of Connecticut to clear her mind and aid in her writing.  Shortly after her arrival she is gang-raped by four local ne’er-do-wells and left for dead in her rented home.  She survives and, upon regaining her strength, exacts a lethal vengeance on her attackers.

I Spit on Your Grave received little attention in its country of origin when originally released as Day of the Woman in 1978 – a limited issue that failed to turn either heads or profit except in some parts of Europe (actress Camille Keaton was awarded for her performance in Spain).  It wasn’t until a wide 1980 re-release under the new I Spit… moniker that the film achieved its considerable notoriety, earning the ire of critics like Roger Ebert (who attended a troubling screening at a United Artist theatre) and being summarily banned in many countries for its graphic depictions of sexual violence.  It has since been derided as exploitative garbage and lauded as a misunderstood feminist masterpiece.  With such polarized opinions surrounding it, I suppose it’s no surprise that this reviewer finds the truth to lie somewhere between the two extremes.

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A Serbian Film

Year: 2010   Company: Contra Film   Runtime: 104′
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic   Writers: Srdjan Spasojevic, Aleksandar Radivojevic
Cinematography: Nemanja Jovanov   Music: Sky Wikluh
Cast: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katarina Zutic,
Slobodan Bestic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Luka Mijatovic, Andjela Nenadovic

Angry, nihilistic and repulsive in more or less equal measure, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film has followed a cultural trend not unlike the recent horror bust The Human Centipede, and become notorious online before most have even had a chance to see it.  The big difference between the two is that A Serbian Film delivers the gruesome goods, a compendium of some of the most vile horror concepts in recent exploitation history, though whether that’s for better or for worse is up for debate.

I must confess – I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this one after I finished screening it on Friday, and it’s taken a weekend worth of thought to change my mind on that particular front.  At the time I had no idea of how to discuss what I had seen, a parade of grotesque sexual violence that was brutal in its extremity yet near comic in its absurdity.  Rather than being put off by the whole affair I found myself mostly confused, unsure of what I should be feeling about a film that so unapologetically, even carelessly, careens through such topics as incest and child rape.  One thing was for sure – I wasn’t entertained.

Then again, entertainment is the one thing I’m positive A Serbian Film doesn’t set out to be.

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Secrets Behind the Wall

a.k.a. kabe no naka no himegoto / Affairs Within Walls / Skeleton in the Closet
Year: 1965   Company: Nikkatsu Corporation    Runtime: 75′
Director: Koji Wakamatsu   Writers: Koji wakamatsu, Yoshiaki Otani   Cinematography: Hideo Ito
Music: Noboru Nishiyama  Cast: Hiroko Fujino, Kazuo Kano, Mikio Terashima, Yoichi Yasukawa
Product links: Amazon.fr (boxed set w/ French subtitles) / Amazon.co.jp (no subtitles)

There’s something oppressive about the setting for Koji Wakamatsu’s Secrets Behind the Wall - an anonymous and expansive apartment complex erupting from the Japanese countryside like a bleak monument to the nation’s post-war prosperity.  The opening shots of the film are from the perspective of a single voyeuristic eye that watches over building after indistinguishable building, impersonal stacks of windows, gutters, porches and clotheslines unique only in the numbers plastered onto their sides.  Director of photography Hideo Ito crafts a disorienting montage out of the flatly mundane, with Wakamatsu’s provocative spirit bursting into evidence as a final wide shot of the complex cuts to a hard close-up of a hypodermic injection.

It’s an unsettling start, possessed of subtle ferocity, and serves as an oblique introduction to the dual perspectives from which the story will progress.   The first is that of a middle-aged housewife who is perpetuating a years-old affair with a survivor of Hiroshima with whom she had become involved during the post-war student peace movement.  The man, a former leftist activist, has now grown into a prototypical businessman with only an atom bomb-gifted keloid scar to separate him from anyone else.  The housewife, who had herself sterilized out of devotion for her activist lover, is now strapped into a marriage of convenience with an uninteresting union chief who spends more time on the road than at home.

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Humanoids From the Deep

film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1980
runtime: 79′
director: Barbara Peeters
and James Sbardellati
cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel,
Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub,
Anthony Pena, Denise Galik
writers: William Martin,
Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen
cinematographer: Daniel Lacambre
music: James Horner
Order this film from Amazon.com:
DVD | Blu-ray

Plot: A race of humanoid coelacanths, mutated by a nefarious canning company’s genetic experiments on salmon, rise from the depths of the ocean to mate with human women, causing all manner of trouble in a small fishing village.

One of the seediest and sleaziest little numbers in the New World catalog, Humanoids From the Deep courted controversy upon release not only for its trashy, monster-rape content, but for the fact that it was all added in post-production, without the knowledge of its cast. Made under the working title Beneath the Darkness, the finished Humanoids…, complete with additional gore and scenes of graphic sexual violence, bore little resemblance to what the main cast had signed up for. Actress Ann Turkel was so perturbed by the circumstances that she tried to get her name removed from the credits and, refused that by producer Roger Corman, went so far as to petition the Screen Actors Guild to force Corman to pull Humanoids… from distribution. With SAG having never prepared for such eventualities, Corman prevailed and Humanoids… charged on.

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Galaxy of Terror

a.k.a.: Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror
film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1981
runtime: 81′
director: Bruce Clark
cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran,
Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens,
Zalman King, Robert Englund,
Taeffe O’Connell, Sid Haig,
Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing
writers: Mark Siegler,
Bruce Clark and William Stout
cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
and Austin McKinney
music: Barry Schrader
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory LLC
Order this film from Amazon.com:
DVD | Blu-ray

Galaxy of Terror is due out on Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on July 20th, and is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com and other online retailers.

The anonymous ‘Planet Master of Xerxes’ (a man whose features are obscured by orange light) orders a mission to the far off planet of Morganthus after all contact is lost with a starship there.  He hand picks the crew of rescue ship Quest without their knowledge, gathering a motley assortment of officers and engineers with variety of psychological conditions (one is claustrophobic, another traumatized by a past mission, etc.).  After a crash landing on Morganthus the crew begins to disappear, killed by their own subconscious fears after an ancient alien pyramid renders them all too real.

I fondly remember the salacious ad art for Galaxy of Terror, featuring a vulnerable beauty in scraps of clothing being menaced by a variety of unlikely beasts (including a buggy skeletal bat thing hovering with obviously impure intent), staring up at vintage late ’80s me from the seedy depths of the local rental store’s horror shelf.  Only elementary school-aged at the time, I’d never have dreamt of trying to sneak something like that passed my observant mother (the prominent cleavage on the cover would have stopped her cold long before she glimpsed the ‘R’-rating), but that didn’t keep me from wondering what horribly disgusting (and inherently exciting) events might dwell behind such an illustration.  I was a long time in catching up to the film, one of a seemingly endless number I remember passing over in youth, but it was easily worth the wait.
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End of the World

company: Ace Books, Inc.
year: 1962
pages: 128
author: Dean Owen
order this book from Amazon.com

From the back cover:

When the H-bombs struck America, they wiped out not only the cities but law and order and inhibitions.  The few who survived were faced with a fierce fight for SURVIVAL.

For Harry Baldwin, survival meant responsibility he had never known.

For his wife Ann, it meant a new kind of fear.

For his son Rick, it meant strange prey for his new rifle.

For his daughter Karen, it meant shock, terror – and rape.

And for too many others, survival meant the beginning of an open season on plunder, murder, and assault – as civilization had ceased to exist!

Despite the disparity in title, END OF THE WORLD is a novelization of the American International Pictures production of Ray Milland’s PANIC IN YEAR ZERO from the same year, barely adapted by Dean Owen from the screenplay by John Morton and Jay Simms.  The irony of the situation is that the story for PANIC IN YEAR ZERO was culled lock, stock, and barrel from the pages of John Christopher’s ecological disaster novel NO BLADE OF GRASS and Ward Moore’s tales of atomic apocalypse, LOT and LOT’S DAUGHTER, making END OF THE WORLD doubly redundant as literature.

The novelization follows the Morton and Simms screenplay to a T, relating PANIC’s tale of the Baldwin family roughing it in the aftermath of the bombing of Los Angeles with a minimum of embellishment.  The only thing I found to be missing was a radio announcment about the calendar being turned back to year zero, a minor point that may not have made it into the screenplay until after Owen had finished his adaptation.  The substantive content of the book only runs 121 pages and can be read in about as much time as it takes to watch the film.

Owen does his best to make sense of the rapidly shifting morals of lead Harry Baldwin [played by director Milland in the film - Milland's name appears larger than both the title and the author on the cover of the book], and allows for numerous moments of introspection.  That’s not to say that his frequent digressions into outright lawlessness gel any better with his condemnation of the same here.  Harry wastes no time in announcing that civilization has been lost and the rule of law ursurped after a nuclear attack on Los Angeles, and when a radio announcer reports that the penalty for looting is death he glibly responds, “That’ll give ‘em something to think about,” apparently having forgotten that he had himself robbed both a gas station and hardware store earlier.

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Still, the story benefits from the addition of some background for its lead, making Harry a World War II veteran [having served on both the Italian and African fronts] and a champion of racial equality [it is noted that the only time he'd previously fought a man hand-to-hand was to defend the honor a fellow soldier, a black man, from a racist in his unit].  Owen goes out his way to ensure that we know that Harry is at least troubled by the things he finds himself doing, particularly after he executes a couple of “punks” for assaulting his daughter.  It’s unfortunate that none of the other characters are granted similar treatment.

END OF THE WORLD obviously panders to a male audience, depicting its female characters’ frequent mood swings as un-understandable nonsense that grates at Harry’s nerves more than the prospect of world-wide thermonuclear destruction.  Worse are Owen’s descriptions of the same.  The wife of the owner of the robbed hardware store is described thusly – “She was a redhead, with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.  In plaid shirt and jeans she looked more like a high school senior than Ed’s thirty-five-year-old wife.” Others receive the same treatment.  More disturbing is the seeming lack of empathy for the two rape victims of the story.  Harry’s son Rick is unable to comprehend why orphaned farm girl Marilyn, freshly rescued from a gang who had spent the past several nights molesting her, doesn’t approve of his sexual advances.  When he talks to his dad about his troubles Harry responds, “It’ll take a long time for her to forget what happened.  She’ll come around.”

One of the sillier aspects of the story is the nature of its threats.  The bombs go off early and are said to be of low radioactive content, making them far less troublesome than the other two bogeymen of the book – bad drivers and drug addicts.  It’s on this first point that Owen elaborates most extensively, and Harry Baldwin is involved in dozens of near-catastrophic traffic incidents before his tale is told.  But its the rampaging narcos [all three of them] that cause the most distraction for the family, terrorizing them on the highway early on and raping daughter Karen later on.

Owen’s writing style is as obvious and uninspired as is to be expected given the nature of the book – I can’t imagine him taking it any more seriously than was necessary to receive his paycheck.  Typical for this style of writing, the women are attractive [an adjective Owen uses repetitively], the men strong and handsome, and the baddies irredeemable no-good thugs.  When introducing Carl, leader of the gang of punks that rapes Karen and Marilyn, Owen notes that “Harry could see the pinpoint pupils of his yellow-brown eyes.  This Carl was under the influence of narcotics.” Carl’s henchmen are almost comically drawn – what self-respecting early 60′s nuclear family wouldn’t feel threatened by a pair of teens with bleached hair, a penchant for rock-and-roll and faces that suggested I.Q.s “at the lower levels”?

It seems important to note that I did enjoy END OF THE WORLD, for all of its shortcomings, and it’s certainly no worse than the problematic film it was written to promote.  That said, it is what it is, and doesn’t offer up anything of much interest beyond what you’ll find in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO.  If you can find a copy cheaply enough [mine was around $4, more than I'd like to have paid but not enough that I regret it] then it may be worth picking up, and keeping expectations low won’t hurt.