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

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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The Sexy Killer (1976)

If these crudely animated titles from Shaw Brothers don’t have you craving an old-school exploitation fix, nothing will. Sun Chung (Human Lanterns) directs this sleazy story of a nurse (Chen Ping, The Big Bad Sis) who takes violent shot-gun revenge against the drug lord (Wang Hsieh, The Super Inframan) responsible for the self-destruction of her sister.

You can read our review of the film here.

Crucible of Terror

Year: 1971    Company: Scotia-Barber, Glendale   Runtime: 91′
Director: Ted Hooker   Writers: Ted Hooker, Tom Parkinson   Cinematography: Peter Newbrook
music: Paris Rutherford   Cast: Mike Raven, Mary Maude, James Bolam, Roland Lacey, Me Me Lai
Disc company: Severin Films   Video: 16:9 progressive 1.78:1    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: Single Layer DVD5   Release Date: 10/12/2010   Product link: Amazon.com
Reviewed from a screener provided by Severin Films, LLC

Plot: An indebted purveyor of art heads into the English countryside to strike a deal with a reclusive artist with his girlfriend in tow. Once there they meet an assortment of odd characters and are witness to a bizarre family dynamic, and realize too late that the beauty-obsessed artist has taken a fierce liking to the latest female to cross his path.

I should really expect nothing less from Severin Films by now, but what an odd little picture! Generally labelled as horror, 1971’s Crucible of Terror defies categorization, fluctuating between murderous A Bucket of Blood-type thrills, oddball family drama and acts of supernatural revenge with manic frequency. I can’t imagine much of anyone ever defending it as a good film, but one can hardly fault the filmmakers for trying something a little different.

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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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The Sexy Killer

postera.k.a. Du hou mi shi / The Drug Connection
company: Shaw Brothers
year: 1976
runtime: 88′
country: Hong Kong
director: Sun Chung
cast: Chen Ping, Yueh Hua,
Tung Lam, Si Wai, Wang Hsieh,
Tin Ching, Chan Shen
writer: Ki Kuang
cinematographer: Lam Nai-Choi
limited availability
(IVL disc is OOP)

Plot: A nurse whose sister is destroyed by the illegal drug industry poses as a prostitute and infiltrates the upper echelons of a Hong Kong gang in order to get her bloody revenge.

While my taste in film has shifted more towards the serious as of late (not that my reviews here do much to evidence this), there are times when nothing hits the spot like a good, trashy exploitationer.  Shaw Brothers’ The Sexy Killer is just such a film, careening through such saucy subjects as drugs, prostitution, and sado-masochistic sex on its way to a shotgun-fueled finale that plays like a candy colored scope re-envisioning of Bo Arne Vibenius’ Thriller – A Cruel Picture.

The story concerns Wanfei, a nurse in Hong Kong who gets a nasty wake up call when her younger sister is tempted into the sordid world of heroine abuse and sex trafficking.  Wanfei involves herself with a shady celebrity, whose strong public posturing against the exploding drug industry makes her blind to the fact that he’s nothing but a paid cover for the cartels, while simultaneously seeking her own revenge against the gangsters who defiled her sister.  Her policeman friend Weipin is fighting his own losing battle against corruption in the department, realizing that a presumed friend is on the cartel’s payroll only after his reputation for drug busting almost gets him killed.

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It doesn’t take long for Wanfei to find out that drastic action is required if she’s to move up in the ranks of the mob, and she begins moonlighting as a prostitute for the higher ups.  She’s found out when an attempt on the life of the Boss of the operation (a sexual sadist with a dungeon in the back of his bedroom) goes wrong, and dragged off to the edge of the city for disposal.  But it’ll take more than a few moronic henchmen to stop this lady scorned and it isn’t long before she’s driving right through the front door of the Boss’ house, blasting holes the size of dinner plates into every gangster she can find.

The Sexy Killer is a prototypical Shaw Brothers exploitation vehicle, of which they produced a slew throughout the ’60s and ’70s along with their better known martial arts product.  One can expect to see lots of bare human flesh by the end of things, much of it belonging to lead Chen Ping.  The company obviously understood the dual functionality of the heroine, and the intended audience should have no trouble getting behind Ping’s lust for vengeance while oodling over her extensive physical charms.  The highlight of the picture is inarguably her delivery of deliciously violent final justice, and I can think of few actresses capable of handling a shotgun so deftly while donning a pink polka-dotted dress.

Keeping things interesting in the dry spells between senseless acts of depravity are a stable of unusual characters made all the more unusual by the audaciousness of the performances behind them.  Wang Hsieh (the Professor in The Super Inframan) steals the show as the depraved Boss, gleefully twirling his cane betwixt the legs of his favorite whore and whipping her while who-knows-what spools through a collection of film projectors in his bedroom.  Just as memorable is Tin Ching as the happy-go-lucky sex trafficker Ma-Yuan, who gets his just deserves when Wanfei convinces the Boss of his usurptuous intentions.

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Direction by Sun Chung is as adept as necessary for the material in question (scripted by Ki Kuang, Human Lanterns), and he keeps the material from becoming draggy even in the slower spots.  Cinematography by Lam Nai-Choi (director, The Story of Ricky) is questionable, and his overuse of wide angle lenses often gives the impression that we’re watching a film shot through a goldfish bowl – not that it does a thing to dampen The Sexy Killer‘s potential to entertain.

There’s only one DVD release of The Sexy Killer I’m currently aware of, from IVL’s extensive line of Region 3 Shaw Brothers titles.  The disc presents the film in a decent, if slightly soft, anamorphic widescreen transfer in the original 2.35:1 Shaw Scope ratio.  Audio is Mandarin, augmented with optional English and Chinese subtitles.  Extras are typical – stills, production notes, and a collection of trailers for other IVL releases.  The disc is currently listed as being temporarily out of print by the company, though copies are still easy enough to come by on eBay.

I enjoyed the hell out of this one, though my mindset at the time undoubtedly had a lot to do with it.  This is trash, pure and simple, but of the brightly colored and irresistible variety only the Shaw Brothers can provide.  Keep your expectations in check and know what you’re in for – the screenshots here should be enough to convince of whether or not The Sexy Killer is for you.  As for me, this one comes recommended.

009

From Hell It Came

company: Allied Artists Pictures
year: 1957
runtime: 71′ / 73′ (T.V. version)
country: United States
director: Dan Milner

cast: Tod Andrews, Tina Carver,
Linda Watkins, John McNamar,
Gregg Palmer, Robert Swan,
Baynes Barron, Suzanne Ridgeway
writers: Richard Bernstein
and Jack Milner
cinematographer: Brydon Baker
music: Darrell Calker
Order this film, now officially
available on DVD from the
Warner Archive Collection

It’s interesting to look up the New York Times television listings from the late 60’s and early 70’s and see just what the snappy one-liner critics had to say about FROM HELL IT CAME. “Not quite” was the answer in 1965, but by 1973 that had evolved into the wittier “Back send it”. The Courier Tribune, my hometown paper, had nothing to say of it by the time I was scanning the entertainment section for hitherto unseen film delights – for me, the name was more than enough. That it was sandwiched between VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN did much to help its chances.

POSTERAnd so, following the end of THE GIANT CLAW [my favorite film even then], I set an 8 hour tape to rolling in the ever-reliable EP mode. The next day I spent spooling over the fruits of my labors – a host of films I’d never seen up to that point. IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE was on board, followed by THE INVISIBLE INVADERS and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN. I was scared so witless by what had come before that FROM HELL IT CAME couldn’t help but provoke considerable feelings of unease within my little mind.

For weeks my head was filled with terrifying images of mean-faced creatures rising from smoldering pits, capturing helpless victims only to dump them into vast pools of quicksand. I was frightened, sure, but I loved every minute of it. Somewhere along the way my original tape was recorded over and I lost track of the film. It was the explosion of eBay’s bootleg video market [since imploded] that reunited me with FROM HELL IT CAME after having gone a decade without seeing it. I was anxious to relive every terrifying smoldering and quick-sandy moment. Boy do expectations suck.

001I didn’t know the Milner brothers, Dan and Jack, from Stanley Kubrick when I was a boy, but their reputation precedes them now that I’m older. Dan had been working in B-pictures since the early 30’s as an editor, dabbling in mysteries, adventures, westerns, and everything in between. Jack got a slower start, snagging his first work editing a western in 1945. By 1955 the Milner’s had caught up with the expanding market for monster movies, unleashing on unsuspecting audiences THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES. Their magnum opus, so awful that it effectively ended their careers, came just two years later, with the August release of FROM HELL IT CAME. Legend has it that the release inspired the infamous review “And to hell it can go!” Is that true? Who knows, but I like to think so.

The script by Richard Bernstein [writer - TERRIFIED, WHY MUST I DIE?] is full of backwards ideas and idiotic concepts, and begins with a band of white Pacific islanders killing their local prince Kimo for scheming with the dastardly American scientists. Kimo is stabbed through the heart and buried upright in a coffin made of logs, but not before he eloquently screams “I will come back from the grave to revenge for myself!” Meanwhile, the American scientists dawdle about with the more trusting natives, curing them of various maladies caused by the atomic bomb they tested near the island sometime earlier and drinking whatever real troubles they have into a hazy oblivion.

Things start to go south when a female scientist [gasp!], former lover of one of the scientists, arrives, carrying with her a new experimental formula that regenerates dead tissue. The female scientist [for shame!] finds a strange tree stump [complete with perturbed face] growing out of Kimo’s grave, and convinces her colleagues to dig it up and bring it back to the lab. They discover that the stump has a heartbeat, and that it’s dying from their efforts to dig it up [d'oh!], so the female scientist [the horror!] injects it with her regeneration serum.

002It doesn’t take long for the stump to come back to life, escape the lab, and begin terrorizing the natives for their transgressions against Kimo. After hugging the island chief to death and dropping his lover in quicksand, the American scientists and a few of their native buddies go on the hunt. The stump somehow kidnaps the female scientist [expression of uncomfortable surprise!] but is stopped dead before it can do her any harm. Though unharmed by the ordeal, it’s still  traumatic enough that the female scientist [...!] decides to drop all of her career ambitions to start a family with her ex boyfriend. The end.

There’s a serious misogynistic vibe running through FROM HELL IT CAME. At worst, women are portrayed as backstabbing and malicious [it's Kimo's wife who schemes to have him killed] – at best, as useless and unworthy of the college degrees they’ve earned. It’s important to note that the troubles in FROM HELL IT CAME all seem to revolve around female lead Tina Carver. It is she who first discovers the monster, convinces her co-workers to uproot it, saves it with a super serum, and unwittingly lets it loose upon the unsuspecting natives. Kimo’s dying words be damned, it’s Carver who’s responsible for all the death and destruction here. The conclusion is nothing short of a wish fulfilled for her culturally backwards ex boyfriend [Tod Andrews], who makes sure she knows that a career is nothing for a woman like her to have. That the movie obviously sides with his point of view is downright insulting.

Depictions of the Pacific islanders are also pretty infuriating, with the natives here proving to be little more than a bunch of uncultured morons. Politically, HELL walks the government line in support of the nuclear testing in the Pacific and relocation of the native peoples of the islands there. The point is made that the fallout isn’t what’s making the islanders sick, but diseases they’re just too stupid to avoid.  We kindly Americans are just helping them when they’re too oblivious to help themselves. Even the writers of KING KONG knew the effects of unchecked Western intrusion into the lives of indigenous peoples, and similar death, mayhem, and destruction results here. But writer Bernstein ensures that the blame is placed squarely at the feet of the natives and their primitive superstitions as opposed to with the Americans, where it really belongs.

003As aggravating as HELL’s gigantic substantive missteps are, it’s the laziness of the production and lack of inspiration on all fronts that ultimately dooms it to failure. The story moves at a languid pace, with fifty minutes of nothing separating the opening sacrifice of Kimo and the concluding attack of the stump monster. We get drinking, arguing, scheming, and a few bits of romance, but action of any kind is in much too short a supply. Paul Blaisdell’s wandering stump, which goes by the name of Tobunga in the film, is a marvellous pulp creation, with bulging angry eyes and huge old-man scowl. It is also almost entirely inflexible, rendering its few horrific moments hysterically ineffectual [the image of it rising from the depths of a fire pit is a welcome exception, and as iconic as anything in cult cinema history].

HELL was relegated to a double bill with the dreary Allison Hayes vehicle THE DISEMBODIED on initial release, finally reaching an appreciative audience when it was sold to television – it was a staple of afternoon programming for decades thereafter. A long-time lack of an official home video release coupled with the fond memories of people who grew up watching it have conspired to make HELL a staple of the bootleg DVD market, where it’s undoubtedly garnered more profits than it ever did in theaters.

Warner Brothers has obviously not been completely blindsided by the popularity of the film, now part of their extensive library.  An early announcement about the Warner Archive Collection DVD-on-demand service mentioned that the company was looking into titles popular in the gray market.  It should come as no surprise that FROM HELL IT CAME, a title perhaps too marginal to warrant a full-scale release, should find it’s first ever officially licensed home video iteration as part of that collection.

004How does Warner’s official DVD-R release of FROM HELL IT CAME stack up to the bootlegged editions that have been circulating of everything from ancient 16mm TV prints to the recent HD remaster culled from the defunct MonstersHD channel?  In short – if you own a bootleg, throw it out.  The Warner Archive Collection presents the film in a fine progressive and 16:9 enhanced black and white transfer that looks far better than I’d have imagined a turnip like FROM HELL IT CAME ever could.  Detail is at the high end for the format, contrast is consistent and natural, and damage is minimal.  Audio is presented in a crisp and clear monophonic track – there are no subtitles.  Someone has obviously taken very good care of the source materials on this one, though that may beg the question of “why?”

Supplements are, as is to be expected from all Warner Archive Collection releases, extremely limited.  You get a generic menu and a promo for the Collection itself – that’s it.  There’s a high price point for all of these releases [$19.95 from Warner itself, not including shipping and taxes, and more from other retailers] and whether or not it’s worth it will depend entirely on how much you value the title.  That said, Warner’s presentation of the feature is peak and fans of the film should definitely take the plunge.

Aside from the fifteen minutes or so that Blaisdell’s tree monster is puttering around, there’s very little to recommend about FROM HELL IT CAME and even less to enjoy. Take it from someone who knows – this one is definitely better left as a fond memory of days long since passed, whether you grew up on UHF or VHS.

Qurbani

F.K. International [1980] 157′
country: India
director: Feroz Khan
cast: Feroz Khan, Vinod Khanna
cast: Zeenat Aman, Amrish Puri

Rajesh (Feroz Khan) leads the charmed life of a manly man Robin-Hood-like thief, a life that is more than a little sweetened by the existence of his beautiful nightclub singer girlfriend Sheela (Zeenat Aman, alas not allowed to do more than that description promises). Between random motorcycle riding and disapproving of Sheela’s job (but hey, she disapproves of his job too, so they’re on the same level here), there’s not much that troubles him . . .

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Ju Jin Yuki Otoko

a.k.a. HALF HUMAN: THE STORY OF THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN
Toho Co. ltd. [1955/1958] 94′ / 63′
country: Japan
director: ISHIRO HONDA [American segments - Kenneth Crane]
cast: AKIRA TAKARADA, MOMOKO KOCHI, AKEMI NEGISHI,
cast: NOBUO NAKAMURA, SACHIO SAKAI, KOKUTEN KODO,
cast: JOHN CARRADINE, MORRIS ANKRUM, RUSSEL THORSON

Odds are that those of you who are Toho fantasy aficionados have heard of this film, though the likelihood of any of you having seen it is considerably more slim. This early monster picture from the company has become something of a cult legend over the years, thanks in large part to its status in Japan. Like the much later produced PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS, ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN has been pulled from all distribution due to a lingering studio-imposed ban. Made around the same time as GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN was the first of Toho’s human-sized monster efforts, a trend that would continue with the admittedly obscure but entirely available THE HUMAN VAPOR and THE H-MAN, amongst others.

The film concerns a missing Alpine Club member, who disappears during a blizzard in the Japan Alps – only a tuft of animal hair and a gigantic not-quite-human footprint [as well as the lifeless body of the young man's friend] are left behind as evidence. The man’s sister Machiko [Kochi] and fellow club member Iijima [Takarada] embark on an expedition led by Professor Tanaka [Nakamura] to locate him and, hopefully, the creature responsible for his disappearance. Catching wind of the expedition is animal exhibitor Oba, who forms a considerably less noble party to track down, capture, and sell the beast Tanaka hopes to study.

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Black Line

a.k.a. Kurosen Chitai / Black Line Zone
company: Shintoho Studios
year: 1960
runtime: 80′
country: Japan
director: Teruo Ishii
cast: Shigeru Amachi, Utako Mitsuya,
Yoko Mihara, Toshio Hosokawa
not on home video in the USA
order this film from
Amazon.co.jp

Anyone who knows anything at all about the history of cinema’s seedy underbelly should find the name Teruo Ishii instantly recognizable. He’s a legend among the pantheon of Japanese cult film directors [rightfully dubbed the "King of Cult" in his native country] and most famous for the ero-guro [erotic-grotesque] pictures he produced for Toei studios throughout the 60′s and 70′s. Those who know him only for that work may find his humble beginnings, directing low budget genre fare [most famously 6 entries in the Space Giants series, better known as the Starman chronicles here in the States] for Shintoho Studios, as something of a surprise.

In 1958, in the midst of making spandex-laden Tokusatsus and crowd pleasing romances, Ishii found himself directing crime pictures as well. The most notable of these, by far, belong in the director’s five part chitai [or line] series – which kicked off with SECRET WHITE LINE [SHIROSEN HIMITSU CHITAI] in September of that year. That film, concerned with an underground prostitution ring, was successful enough that Shintoho allowed the series to continue – the thematic sequel BLACK LINE [KUROSEN CHITAI] saw release in January of 1960.

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