Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (Hajime Sato, 1968, B)

I can't really love this film, mostly because A.) It wasn't really that scary or disturbing once the Goke alien showed up and turned characters into vampires, and B.) Because of the rather lame anti-Vietnam message (man is just killing man, for no reason, just senseless violence, etc. etc.). If the film had just stuck to the characters themselves, their own faults, their envy, pride, and rage, it would have been more profound, more universal, less dated. Instead, the stark, red-soaked montages of war violence (I'm assuming mostly footage from Vietnam), though visually interesting, are really simplistic thematically (yeah, okay, war is bad, thanks for that totally unoriginal, and tiresome point). But, what do you want from a horror/sci-fi B-movie, right?

The less forgiveable point is the lack of scares. The beginning is utterly perfect, from the strange behavior of the birds to the eery red sky. (n.b.: notice Tarantino steals the shot of the airplane flying against a sunset-red sky and puts it into Kill Bill vol. 1)

But once the Goke shows up it becomes pretty predictable and it didn't take long for me to figure out how things would end. Let's just say (possible spoilers ahead), it comes off very Twilight Zone-ish, and echoes a certain famous American sci-fi film of the 1950s. Of course, the American title kinda gives that one away.

Yet despite the fairly ordinary vampire/body snatcher stuff, the film really wins on visual style, use of color, and the straight-up drama stuff between the characters. There's the whole "survivors coping with each other and the natural tensions that arise" thing going on, as well as the tensions between characters that existed before the situation got freaky. I loved the relationship between the politican and the business man. The director does a fantastic job of fitting all of his characters into the frame at the same time, giving the film a very claustrophobic feel:
(contrasted with wide, high shots later in the film of characters running along a barren and empty terrain)

The use of color is extraordinary, with reds, whites, and blues being used to great effect:

On a storytelling level I thought the characters and their relationships with each other were great: the corrupt politican, the sychophantic business man, the emotionally frayed Vietnam war widow, the know-it-all psychologist, the co-pilot whose virtue and basic humanity are the only things the viewer can be sure of in this nightmare. There was a lot of psychological and sociological stuff being addressed in the film that really had nothing to do with the science fiction/horror element and the movie could have worked even without the Goke vampire stuff (don't misunderstand me, I love sci-fi and horror, but it just so happened that in this instance I was more interested in the "normal" stuff than the weird stuff -- and just to be fair, there was one moment in the film that really did scare me and that was when the Goke possessed one of the characters and was "speaking" through that character; the Goke's voice in this scene was frightening, and the way the scene ends was chilling). The drama between the characters was often more compelling than the drama of the vampire scenes. Of course, the vampire stuff (the bloodlust and violence of the Goke) was just a metaphor for the bloodlust and violence of humanity. The film asks us to think about who the real "monsters" are, the Goke or human beings. This universal point about Original Sin, about the danger of hate, envy, greed, and pride was more interesting to me than the rather weak point about Vietnam the film tried to make.

On the level of straight-up character drama, and on visuals, I would give the film a B+/A-, but because it's a relatively predictable horror/sci-fi plot I have to give it a very solid B.

(One more note: The music in this film drove my mom nuts -- there's a very high-pitched pulsing sound that we hear throughout scenes involving the Goke's space craft that just goes on and on. My mom kept going, "What IS that?!" But I loved it! It was annoying in that kind of good way that makes you wish it would stop and yet at the same time you're mesmerized by it. Leajo, think "Show show show, show show show, show show show, the show of shows show")

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