UK Release Date: 17th September 2018
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Teruo Ishii
Writer: Teruo Ishii, Masahiro Kakefuda
Starring: Teruo Yoshida, Michiko Kobata, Teruko Yumi, Tatsumi Hijikata, Yukie Kagawa, Minoru Ôki
Synopsis: A doctor plagued by visions escapes from a mental institution and infiltrates the home of a dead nobleman who looked exactly like him.
Asian horror cinema is weird. Some of the genre’s strangest and most disturbing efforts come from the East, delivering bizarre tales of ghouls, ghosts and depraved violence. The latest release from Arrow Video takes on the 1969 oddity Horrors of Malformed Men, in which cult director Teruo Ishii adapts a story from the twisted mind of celebrated mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo, who sadly died just a few years before the release of this movie. It’s a movie that sprinkles in elements from a number of Ranpo books to construct a slightly over-complicated narrative that nonetheless benefits from some psychedelic, surreal scares.
Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida) escapes from his wrongful imprisonment in a mental institution, determined to work out the significance of a faded, disturbing memory of an island and its dark store room. After discovering a newspaper report about the death of a wealthy man who looks identical to him, he decides to assume his identity and infiltrate his family. His investigation eventually leads him to the bizarre island and its animalistic oddball leader Jogoro (Tatsumi Hijikata), who enjoys experimenting with human deformities.
The story of this film is a wild one, taking in very human mystery elements, as well as a semi-supernatural side order of surrealism. The protagonists’ arrival to the island gives way to a montage of madness, realised by Ishii with an assured eye for the grotesque. However, that dark eye is even more effective in the scenes within the opulent house of the movie’s first act. These scenes are dramatically quite leaden, but come alive to genuinely chilling effect with the hints that something very wrong is lurking within that building. There are more than a few images here that are as scary as anything I’ve seen in years.
In fact, when the action relocates to the island, the narrative starts to collapse under the weight of its own weirdness. Tasumi Hijikata’s intensely physical, inhuman performance sears itself onto the brain of anyone watching, but even he can’t rescue the climactic sequences, which unfold in a series of very lengthy dumps of exposition that almost certainly worked better on the page than they do in cinema form. The overriding final emotion is not of the genuinely disturbing horror or the transgressive nature of the material, but of the awkward way in which the mystery is resolved.
Sometimes, as a horror fan, you come across a movie that you know for sure you aren’t going to properly remember in a few years’ time. You’ll be discussing strange films with someone and a memory will surface of a bizarre Japanese tale that was an utter mess, but contained some images so spine-chilling that they left an imprint on your mind. Horrors of Malformed Men is no genre classic, but it casts a strange spell that will linger long after the memory of the movie’s plot has disappeared.
Two audio commentaries from Japanese cinema experts and a treasure trove of interviews for anyone interested in this period of filmmaking in Asia.
Pop or Poop?
It’s not necessarily the most coherent and well-realised horror movie ever made, but Horrors of Malformed Men has a darkness to it that is consistently effective in chilling the audience to the bone. The final act is packed a little too heavily with exposition, but the creepy, physical performances of the movie’s second half leave a very real and pronounced impact on anyone who watches the film, whether you can follow the nonsensical plot or not.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Horrors of Malformed Men is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Arrow Video.