Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Monsterthon: Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell poster

Science fiction in the sixties couldn’t help but focus on the social turmoil erupting across the world, and Japanese sci-fi filmmakers did their part. While Matango tackled social conformity, Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is about disintegration. Born of the chaos of wars, assassinations, and political corruption, it’s a surreal parable that makes up for in intensity what it lacks in coherence.

Chaos erupts on an airplane in flight when the crew and passengers discover an assassin on board, just before something in the sky forces the craft down into the mountains. When the gunman makes a break for it, hostage in tow, he runs across a glowing saucer that has touched down nearby, and is taken over by one of the craft’s shapeless inhabitants. He emerges a vampirish killer, stalking and picking off survivors one by one- a soldier of an invading alien race that has decided now is the perfect time to destroy humanity.

The film benefits from a colorful and intense style, the stark mountain setting providing a good backdrop for glowing alien weirdness. The opening scenes take place against a fiery red sky, and the aliens and their ship are marked by intense bright reds, oranges, and blues. It all contributes to a sense of genuine chaos unfolding, and the monster evokes not just classical horror in its vampire tropes, but also a sick and demonic liveliness. (One of the more memorable images of the film is that of the creature entering the hijacker through a hole in his head, the resulting wound becoming a plot point.) These aren’t the usual bloodless, passionless invaders from beyond; there’s something more primal to them.

The film isn’t exactly subtle in its social commentary, not that subtlety was the in-thing in those days. The passengers include a corrupt politician, the arms exporter who plies him to the extent of pimping out his wife, a young troublemaker who called in a bomb threat, and an American war widow who goes on long, hysterical tirades while the Japanese characters semi-accurately translate what she’s saying (a practice which makes one wonder just how wrong we get foreign language dialogue in our films.) It’s possible to lose track of characters, and there’s not really time to develop anyone beyond broad stereotypes, but it’s effective in a Twilight Zone kind of way. Throughout the message is that mankind is destroying itself; that the violence of the times has summoned the agents of our extermination.

The movie builds to an absolute killer of an ending, one which perfectly encapsulates the picture’s sense of nihilistic fear. It’s the sort of thing which elevates everything that came before, and while Goke does lose momentum at times, the payoff is more than worth it. There’s a certain merit in being this strange and unusual, and the surrealism is backed by a brutality which evokes Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. But for all the links that can be traced, Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is unique, and unforgettable.

Written by Kyuzo Kobayashi and Susumu Tanaka
DIrected by Hajime Sato

Grade: A-

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