Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)

Director: Hajime Sato

Shochiku’s next venture into SF/horror was an undeniable step up from the kaiju jollies of the last film. Chuck Stephens, who writes the DVD notes for this series, makes no bones about his fondness for the film, observing with relish the film’s nickname “Vagina-Face Apocalypse” and comparing the climax to Last Year at Marienbad done by George Romero. The amazing thing is, the film actually did just about live up to both of those descriptions. We open on an aeroplane that receives a message about there being a bomb on board, so the passengers all have to be checked without arousing their suspicions too much… However, there’s a hijacker on board as well as a bomber, and there’s also a strange light outside causing trouble for the plane, which promptly crashes in a remote area. Once the survivors come to, they gradually find that neither the hijacker nor the bomber—who still has his explosives with him—are the least of their worries: they’re (apparently) miles from civilisation, out of water, out of contact, rescue isn’t coming any time soon, and there’s an alien vampire roaming about (entering the bodies of its hosts through an undeniably vaginal-looking slit in the face) just to complicate matters. The characters are undoubtedly inclined to be kind of stock and cardboard even for this sort of thing, and there’s an anti-war polemic (don’t forget Vietnam was still raging then; basically the aliens are letting humanity get distracted by bigger and bigger wars before pouncing on us themselves) threaded through the film with less subtlety than the Tet Offensive… but there’s also something quite compelling about it at the same time; director Sato tells the story pretty well for the most part, and I’m actually kind of surprised that this appears to have been his last directorial work. He obviously had some ability, at least with B horror of this sort, and in this case at least he fashioned a pretty damn effective example of that sort of thing, given a certain additional kick by that Romero-meets-Resnais ending that abruptly ramps up the weird and disquiet when you think things might be over, and that in its own way perhaps out-pessimists Night of the Living Dead‘s own hardly upbeat denouement…

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