The Living Skeleton (1968)

Director: Hiroshi (Koki?) Matsuno*

This is the only one of these Shochiku horror films made in black and white. I have no idea if this was a budgetary consideration or not—though I suspect it likely was—but either way it was much to the film’s benefit; basically it’s a far straighter horror story than any of the other films in the box set (all of which have SF elements too), and the monochrome cinematography accordingly suits it a lot better than colour probably would’ve done. Notice, though, that I said “straighter” rather than “straight”, cos it’s not quite that. Film opens with a massacre on board a ship overrun by pirates after the gold bullion the freighter is carrying; a few years later the identical twin sister of a woman killed on board the ship goes diving, has an encounter with a group of skeletons below the waves, and then the ghost of the attacked freighter bearing her sister comes calling. Supernatural vengeance ensues (not unlike John Carpenter’s The Fog)… or does it? Cos there are a couple of plot twists in the film’s second half, one of which was genuinely surprising but a bit head-scratching, the other given away in the DVD notes but which actually makes even less sense; I was left wondering “hang on, IS this really a ghost story after all or is this just bad storytelling?”… Stephens’ notes compare it to Val Lewton’s films, but I’m not 100% sold on that; it’s Lewtonesque in that the title is as tenuously related to the content of the film as Curse of the Cat People was, but otherwise the story is geared to the sort of lurid and melodramatic element Lewton was trying to avoid, quite apart from it being remarkably more violent (there’s actually some surprisingly nasty stuff at work) that Lewton couldn’t have done in the 1940s and probably wouldn’t have even if he could. I like it, though, it’s 80 minutes nicely and mostly efficiently spent; I’ve said before that if I notice a film has logic problems then it must do so, but I rather enjoyed The Living Skeleton for all that the story left me perplexed by the end. IMDB gives this as director Matsuno’s only film, though Stephens alludes to a couple more before this; either way, apparently another director of some ability with a bafflingly limited career…

*Called Koki Matsuno in the subtitles for the credits, but Hiroshi everywhere else. Not sure what that’s about.

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