Monday, February 23, 2015

Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell

As a longtime fan of weird cinema, I often enjoy watching movies that prompt just about everyone I know to look at me with a pained expression and ask, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Goké, Body Snatcher From Hell (Shochiku, 1966) is one such movie. From the late 1960s through the mid 1980s, I subscribed to Greg Shoemaker's classic fanzine, The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, and sometime in the very early 70s, an issue had made mention of this movie. The article offered precious little information — just enough to almost cruelly tantalize this young fan of all forms of Japanese fantasy cinema. A few years later, in 1977, I saw in the local newspaper that a movie called Body Snatcher From Hell was coming to one of our then-ubiquitous drive-in theaters on a double bill with The Bloody Pit of Horror, and from the photo and copy on the ad mat, I was reasonably certain the former must actually be Goké. Clearly, this was an event not to miss, so when the roadshow arrived, I hied my ass out to the drive-in, picked up a delicious barbecue sandwich from the concession stand, and set about watching this long-anticipated movie.

It messed with my head, it did. More than anything, it struck me as kin to the lurid Italian horror movies of Mario Bava, which I later learned actually had inspired Goké's director, Hajime Sato. Like many of the movies that influenced it, Goké's cinematography is stylized, bright, and vivid, with color palettes limited mostly to primary and secondary colors. The storyline is bleaker than bleak, the special effects range from absolutely convincing to stunningly cheesy, and the characters rate as among the most despicable examples of humanity ever to be crowded together in a confined space. The musical score by Shunsuke Kikuchi (Terror Beneath the Sea, Gamera vs. Guiron, Gamera vs. Jiger, Gamera vs. Zigra, Kamen Rider, Mazinger, Dragonball Z, et. al.) ranges from eerie and ethereal to brassy and overwrought, weighted toward the latter. And, of course, for the domestic version, the dubbing — done by the Hong Kong studio that provided the dubbing for countless international films in the 60s and 70s — varies between adequate, merely lame, and atrocious.

A few years ago, I picked up Goké on DVD, on a double-feature with Toho's The Human Vapor (which may merit a little review of its own). Watching the movie again after so many years, I found it just as lurid, obnoxious, hokey, disturbing, and fascinating as I remembered. I re-watched it recently, and, yet again, it was like a train wreck from which one can't avert one's eyes. Familiarity with it fails to diminish its impact.
The film opens with an airliner en route from Tokyo to Osaka flying through a bizarre, brilliant orange sky, upon which the pilot (Hiroyuki Nishimoto) and co-pilot, Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida), remark in wonder. Next thing you know, numerous birds begin smacking into the windows in gory explosions. A radio message alerts the crew there may be a bomb on board the plane. Then, without warning, one of the passengers (Hideo Kô), who has apparently already assassinated the British ambassador to Japan, attempts to hijack the plane to Okinawa. But then a gigantic, brilliant UFO appears in the sky and buzzes the plane, causing it to crash-land amid a strange, desolate landscape. Only Sugisaka, stewardess Kazumi Asakura (Tomomi Satô), and a few passengers, including the hijacker, survive the disaster. The hijacker takes Kazumi hostage and attempts to escape, only to encounter the UFO nearby — which mesmerizes him and draws him inside. Here, a mysterious force causes his forehead to split open, and a blob-like organism, one of an alien race called the Gokemidoro, wriggles into his skull, transforming him into a wild, bloodthirsty vampire.
Kazumi manages to escape and return to the plane. However, the surviving passengers — rather than come together to combat their common enemy — expend all their energy fussing, fighting, arguing, gnashing their teeth, and bemoaning their oh-so-undeserved fates. One of them actually does turn out to have a bomb, though he brushes it off as just a joke because he was looking to "have some fun." There's scarcely a sympathetic character in the bunch, so when our hijacker-turned-space-vampire begins to prey upon them, one can't help but be a little glad that with each victim, that's one less loudmouth to suffer. However, finally presented with an opportunity to take on the transformed hijacker, Sugisaka douses him with jet fuel and sets him on fire. As his body burns, the Goké alien gooshes out from the wound in his forehead and enters the head of another passenger (Masaya Takahashi), a professor who had previously professed an absolute lack of faith in human goodness — justifiably so, if one were to judge by the quality of the characters traveling on this flight.

As the survivors' numbers dwindle, Sugisaka and Kazumi attempt to flee but are pursued by the transformed professor Sagai. However, the professor is swept away by a sudden landslide, allowing his would-be victims to escape. He makes his way back to the spaceship, where the alien blob exits his head, leaving his body a ruined pile of ash.
Sugisaka and Kazumi soon discover they have been trapped, not on some desert island, but in Japan proper, for they come upon a highway. But it is a dead highway, all the cars stopped and occupied by corpses. The voice of the Gokemidoro reveals to the last two survivors that the invasion of Earth has begun and that no human being will be spared. Sugisaka and Kazumi are left to wander toward their final doom, as from their orbit many miles above the earth, a fleet of alien spaceships begins to descend.

Goké, as you may have inferred from the above, tells a story that is about as grim and hopeless as a story gets, made all the bleaker by the emotionally and psychologically stunted characters. Even for the two reasonably likable protagonists, there is no relief other than death to be found at the end. This quality of human emptiness overshadows all else — the cartoon colors, the goofy dialogue, the ridiculously overdone plot elements, the cheesy special effects. Goké is not so much a movie that's so bad it's good; it's a good movie gone to hell in a hand basket, regurgitated, and splattered all over your shoes. To be sure, it's an obscure classic of weird cinema, and if you're an aficionado, you'll probably love it. I wouldn't recommend showing it to your "normal' neighbors, however, for I can fairly confidently state that they will not.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Definitely sounds like my kind of movie.