Month of Horror 2016: Genre Exploration – Splatter: Ichi the Killer

Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources.  Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier).  Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.

10/17/2016 – Splatter: Ichi the Killer (1999)
Directed by Takashi Miike

One of the first things you will hear many a horror fan talk about in regards to a horror film is the level of gore. Heck, go back and read my reviews here (or just trust me on this and save time) and you will find many of them mention this very aspect especially for post-1960 era films (the modern age of horror). The levels of gore and blood in a film weren’t always high, while some silent films such as Intolerance depicted it, censorship kept blood largely off the screen until Hammer rose to prominence in the late 50’s and films such as Psycho “normalized” it. Herschell Gordon Lewis was the first however to make this the starring attraction with his films, starting with 1963’s Blood Feast (see below). Yes, I’m sorry for not honoring the recently deceased Lewis in this category (the way I gave Wes Craven the honor of representing the US last year) but he died on the day I published the schedule and well after I had picked the films.

These films, however, such as Two Thousand ManiacsThe Flesh Eaters, and the rest of Lewis’ work were merely low budget exploitation fare, which as much as I try to champion horror as an art form, it’s hard to argue for a subgenre whose single defining trait is “lots of blood” in an attempt for notoriety and to gross you out deserves more attention than that. It wasn’t until the late 70’s and 80’s when slightly more mainstream horror fare such as Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, the Evil Dead films, and Re-Animator (as well as Zombi 2Cannibal Holocaust, and Maniac) started using copious amounts of blood did the genre come into its own as a sort of sister to the Cronenberg influenced body horror genre. Its own being a relative term of course, but instead of being the starring attraction, it was just something to enhance a film in disturbing its audience, but more often than not doing so comedically. Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Braindead (the defining movie of the genre), typified this with the amount of blood spilled inflated to comic scale and played for laughs. These splatter (or “splatstick”, a term I hate) films are probably the truest representation of horror-comedy (word order there was intentional) since they aren’t just funny horror movies, they are movies which get us to laugh as horrific sights. Even non-horror titles such as Robocop and Kill Bill (and all the films it drew from) were able to exploit the over-the-top carnage for pure entertainment (and occasionally satire).

The 90’s and early 00’s saw the blood level turned down (aside of course from films such as Saving Private Ryan) thanks to both the general downturn in horror and later PG-13/soft-R aiming films aimed at teenagers that popped up post-Scream. If you have checked my schedule, you’ll notice no films listed in the “torture porn” category and that’s because it’s not a real thing. That subgenre popped up as a response to this general trend and sought to bring back the extreme to horror (see also the New French Extremity) with films such as the Saw sequels, The Devil’s RejectsWolf Creek, the Hostel films, and The Hills Have Eyes. The difference between these and most of those ‘80s titles and the ‘00s is now no one is laughing (okay sometimes we are but usually not intentionally meant to) with contemporary critical reaction being about the same (it’s apparently destroying cinema). There’s also another difference in that most of them are shit, but it’s always been that way with splatter films, it’s just until the ‘00s they were mostly quickly forgotten B-movies noticed only when ultraconservatives like Great Britain or Roger Ebert started to whine. Even then, the genre mostly died out aside from a few sorry stragglers (such as The Human Centipedes and Would You Rather) with splatter and “torture porn” being relegated to network TV such as Bones (I don’t know how they get away with such gore every week but it’s the only reason to watch this flaming pile of crap anymore), Criminal Minds, and 24 as well as certain R-rated action movies (for the record, I’m of the anti-bloodless violence camp believing PG-13 films should depict more realistic violence).

While I’ve mostly highlighted American films, Japan is no slouch. Between modern comedic exploitation films such as Tokyo Gore Police and Machine Girl and today’s title Ichi the Killer, they’ve certainly held their own. This is the second Miike title of the weekend and after the last one my expectations are incredibly low. That’s not to say even the prospect of viewing this film is something like Audition as well as Cannibal Holocaust and Salo later this month is something I’ve put off for a while based on reputation alone.

Starting the film up and seeing the over two-hour runtime got me nervous considering my complaints over Audition, but it was as if Miike was listening to me as the film doesn’t take long to get going at all or establish a tone at all. Granted it does this with a woman being beaten and raped with the title emerging from a pool of spent jizz, but it sure as heck is an accurate portrayal of the movie. A blood and gut filled crime scene that a cleaning crew must clean up is only the start of the copious gore. Tadanobu Asano (ThorBattleship) is the clear star of the film as the blonde, scarred (I love the effect of him blowing smoke out the sides of his Glasgow smile), and pierced sadomasochistic Kakihara. He elevates and steals every scene he is in and is like no other character in film aside from maybe the Joker (specifically of the Heath Ledger portrayal).

I don’t know if this is a film one enjoys so much as endures and it genuinely unnerved me throughout. I could barely watch as a man is hung by hooks through his skin, a needle slowly penetrating though his face and scalding water poured on him in what felt like Miike trying to outdo Audition’s famous scene all at once. I’m cringing and bringing my hands to my head now hours later writing this sentence. That’s only the first of many events including SPOILERS Kakihara cutting off a bit of his own tongue, Ichi cutting a man in half with a blade that emerges from his shoe, a man’s face stretched apart as people laugh over him, another face sliding down a wall (the effect for this is more laughable to be fair), a woman’s nipples being cut off before a man wearing fake dog ears, sniffs her crotch to catch the scent of the man he’s tracking (somehow it works), a man getting his hand trapped in Kakihara’s mouth when punching it as the mouth opens unnaturally wide thanks to the aforementioned Glasgow smile, and a man having his arm slowly ripped off END OF SPOILERS with plenty of gushing blood to go around.

The titular Ichi wears a strange all black costume (that feels like it was made for a Super or Defendor style movie) and SPOILERS is nothing more than a manipulated, possibly mentally challenged man with anger problems. He’s far from an innocent but watching Kakihara, who is constantly trying to get people to hurt him, and his attempts to get a disinterested and later crying Ichi (all while wearing an especially gaudy outfit complete with shiny pink top) to hurt him are darkly hilarious. END OF SPOILERS He’s almost a misdirect for the film itself as I didn’t especially care about him or really anyone who wasn’t Kakihara and once again Miike messes around with flashbacks even if they aren’t as poorly handled here. I admire his unwillingness to make things straightforward, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or enjoy it.

The last part of that sentence is really how I can sum up the movie. I can’t really say that I liked or enjoy the film and I found it deeply unpleasant but as a horror fan, I treasure the ability for a movie to be able to do that and I am genuinely impressed by it and most of the effects work. It’s a pure challenging your ability to watch and seeing what fücked up things it can get away with and nothing more. There could be some satire in here but I sure as heck missed it and I highly doubt the film cared much about that. This is very much not for the faint of heart and I can’t say I’d ever watch it again but I’m extremely glad I did. Miike made a far better paced and unsettling film this time around and I applaud the mad bastard.

Bonus Episode #20 – Splatter: Blood Feast (1963)
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

Thumbnail

I’ll confess here that even with the shot above that I took as Herschell Gordon Lewis’ career, I’ve never actually seen one of his solo films until today. The fact that he admittedly was only in it for the money certainly rubs me the wrong way, but his influence (even beyond the obvious in John Waters) is huge merely from the fact that his movies even existed. They challenged the standards of the time and paved the way for more talented filmmakers to come by and do something with it. He was also responsible for making Monster a Go-Go the horrendous pile of junk we all know and love so for that I will be eternally grateful.

Not even a three minutes in and we have a naked woman stabbed through the eye and one of her limbs hacked off as the camera lingers on the result. This technique is used repeatedly through the film with various parts of the body so that we can get a good look at all the red paint looking blood and fake looking innards coming out of the scantily clad women. There’s really nothing else up this film’s sleeve aside from a single whipping scene later on and it gets repetitive quick. The story concerns an Egyptian (played of course by a white man) preparing the titular feast to honor an Egyptian goddess, Ishtar (not actually an Egyptian goddess) which is a decent enough premise to hang your hook on. It even has a machete wielding killer which combined with the very slasher like plot calls to mind Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

The film is filled with terrible acting of all stripes from your typical overdramatics, to weird pronunciations and emphasis, to the amateur actors who just talk in a flat tone. There’s an organ heavy score that is more laughable than anything else. It’s only the blood that separates it from the kind of bad movie that would be featured on MST3K and while certainly gory for the time, it’s pretty tame now (and not just because of the films I just watched) or even by the standards of Night of the Living Dead later in the decade. Oddly enough, the gimmick that was used here of passing out vomit bags to the audience was later reused by Ichi the Killer which only feels appropriate considering how it feels like a direct descendant of Lewis’ work. It moves quickly and is interesting enough as a historical fragment, but as a film it’s not any good or worth seeking out.

Quick note: I’ve mentioned the streaming service Shudder before and despite a sizable catalog at only $4.99 a month, it’s not worth it considering out hard the site is to navigate and stream from. Thankfully you can access the plan and most of the movies through Amazon and I highly recommend using this (as I did for this film) to sign up for it instead.

Bonus Episode #21 – Sci-FI: Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)
Directed by Robert Gaffney

Thumbnail

“Futurama Entertainment Corporation Presents”

Fine IFC, have the middle of the Assault on Precinct 13 remake (a surprisingly decent film) on instead of the movie you say you will. Youtube is there for me. If you are wondering why a film with this title is under “Sci-Fi” and not “Frankenstein” it’s because there is no Frankenstein or his monster. I guess in a way it is reanimated life (they never explained where they got those human parts) with electricity (albeit atomic powered). Still, you can’t just say someone is a “Frankenstein” just because they are killing a bunch of people which is something the movie actually did. Even Frankenstein’s monster didn’t tend to attack everyone he saw so I really have no clue where they were coming from there. But hey “Frankenstein” does meet the actual monster (not that you can see the stupid thing or the fight through all the smoke) so points for trying to make your title work.

Basic story is aliens (who look identical to humans except some pointier ears and baldness probably from all that radiation exposure) come to Earth needing women (standard bad sci-fi stuff) and then start shooting the heck out of rockets thinking they are missiles. Honestly I think they just enjoyed doing it especially by the third or fourth time. For some reason this makes the humans want to deploy their android (which can’t even handle Florida humidity…) which at least leads to a cool shot of the android’s skin being peeled back to reveal a hybrid human and mechanical brain. The human looking android SPOILERS with the reveal he’s a robot being an early twist (why I chose to just spoiler this now I don’t know) END OF SPOILERS that is deserving of a far better movie.

The effects… they aren’t great. There’s quite a bit of very obvious stock footage that the film barely even tries to hide. At one point, SPOILERS the android’s face has skin removed on one side though the effect is incredibly obviously put on over his face (as are the bald caps on the male aliens for that matter) but I still like the effect with the circuitry and burned look. END OF SPOILERS They don’t even bother trying to make the aliens look unique and they wind up wearing generic spacesuits on Earth (yet they thing they can breed with human women…). I do love the moment of the female alien admiring and observing the captured human and I started to wonder the real reason she wanted women around (beyond propagating the species) and the right hand man is pretty great with all his smiling yes man behavior trying to ham things up a bit with his face but all they do is spend the entire movie sitting on the ship giving orders. I also quite liked the first shot of the alien monster reaching out of cell as if he’s trying to grab and destroy the camera. Then they repeated that shot every time and it lost all its impact leaving us with a stupid looking monster that looks like Ro-Man with the face of the bunny costume from Donnie Darko.

Still, it’s the right kind of bad movie. Quick moving and short with plenty to make fun of even if it is nothing special or memorable.

Complete Schedule