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.
10/20/2016 – Sci-Fi: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1958)
Directed by Hajime Sato
Considering how many subgenres that fall under Sci-Fi-Horror that I’ve already talked about and there’s been scarcely a day that hasn’t dabbled in it at least a bit. In fact, I just got done talking about Frankenstein and its impact on both genres and originating the concept of the mad scientist that Hammer, AIP, and so many others loved. The kaiju genre frequently pulls from either or both the “from space” and “products of experiments” with the nature of natural horror titles often being the result of human experiments creating a version of nature that shouldn’t be as it seeks to obtain its revenge. Zombies tend to be split along the scientific (28 Days Later), the extraterrestrial (Night of the Comet) and supernatural (White Zombie) and that’s two out of three sci-fi, not to mention the Jekyll and Hyde story, and (sub-)subgenres I haven’t even touched on such as technological (though Pulseseems to be more supernatural), alien (Alien), or futuristic (also Alien).
Therefore, it seems almost futile to talk about the history of the genre without being repetitive or even giving an accurate outlook since it is such a broad genre. I will point out some of the films that I haven’t really discussed, most specifically aliens since it feels thematically appropriate with today’s film. Beings from beyond our world make for a perfect horror subject since not only do they represent the unknown, but ideally there is unlimited potential for creativity in creating monsters to terrorize your cast. The first aliens show up in Georges Méliès’A Trip to the Moon, it wasn’t until The Thing from Another World in 1951 that horror came into play. During the ‘50s sci-fi boom, other great (and frequently being remade years later as the definitive films of the genre) alien horror films came into prominence including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the kaiju film 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Blob, It! The Terror from Beyond Space (remade into Alien), Village of the Damned, and the true horror classic Plan 9 from Outer Space.
While not going away completely, it wasn’t until the first of these remakes in 1978 (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) was there any of real note being made since the horror element tended to fade away. Along with Alien (I sure have brought up this movie a lot but it is without question the most important and one of the best in the genre), they set the stage for a modern revival. Films such as The Visitor, The Thing(the other classic of the genre), Creepshow, Lifeforce (okay this one is more a goofy, but enjoyable misfire), Night of the Creeps, Bad Taste, Predator, TerrorVision (okay this one isn’t good but still highly recommended), The Blob, and They Live all tended to pay tribute to that ‘50s era in style or story, but with awesome pre-CGI era effects and are lessons in just how you handle a remake/style influence in regards to any genre. Alien horror wasn’t immune to the horror recession of the ‘90s with only a bunch of mediocre titles Alien Cubed, Body Snatchers, Species, Event Horizon, Mimic, and The Faculty with the Gamera trilogy being the lone standout.
Looking over the Wikipedia page on films featuring Aliens is just depressing after that (especially since I’m still not sure how to classify The Mist’s likely parallel universe creatures or even the creatures from Feast). There’s the instead ‘80s calling back (and Night of the Creeps reminiscent) Slither and a pair of action heavy entries with very mixed receptions (Predators and Prometheus) though I liked both and I guess Pandorum. We are really reaching by this point and while there’s no good reason alien horror movies should be disappearing, the high cost of special effects we expect from our sci-fi (especially those featuring aliens) precludes studios from wanting to dabble in horror at that price and I honestly can’t blame them. I feel that about covers sci-fi horror though some things (The Terminator, the Cronenberg and related films that I will hopefully get to talk about if I get to body horror, Cube) will always slip through the cracks.
It sure seems like I’m watching a lot of Japanese horror doesn’t it? The film opens on a plane flying into a mysterious blood red sky with birds constantly and bloodily flying into the plane, an awesome ominous opening which sadly the film quickly betrays by showing just what a mess it is. The plane gets hijacked by an assassin in a white suit and white gloves who seems to have wandered in from another movie all together. Of course nothing can really come of this since almost immediately A UFO appears over Tokyo and another causes the plane to malfunction and crash. They crash into a location which looks awesome, as if they just flew into hell itself and quickly find out that no rescue is coming. SPOILERS The film undoing this all by the end where it is revealed to just be a boring old hill and having the survivors stumble upon civilization in about five minutes. It’s not even treated as a cruel twist, just lazy filmmaking. END OF SPOILERS
We are also introduced to the rest of our cast. A psychiatrist who likes messing with people out of boredom including sending in a phony bomb threat. He’s also apparently capable of putting people into a trance using a candle to recover lost memories so maybe the filmmakers just aren’t sure what a psychiatrist is. There’s also a stupid American woman who uses the drinking water to wash her hands and along with the fact that the film has to repeat everything she says in Japanese as torturously slow as they can, I’d like to apologize to every foreigner who has had to sit through an American movie depicting nationals of them where we did this same shit. She also goes psychotic over losing her husband in Vietnam (after this is revealed she makes sure to yell this fact repeatedly) but I have no clue why everyone else agreed to help heal the freaking assassin who moments ago held them all at gun point, repeatedly. There is also a politician who continually and obviously betrays people and yet every time someone falls for helping them and are left with a stupid expression on their face like they can’t believe he did it for the 20th time.
The main enemy (despite what the movie wants you to believe the real villain is) is a somewhat metallic looking (almost T1000 like) blob enters people’s heads as their forehead splits open (probably the best part of the movie). This of course turns then into slow moving, invulnerable (though the fact that everyone just lets him walk up and only takes a shot if they can miss by farther wide than he is away might be the real truth). They can also just possess people without entering their heads if they feel like it, at one point possessing a woman to use her ability to communicate but don’t actually have her speak, they just kind of boom a voice out from nowhere while she stands there only to make her SPOILERS hilariously jumps off a cliff when they are done. END OF SPOILERS The vampirism on the other hand just involves the infected lightly nuzzling the victims neck as they get to show off their yelling and over acting.
With everyone trapped on the plane (except when they’re not and they just walk outside randomly and hang out after they say it’s too dangerous), a killer on the loose, and no supplies, you would think the film would be depicting some slow decay in to chaos. Well you’d be completely wrong since everyone in the cast goes crazy basically immediately (hell even before the plane crashed) descending into histrionics at the vaguest threat. There are a bunch of cutaways in still images engulfed in yellow of warfare in a not even trying to be subtle Vietnam metaphor (metaphor is far too nice a word) as the film seems to want to make a comment on how humans are awful cause of war but it can’t commit. END OF SPOILERS When they finally escape, the two survivors find bodies left where they stood as if this was Miranda in extremely varying sets of decay and I’m really starting to question what the aliens’ actual powers are. They seem to have as little or as much power to kill people as the plot demands, doing so instantly (as evidenced by the people frozen doing what they were in the middle of), but also having people drained of blood and others in fear. There’s a random shot of a nuclear explosion that I’m not sure if it is supposed to actually indicate anything happening since we never actually see the result of it. There is a giant alien invasion force at the end that turns the planet into a lifeless husk but yet the film still wants us to believe that humans are the real monsters and we have what’s coming to us yet it seems like the aliens are just doing this all to be dicks with no real goal in mind. END OF SPOILERS It’s a feature length bad Twilight Zone episode that seems lost on the moral part and even at a short length it feels repetitive with the lead repeatedly making the big sacrifice scene only to easily escape.
Visually the film has some good and bad points with the occasional psychedelic imagery counterbalanced by the fact that we are dealing with stereotypical spaceships engulfed in blinding light. I like how people are left to sort of disappear as they enter with a “modern” set design, squeaking gaseous aliens and a distorting the camera effect until they go an ruin things with one of their many hilarious musical stings. There’s a man very clearly walking behind the fire when he is supposed to be on fire and I mentioned before the shots which I’m not sure if they are supposed to be depicted going through him or near him. There’s enough in this film to bemoan the rest of the film wasting it, but this is the kind of crap that leaves me pissed off in the end and it’s unmistakably bad and too infuriating to really enjoy the weirdness.
Let’s let Samuel L. Jackson relay the moral of the story