Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

Among the things I got for Christmas, the one I can say I am happiest with is the "When Horror Came to Shochiku" box set. This is entry #37 in Criterion's ongoing "Eclipse" series, and here focuses on the genre efforts that the well respected Japanese studio Shochiku made from 1967-68. Needless to say, it's something of a treasure trove for fans of offbeat genre films. Without further adieu, let's look at an film in this set.

Among many things, Japanese genre films are known for political and social commentary. Toho's Kaiju films dealt with the horror of radiation, capitalist greed, pollution and the price of science going too far. The genre films of Takashi Miike have dealt with broken families, sexual politics and attitudes towards homosexuality. Films like "Suicide Club" deal with parental flaws and generational gaps. The list goes on, really.

So in that regard, it makes sense that after the lighthearted fun of "The X From Outer Space", Shochiku studios next genre outing would be a more serious minded film with a noticeable political slant. For this, they went with "Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell." You can tell this from the get go, with mentions of a European ambassador being assassinated in Japan. Anyways, during a plane hijacking, it's noticeably that the sky has mysteriously turned red, and after it crashes, the survivors notice something-and that something is a UFO. As it turns out, the hijacker in question is now being controlled by a blob-like alien parasite that turns it's victims into vampire-like killers. Why? Because the Gokemidoro species from space has something in mind for earth, and it isn't pleasant...

As I said, there is some noticeable political undertones here, mainly from the cowardly behavior of Senator Mano (Eizo Kitamura.) While most of the cast tries to find a way to survive or defeat the alien menace, he just sips booze and in the process, had some darker motives for the plane flight. It's obvious that the film has some issues with political corruption in it's home country, but it take it's biggest shots at the Vietnam war thanks to a story about an American flight attendant (Kathy Horan, who isn't exactly the best actor) whose husband was killed during the war. Granted, resentment for the war wasn't something new, but it's interesting to see the issue tackled, even if it is handled a bit clumsily.

Apart from that, "Goke" is a fun, atmospheric science fiction/horror hybrid that brings to mind the works of Mario Bava (especially his film "Planet of the Vampires.") The whole thing is laced with dread and hopelessness, as the viewer can feel that no matter what, things are not going to turn out alright. Adding to this is the color scheme and cinematography, which proves that such things can be a real booster. The prominent reds and blues that saturate the screen bring to mind not only the aforementioned "Vampires", but also what would happen if Dario Argento's debut film had been a science fiction film instead of a giallo. That out of the way, there's still plenty of model effects and campy visuals to satisfy fans of these kinds of movies. Just don't expect the playful spirit of the studio's prior film. This is mostly bleak stuff.

For fans of old school sci-fi/horror films, "Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell" is a good time that has enough downbeat atmosphere and kitschy visuals to appeal to both camps.

Rating: 8/10

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