(A.k.a. THE JAPANESE EVIL DEAD; HOUSE OF THE EVIL DEAD; JIGOKU NO CHIMIDORO MUSCLE BUILDER)
British DVD distributors Terra Cotta have been quiet of late. With the industry being in a state of flux and similarly small companies folding, I was growing concerned about one of our best exponents of Asian oddities. So it's fair to say I met the news of a new DVD release from them, via their horror-specific Terror Cotta range - with no small amount of glee. And what's more, it's THE JAPANESE EVIL DEAD. Wow...
The film begins in a ramshackle Tokyo house, where a young man (director Shinichi Fukazawa) is busy fending off an attack from his knife-wielding wife. He overpowers her, runs the blade into her chest and sets about prising the floorboards open in order to bury her body in the cavity beneath. As he dumps her seemingly lifeless body under the floor, complete with a necklace of clearly sentimental value, she suddenly awakens and attacks him again, all the while cooing "you belong to me"...
We then cut to thirty years later. Naoto (also Fukazawa) is busy in his apartment, working out with his weights. He takes a break from flexing his muscles to answer the 'phone. His ex-girlfriend Mika is on the other end of the line. She's now a journalist and wants to capitalise on the success she's been having with her article on haunted locations. Remembering that Naoto has a photo of the house his late father once owned, and which is purported to be haunted, she's now getting in touch in the hope of gaining access to the now-derelict building.
After meeting one afternoon for a spot of reminiscing and an impromptu sermon on how smoking cigarettes can ravage your looks, Naoto casts instinctive reservations to one side and agrees to escort Mika to the house. After all, his parents died three decades earlier so he's kind of curious to learn more about them if possible.
In no time at all, Mika is driving them up to the house. She also brings a psychic by the name of Mizuguchi along for the ride.
"We're being watched" Mizuguchi asserts upon first laying eyes on the house, "I can sense something is watching us". Despite his gut feeling telling him the place is playing host to immense evil, the trio venture inside and take a look around. Well, if nothing else it's a shithole. "You can keep your shoes on" Naoto quips as they move from room to room.
The place certainly looks spooky. Or, if you're an estate agent, no doubt you'd say it "has character". Entering the bathroom, Mizuguchi feels a stronger supernatural presence. More, he actually sees a ghostly hand appearing on Naoto's shoulder. Before he can say anything, a clock falls from the wall and onto Mizuguchi's head, knocking him out. Mika and Wakabayashi decide to leave with their friend - alas, their car's engine has died. Besides, when Mizuguchi comes round, he insists that he stays and explores the place some more, hoping to confront the female spirit he now knows resides there.
Naoto and Mika wait outside while Mizuguchi re-enters the house. Twenty minutes later, they feel that they should check if he's okay. Of course, he's not. This is where things really heat up and BLOODY MUSCLE BODY BUILDER IN HELL starts living up to its title.
Basically, the spirit of Naoto's father's lover - the woman we saw going haywire in the prologue - has returned to claim her revenge. Given that Naoto is the spitting image of his dad, the evil spirit - which possesses human victims so it can use their bodies to violent ends - is Hell-bent on killing him and Mika. Thank goodness, then, that Naoto has been diligently working out lately: his muscles are put to good use as those around him become possessed/zombified and the madness escalates to fever pitch.
I'm not going to give much more away - this whole endeavour is barely over an hour in length, after all. But I will say that from the 27-minute mark onwards this becomes a riot of breathless action set-pieces, excitingly over-the-top music and some of the most enjoyably crude practical gore seen on the screen since, well, THE EVIL DEAD.
One of the first gore gags involves a blade being forced through the back of one character's skull, popping their eye out of their face. When the blade is retracted, the eye goes back into its socket. It's not remotely convincing, employing a combination of stop-motion animation and rather clumsily applied make-up, but you will be clapping and beaming from ear to ear from this moment forward, I promise.
There's a decapitation which resembles the one from FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN in terms of unconvincing Grand Guignol-esque splendour. A subsequent bodily-dismemberment-by-axe sequence is clearly ripped off directly from Sam Raimi's seminal gorefest, albeit here it looks like it's being re-imagined by Herschell Gordon Lewis in the early 70s (yes, I realise that's technically not possible). Later on, we get some hilariously trashy - and righteously gory - monster transformation scenes which are on par with the cartoonish excesses of THE STORY OF RICKY.
In other words, this film rules. Once the initial exposition is done with, events play out in a fluid, brisk manner. Performances are energetic but just straight-faced enough to prevent this from descending into utter farce. Don't get me wrong, it's fun from start to finish and there are plenty of funny moments to be had - most of which will have you scratching your head wondering whether or not the humour is intentional. But the balance between horror and comedy is handled well, Fukazawa ensuring the gore, sense of threat and ominous background music are never far away.
It's not a remake of THE EVIL DEAD. But it does shamelessly rip it off (the axe hacking, a later bout of demonic eye-gouging, the climactic bloodbath). More so, it develops a love for EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN during its third act: at one point Naoto is attacked by a disembodied foot; there's even a well-edited sequence in which he discovers a shotgun in the basement, loads it up with bullets and then the camera zooms in on him as he curls his lip and scowls "Groovy".
There's very little information available about this film online. All I know is that Shinichi Fukazawa writes, directs and stars, alongside Asako Nosaka and Masaaki Kai. It's a Dragodon Pictures production and, apparently, stems from 2009. This latter fact is amazing if true, as this film has the look, feel and sound of something from the late 1980s. It never once feels contrived in doing so - there's no fake distress or grindhouse tunes - but its basic FX work and mega lo-fi finish (shot on Super-8 by the looks of it?) truly seem out of step with virtually everything else made this century. Even the score is hideously dated, in a pleasurable way. Just listen to the 80s rock playing over the opening and closing titles!
Yes, BLOODY MUSCLE BODY BUILDER IN HELL is all kinds of fantastic. Unless you're looking for decently budgeted, polished horror thrillers with credible special effects and modern production design. If so, stay far away from this ... and miss out.
We were sent an early test disc to review. As such, it contained the film alone - no menus, extras etc.
It did, however, allow navigation through the film by way of 12 handset-accessed chapters.
As for the presentation ... Well, the film looks like dirt a lot of the time. It looks like a decades-old no-budget flick that's being viewed on nth generation VHS. It's clearly been shot this way (not tampered with in post-production; as mentioned earlier in my review, no such efforts appear to have been made to give this flick a vintage vibe - it just happens to have been made on really low-grade materials). As such, some exterior scenes look blown-out by over-exposure to sunlight, while darker scenes often exhibit a faded look. But, do you know what? It doesn't matter. This is one film which benefits from looking cruddy. And despite everything, you can still perfectly see all that's unfolding on screen: the blood is red, the ghoulish skin-paint is luminous blue, Fukazawa's muscles do their job etc.
The original 4:3 ratio is adhered to in this window-boxed presentation. At 62 minutes and 50 seconds in length, this is the uncut version of the film.
Japanese audio is given the 2.0 treatment and is problem-free throughout. Optional English subtitles are easily readable at all times and I only noticed a couple of typing errors.
BLOODY MUSCLE BODY BUILDER IN HELL is as trashy as they come, and I loved every minute. I believe this is the first time this film has been made available with English subtitles and I urge you to support Terra Cotta by adding this gem to your collection as soon as possible. You need it for your next film party.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Terror Cotta|