One year after the brutal murder of a family, an old woman and her silent granddaughtercome to live with some relatives. We know from the opening that these are the killers, and thatbad times lie ahead. This is especially true for the wheelchair bound Yasu. His father is gone forthe week, his siblings are likewise mostly absent, and they ignore his warnings that the newarrivals are weird. As soon as the house is empty of any who might interfere, the torture sessionsbegin. M…anwhile, a reporter working on the older case and the recent escape of the insane oldwoman is slowly closing in on the truth. The question is whether he will figure things out in timeto help Yasu, and if he does, whether he will be of any use.
The feature-length debut from writer/director Shogu Fujii has some rough patches. Yasu’ssister is perhaps the most stupid character in the entire history of horror (and that’s sayingsomething), and the final revelations make less sense the more you think about them. On theother hand, Fujii puts his Hitchcock influence to good use. Unlike what is far too often the casewith Brian De Palma, who recreates Hitchcock scenes and plots holus bolus, Fujii shows thathe has understood why Hitchcock’s films work so well, and is more interested in usingthe master’s techniques, which he does very well. The result is that his conclusion, though itself arather De Palma-esque recreation, actually makes the surprises fresh again, in spite of theirimprobability. The torture scenes are excruciating, often using the sound of agonized screams toconvey just how horrible things are, but in other cases showing the audience no mercy at all andgiving us the act in graphic visual detail. Not for the faint of heart, then, but a compellingdebut.
The menu is a deafening aural assault, but the sound on the film itself is considerablyweaker. The surround elements are minimal, with only the music really getting any play from therear speakers. Said music is rather cheesy synth for the most part, sounding like a track from ahorror film twenty years older, but at the climax its thunderous chords do build a raw power. Thesame is true for the gurgling screams. There may not be much by way of environmental effects,but there is no distortion either, and the effect is quite chilling.
The picture is where this release is at its weakest. The blacks and contrasts are variable.Some of the night sequences are strong, but at other times the blacks are closer to greay, andduring the fade-to-blacks between scenes, the black breaks up into red — a rather appropriate, butunintentional, effect. The colours aren’t bad (and are apparently a notable improvement over thefilm’s earlier Japanese DVD release), but there is a fair bit of grain and pixelation, particularlyduring the climax. The image is widescreen, but not anamorphic. This creates a real dilemmawhen expanding the picture for 16×9 monitors, because the subtitles appear beneath the picture,and so disappear during a normal zoom. The picture is definitely watchable, and far from adisaster, but there is room for improvement.
Shugo Fujii’s commentary is engaging and informative, revealing much about how the filmwas made and what informed his decisions, as well as laying out very clearly the Hitchcockinfluences. The director’s early short features (four of them) are included too, along with somedeleted scenes (which appear in raw form and without subtitles). The storyboard gallery evolvesat its own pace but can be sped up with the remote. Also here: the director’s bio and filmography,and trailers for Living Hell, Battlefield Baseball, The Witch Who Came fromthe Sea and Gemini. The menu is fully animated and scored, and is probably the mostdisturbing one of its kind since the original DVD release of The Exorciset.
A raw, powerful horror film, marking the director as one to watch. Judging by the take-no-prisoners trailers for other releases, Subversive Cinema is a DVD outfit to watch too. Picture andsound aren’t perfect, but this is a strong initial release, and I think we can expect great thingsfrom these people. The DVD, at this writing unavailable on Amazon, can be purchased atwww.subversivecinema.com.
Special Features List
- Director’s commentary
- Four Short Features: “Blackhole,” “Seesaw Game,” “Grief” and “Dead Money.”
- Deleted Scenes
- Biography and Filmography