After experiencing this film, Judge Dylan Charles will never complain about that missing left pinky toe again.
Banned for Decades! The Most Notorious Japanese Horror Film EVER Made!
Every time a DVD cover extols how shocking a movie is, I become wary. Usually it turns out the movie was banned in some small Midwestern town and it's no more shocking than, say, an episode of The X-Files. And this is problematic if only because it misleads folks into thinking they're about to watch a snuff film, drawing one kind of audience (people who enjoyed Hostel) and chasing away everyone else. Horrors of Malformed Men is not tame, but when compared to today's shocking films it's a gentle horror movie.
That's not to say it's bad however. Just not, you know, ban-worthy.
Facts of the Case
Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida) is a medical student who finds himself in an insane asylum with no memory of where he's from or why he's now locked up. Following a trail of clues, he discovers an island where a madman has been busy playing god and reshaping the island into his own image. How Hirosuke ties in with this island is fairly shocking stuff. Not necessarily ban worthy, but pretty shocking nonetheless.
I want you to imagine that The Island of Dr. Moreau (the book, not the movie with Marlin Brando in a muumuu) and The Wicker Man (the original one, not the one with Nicholas Cage) had a baby. And that the baby was Japanese for whatever reason. And that'll give you a good idea of what Horrors of Malformed Men is like.
We start off staring into the wild staring eyes of a madwoman, who laughs insanely. The camera drops down to reveal breasts. And a knife. This also prepares you for what most of the movie is going to be like. Crazy people, naked women and pointy things. What follows is a maelstrom of lunatic woman spinning around our hero, Hirosuke. We're thrown into things with no real warning, no real preparation. This shows us what life is like for Hirosuke, who seems to have no memory of what has happened to him up to this point.
The first fifteen or so minutes speed quickly along as Hirosuke attempts to figure out what's going on. Teruo Yoshida gives us a sympathetic face, a fairly stable rock in the middle of all this lunacy. And then it all…slows…down. Once Hirosuke attaches himself to a family, he then begins to dawdle. His earlier frantic need to figure out where he came from disappears and he's willing to kick it back and enjoy all the ladies who are flocking around him.
The plot splits and splits again, bringing up more and more mysteries for Hirosuke to try and figure out. And then it all ties up together once Hirosuke reaches the island. The fact that Horrors of Malformed Men manages to tie together so neatly and bring a satisfying resolution to all the plot elements is impressive. Considering that the director Teruo Ishii actually pieced the plot together from multiple short stories by Edogawa Rampo, this is even more impressive.
At times the film's surrealism can almost be overwhelming. When Hirosuke finally reaches the island, there's a barrage of bizarre imagery as the malformed men (and malformed naked women) make their first appearances.
The very last scene is the weakest part, where I actually burst out laughing (it involves severed body parts and a fireworks display). Which shows my own morbid sense of humor. What could have been a subtle, almost beautiful ending, becomes over-the-top and ludicrous.
The commentary is not my cup of tea. They spend less time talking about the movie and more about Teruo Ishii's career. While it's nice to hear a bit about what the director did beforehand, I'd rather hear about the movie that I'm actually watching at the time. There are also long gaps where the talking just stops. I was even worried at one point that there was something wrong with my computer and it had switched audio tracks on me, but it was just an exceptionally long pause.
The Ishii in Italia featurette is, well, Ishii in Italy. It's like watching his home videos. Not something I'm terribly interested in. It's only toward the end that we get some information on Horrors of Malformed Men. Malformed Memories is a little more interesting as two filmmakers talk about both Ishii and Rampo and how they've been influenced by their work.
Aside from a few pacing problems and that last scene, Horrors of Malformed Men is a wonderful horror film that is at times bizarre and other times exceptionally creepy. It's not for everyone, but if you liked The Wicker Man you might enjoy the bizarre freakiness of Horrors of Malformed Men. Hell, just watch it, you'll have fun.
Horrors of Malformed Men is not guilty, but the marketing team is fined for the most excessive hyperbole of all time!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by film critic Mark Schilling
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