Judge Daryl Loomis warns you not to judge this DVD by its cover.
A vengeful curse turned a man into evil…
The combination of an evocative title, a bizarre premise, and a horror pedigree promised a delightfully lurid night of Japanese horror. It turned out to be one of the most misleading films I've ever come across, not to mention one of the cheapest. Everything is entirely on purpose, and the joke is on me.
Facts of the Case
Hundreds of years ago, Lord Sodom Ichibei (Takashi Urai) waits for his bride to walk down the aisle. As she emerges in her flowing white gown, she smiles at Sodom, but her face suddenly changes. Blood pours from her mouth and she collapses dead. Devastated and enraged, he hunts for answers, or at least a scapegoat, and finds them in two girls who have a dubious connection to the crime. Though tortured, they will not admit to any wrongdoing, so Sodom condemns them to die covered in snow at the bottom of a pit. With their dying breaths, however, they lay a curse on the Sodom family and swear to return the favor in the next life. Just then, Sodom finds out the real answer for his bride's death and, stricken by the horror of his deed, goes blind and transforms into a ruthless killing machine. Flash forward to the present day, and the curse has come to fruition. Another bride dies and the dark soul of the original Sodom enters the body of his young ancestor who becomes latter-day Sodom, killing his sister, who perpetrated this crime. Aghast once again at his evil deeds, Sodom vows to bring his sister back to life (presumably to marry her) and goes on a spree of violence and chaos to make this happen. Our murdered pair from the past has been reincarnated as a brother and sister team of investigators on the case of this monster. Can they fulfill the curse they laid on the family and destroy Sodom once and for all?
What I just wrote sure does sound like Sodom the Killer plays out like a lot of salacious Japanese horror/action crossovers. Everything from the box art to the menu screens made me expect this. What I got was so far different, and much of this movie boggles the mind. Yes, there is a lot of action and yes, there is a little horror. More than anything, though, this is an ultra-cheap spoof of the genre that first-time director Hiroshi Takahashi helped to popularize. Takahashi wrote the screenplays for the Ringu series, and the original was one of the most successful films in Japanese cinema history. Takahashi obviously has some horror chops. Given the director's pedigree, there's no doubt in my mind that he could have had a bigger budget, but he chose not to. Indeed, if the film had more money, it would have likely been an abject failure, just one more in the long string of derivative entries in a tired genre.
Instead, Takahashi delivers a unique product that lays its zero-budget cards on the table from the outset and doesn't make any attempt to suspend disbelief. The film doesn't break down the fourth wall; it was never put up in the first place. From the opening scene "hundreds of years ago" shot in a modern office basement, pipes and wiring included, to the blatant rear-projections of toy trains and planes exploding, Takahashi slaps you in the face with how cheap it is. No matter how it's made to appear, though, this is no amateur production. Every shot is calculated; every cheap detail is intended, with an eye to making it look as bad as possible. This sensibility sometimes comes across as condescending, but it has such a gleeful attitude. Everyone clearly had a good time making the movie, and it's easy to enjoy it right along with them.
A lot of this appeal comes from Takashi Urai's performance in the title role. The character of Sodom is a combination of Zatoichi, Dr. Mabuse, and Django, with elements only loosely threaded together. Urai plays the character with unhinged, over-the-top relish. He causes chaos throughout Japan using necromancy and economic inflation and running from scene to scene with no regard to what has come before. He and the other actors, many of whom play multiple characters while also pulling behind-the-scenes duty, put so much love into the film that it's really hard to hate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If movies were all about having fun, we'd all have made our own Citizen Kane by now. Unfortunately, a good movie also involves aspects like decent acting and a compelling story. Sodom the Killer contains neither of these facets. Yes, it's fun but, eventually, the winking and nodding at the audience gets tiresome, especially as the story falls farther and farther into absurdity. Worse than that, they hit you over the head so much with its cheapness that it feels like the viewer is the butt of the joke, which is only endearing for so long.
The other main trouble is Media Blasters' transfer of the film. The image is full-frame and shot on video, so displays a lot of the same problems of similar productions from their "Tokyo Shock" series. The black levels are murky and any bright color shows a significant amount of blocking, though there's very little edge enhancement that I could detect. The stereo audio track is acceptable, but nothing special and totally in line with the rest of the film, for better or for worse. The extras are sparse, with only a handful of trailers and a 12-minute featurette with the players and director talking about their intentions with the film for supplement, and none of it is very thrilling.
With a few friends and a couple of drinks, there are a lot laughs to be had in Sodom the Killer, but none of it quite connected for me. It's so self-aware that it can't be given a "so bad it's good" designation, and it is not accomplished enough to be considered good. It's an insane labor of love that tries way too hard to show off its lack of budget. Without the earnestness of Ed Wood or the self-seriousness of Godzilla, it comes across like your smart-alecky brother: funny sometimes, but it gets old quickly.
The film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and is thus not guilty. The court implores Takahashi, however, to use the skills he has clearly demonstrated for a higher quality production next time. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Featurette: Premiere of Sodom the Killer
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