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Recently seen movies #57

June 3, 2008

Horrors of Malformed Men (Japan, 1969) – 4/5

Teruo Ishii’s ill-treated piece of movie history has a reputation as the most notorious Japanese horror movie ever made. This however is not due to the amount of sex and violence but rather because of the politics. Deformation was already a touchy subject in the post WWII Japan and the atmosphere didn’t get any more open minded around the time Horrors of Malformed Men was released. Ishii’s long time dream project didn’t come even close to being politically correct (content and name wise. The original title advices you to be afraid of deformed men) and fell victim to the new policies. A few weeks after its original release Toei themself pulled the prints from circulation. The first international screening wasn’t held until in 2003 in Italy, and Synapse’s 2007 dvd release marked the first time Horrors of Malformed Men was ever made available on home video anywhere.

The film opens in a madhouse where the lead character is harassed by crazy topples women (this is a Teruo Ishii movie alright). Nevertheless, Horrors of Malformed Men takes relatively long before it turns the full on insanity gear on. The first half is dedicated mostly to unfolding the mystery plot. Of course there’s an exploitative moment here and there – like a woman attacked by snakes while bathing – but the low amount of exploitation and shocks may disappoint some of the more impatient shock cinema fans. The storyline is however rather interesting to follow, and the true reward is waiting just behind the corner. In the beginning there’s also a small dose of very silly humour in one scene when Ishii makes fun of priests and doctors. Almost makes you wonder if Norifumi Suzuki visited the set.

Unlike many of Ishii’s late 60’s films Horrors of Malformed Men does not consists of individual episodes but is rather a combination of several Edogawa Rampo stories. A certain western science fiction classic also plays major role in the mix, but to avoid spoilers the title is best left unrevealed. The film stars Ishii reqular Teruo Yoshida. He plays a man who is wrongfully convicted to mental hospital. After surviving a murder attempt and escaping from the institution he becomes obsessed with solving a mystery that will later lead him into a new world of horror, dominated by a mysterious character played by the butoh expert Tatsumi Hijikata.

After setting the story for a good 45 minutes Ishii makes a quick turn from mystery thriller to disturbing horror. What follows is a 20 minute sequence of jaw dropping visual madness and grotesque visions. Although the film is not especially graphic some images could hardly be described as pleasant to look at. Later the film slows down again and goes into dialogue mode for quite some time but it doesn’t take away from the film’s impressiveness. The closing scene for example is legendary. As a whole Horrors of Malformed Men may not be as wild as some people expect it to be but it’s a fascinating film and a real diamond in Ishii’s filmography. Essential viewing for anyone interested in Japanese cult cinema.

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One comment

  1. Wow, you just made want to watch this as well. Up until now the gross title kinda scared me off, but now I’m curious.



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