Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro (1968)

... aka: Body Snatcher from Hell
... aka: Body Snatchers from Hell
... aka: Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell
... aka: Goke: The Bodysnatcher from Hell
... aka: Goke the Vampire
... aka: Goke - Vampir aus dem Weltall (Goke - Vampire from Outer Space)
... aka: Vampire Gokemidoro

Directed by:
Hajime Satô

An airplane heading for Osaka runs into major trouble. For starters, a bomb threat was anonymously called in and the bomber may be on board with an explosive, which forces the pilot to change course and start heading back to where they initially took off from. Second, among the dozens of passengers is a well-armed assassin who's recently killed a British Ambassador and has intentions of hijacking the flight. Third, the skies themselves are an odd blood red color as something strange and abnormal is happening to the atmosphere, causing birds to go crazy and crash into the windows. Fourth, there have been recent sightings of UFOs all over Japan and the airplane gets to meet the unidentified luminous object head on as it passes overhead, immediately fries all of their electronic equipment and controls and forces them to crash land on an unknown island. And finally, once the plane itself is on the ground, the ten survivors of the crash discover the worst actual threat they'll be facing is one another. Why can't we all just get along?

The closest thing we have to heroes in this film are co-pilot Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida) and stewardess Kazumi Asakura (Tomomi Satô); a pair of normal, working-class citizens and also the only level-headed people in the group. Nearly every other character is either insane, violent, corrupt or filled with blinding self-importance, and it's all done with purposeful intent. Aside from the unstable bomber/terrorist and the sociopath hijacker, two men corrupted by our violent society, there's greedy weapons manufacturer Mr. Tokayasu (Nobuo Kaneko), who has no issue pimping out his wife Noriko (Yûko Kusunoki) if the money is right, Dr. Momotake (Kazuo Katô), a psychiatrist not above staging fake drama just so he can examine how others react, Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American war widow consumed with her husband's death serving in Vietnam. and Professor Saga (Masaya Takahashi), who's a specialist in "space biology" yet is ultimately of little use because some things just cannot be explained. Most telling of all is sleazebag politician Gôzô Mano (Eizô Kitamura), who views humanism as a weakness and proves numerous times throughout that he could care less about the well-being of his fellow man.

One of the above ends up running out of the wreckage and encountering a glowing, humming alien spacecraft, which has some hypnotic pull that lures him inside. Upon entry, the victim encounters a silver slime-like substance, their face cracks open right down the middle, the glob oozes inside their head and possesses them. From then on out, the host body literally feeds off the other survivors vampire-style, going right for the jugular and sucking out every drop of blood in their body. The culprit turns out to be a race of aliens called Gokemidoro from a planet far away who've been studying the Earth for quite some time prior to invasion and have come to conclusion the universe would be better off if we were all exterminated. Judging by the behavior of most of the characters - which serve as a microcosm of life on planet Earth - they may be right!

In many ways Goke is your standard 60s Japanese sci-fi flick. There are numerous corny moments, the dialogue is often extremely heavy-handed, the characterizations are broad, some of the acting is laughably overwrought and it begins to sag and become repetitive in the middle after an excellent opening sequence. However, the rampant cynicism about the human race that courses through the entire film and the palpable feel of uneasiness over the instability of its era make this slightly more interesting than others of this type. It's an extremely bleak glimpse at life during an unstable time, with asides to the then-current war in Vietnam, as well as mention of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, assassinations, terrorism and political and financial corruption. This is definitely not an uplifting movie nor is it a brainless one, though it perhaps could have benefited from a slightly more subtle and less preachy touch. The director (who passed away in 1995) was a big fan of Mario Bava and you can tell in regards to his attention to visual detail and usage of color.

Here in America, Pacemaker Pictures first released this on the drive-in circuit in 1977, where it was paired up with the sleazy Italian workhorse BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965). If you're going to watch it these days, I wouldn't bother with any release aside from the one currently being distributed by Criterion, who present a fantastic print with very vibrant colors and in its original language. They've also released it as part of a 4 movie set ("Eclipse Series 37") that also includes the Shôchiku Eiga releases The X from Outer Space (1967), The Living Skeleton (1968) and Genocide (1968, which was originally released in the U.S. as War of the Insects).


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