Friday, February 10, 2023

Momoko wandârando sutorenji hausu (1986)

... aka: モモコワンダーランド ストレンジハウス
... aka: Momoco Wonderland: Strange House

Directed by:
Hikari Hayakawa

In October 2000, UC Berkeley graduates James Hong and Jim Young launched the website Hot or Not, which enabled anyone to submit their own photographs and then have complete strangers rate how attractive (or not) they were on a scale of 1 to 10. It was an instant success, attracting millions of people in just a few weeks and quickly rising to become one of the Top 25 most visited sites on the internet. I actually remember quite a few people I knew back in the day who were members and would obsessively check the average score of their photos throughout the day and all I could think was, "Why in the hell do you want to willingly subject yourself to this?!" Sure, everyone out there wants to feel like they're attractive, and most of us probably need some form of affirmation that we're attractive, but what score would one even need to prove it to themselves and pacify their own ego? Hey, an 8 may not be too low but it isn't exactly a 9 or 10 either, and a 7 means there are plenty of people out there who are presumably better looking than you are. As for those who received a 5 or lower, you might as well be ringing a bell in a cathedral somewhere, eh? Being as popular as it was, a number of HON knock-off sites would emerge, perhaps most notably Because I'm Hot, which would conduct periodic vote "audits" and flat kick you off their website and delete your account if you couldn't maintain at least a 7 average, which is another good indicator that we as a species should probably be destroyed.

All of that is fine and dandy, I suppose. No one was ever holding anyone at gunpoint and forcing them to use those websites, after all. Still I imagine there were a number of impressionable teenagers who really didn't know much better, spiraled into depression due to getting a low or average score and are now adults battling lifelong self-esteem issues. And, since Hot or Not's inception, we now have a whole generation of folks worshiping (usually completely untalented) social media "influencers" on Instagram et al who do little else but post photoshopped and heavily filtered "perfect" photos of themselves over and over and over again. Makes you wonder what these same folks did prior to social media's existence. Well, wonder no more! This video kinda sorta gives us an answer.

Momoco Wonderland: Strange House was the unholy spawn of the once-popular Momoco magazine, which was first published in 1983 and lasted until 1994. Momoco (meaning "girls" in Japanese) was basically little more than a photo showcase for young aspiring teenage models, actresses, singers and "female idols." Photos were acquired via talent agencies and through mail submissions by just about anyone. The editorial staff then decided whether to reject said photos or to promote the hopefuls in the magazine. Those deemed attractive enough to be featured were given a stamp of approval in the form of a membership number, kind of like how livestock get those tags on their ears. I wonder if any Momoco alum now brag to their grandkids that they were #3194 back in the day.

Momoco mag tried to branch out into other forms of entertainment with what was apparently very little success. TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, not Turner) hosted a Momoco Club TV series, which was like a variety program hosted by a comedian and featuring music and some of the "certified" girls in modeling sessions or skits, but it only lasted one season. The series was later issued on the now obsolete VHD (video disc) format, but no one has bothered reviving it since. We also got this 45-minute original video, which casts some of the girls in - what else? - a short horror film. Some sources claim the "talent" seen here were part of a J-Pop group that was also spawned from the magazine. While I was unable to actually verify that, it appears that some of these girls did indeed go on to singing careers. 

Ever since moving into a new haunted home, Rika (Noriko Murata) has been suffering from terrible hallucinations, like imagining someone trying to strangle her to death. Now with her parents away, she's left in the care of her oblivious older sister, Satomi (Yoko Tateno), who thinks kid sis is seriously blowing things out of proportion and laughs off her concerns. Instead of relying on her for support, Rika invites four of her extremely bland schoolgirl chums; Rituko (Shinobu Sannomiya), Kei (Shiho Takimoto), Mayumi (Mayumi Koyama) and Megumi (Rika Himenoki), over for a weekend slumber party. 

Later that night as everyone else is sleeping, one of the girls gets up to use the bathroom and gets pulled down inside a toilet. The following morning, the other friends (well, at least TWO of them, they kind of forget about the third one) get slaughtered in ways that include being eaten alive by a telephone and slaughtered by a stuffed rabbit come to life. A cop then shows up only to get eaten by the entertainment system. Just Rika and her sister survive the attack, but they then later find everyone who's been "killed" alive upstairs and stuffed inside closets, which is followed by an even more annoying "twist" open ending.

While I wish I had a lot of positive things to say about this SOV relic of times past, this is truly terrible in just about every possible way. The story is boring and basic yet also nonsensical, there's almost no attempt at characterization, the technical credits (especially the editing and sound) are abysmal and to say the acting is horrid is perhaps the understatement of the year, though the various dead-eyed, hands-over-mouth "shocked" reactions from the girls are pretty hilarious at times. The only redeeming thing here are a couple of fun bargain basement special effects.

I previously mentioned that this tape was 45 minutes long but I should specify that the horror portion is over at around the half hour mark. Following the film, we get a song, outtakes and a little documentary "picnic" with the performers. They introduce themselves, constantly giggle and bashfully look at the ground, answer questions about what kind of girls they are and what they're looking for in a boyfriend and pose in boring slow-motion modeling shots set to elevator muzak. Once the brief segment on each girl concludes, we're then given her identification number, height, weight and other statistics (!) It comes off like some weird singles ad but instead of consenting adults features girls in their teens who look to be around 14-16 years old and act even younger than that. Creepy.

Speaking of creepy, it's kind of amazing how something that features absolutely no profanity, nudity, sex or even implied sex can come off as pervy as this thing does. The girls are shown strutting around in miniskirts, short shorts, panties and skimpy nightwear and there are endless panning shots going up the lengths of their bodies and fetishistic, lingering close-ups of their legs, knees, feet, lips and other body parts.

The director, who also worked as a manga writer and reporter, made a number of other genre films, including the theatrical feature The Fury of Evil (1984) and the direct-to-video original film Evil Heart (1985). He also co-directed two volumes of the Go Nagai's Scary Zone anthologies (1989-90), which were also made specifically for the home video market. The one and only VHS release for this one came courtesy of Emotion / Bandai Media Corporation.

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