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Eclipse Series 37: When Horror Came to Shochiku (The X from Outer Space; Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell; The Living Skeleton; Genocide) (Criterion Collection)
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Following years of a certain radioactive rubber beast’s domination of the box office, many Japanese studios tried to replicate the formula with their own brands of monster movies. One of the most fascinating dives into that fiendish deep end was the short-lived one from Shochiku, a studio better known for its elegant dramas by the likes of Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. In 1967 and 1968, the company created four certifiably batty, low-budget fantasies, tales haunted by watery ghosts, plagued by angry insects, and stalked by aliens—including one in the form of a giant chicken-lizard. Shochiku’s outrageous and oozy horror period shows a studio leaping into the unknown, even if only for one brief, bloody moment.
Four-DVD Box Set Includes:
The X from Outer Space When a scientist crew returns from Mars with some space spores that contaminated their ship, they inadvertently bring about a nightmarish Earth invasion—after the spores are analyzed in a lab, one escapes, eventually growing into an enormous, rampaging beaked beast. An intergalactic monster movie from longtime Shochiku stable director Kazui Nihonmatsu, The X from Outer Space was the first in the studio’s short but memorable cycle of horror pictures.
Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell After an airplane is forced to crash-land in a remote area, its passengers find themselves face-to-face with an alien force that wants to possess their bodies and souls—and perhaps take over the entire human race. Filled with creatively repulsive effects—including a very invasive bloblike life-form—Hajime Sato’s Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell is a pulpy, apocalyptic gross-out.
The Living Skeleton In this atmospheric tale of revenge from beyond the watery grave, a pirate-ransacked freighter’s violent past comes back to haunt a young woman living in a seaside town. Mixing elements of kaidan (ghost stories), doppelganger thrillers, and mad-scientist movies, Hiroshi Matsuno’s The Living Skeleton is a wild and eerie work, with beautiful widescreen, black-and-white cinematography.
Genocide The insects are taking over in this nasty piece of disaster horror directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu. A group of military personnel transporting a hydrogen bomb are left to figure out how and why swarms of killer bugs took down their plane; the answer is more deliriously nihilistic—and convoluted—than you could imagine. Also known as War of the Insects, Genocide enacts a cracked doomsday scenario like no other.
This quartet of '60s-era features from Japan's highly regarded Shochiku Company offers a panoply of low-budget genre pictures that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, often within the same movie. Best known for their art-house efforts by legendary directors like Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, Shochiku also delved briefly into horror and science fiction in the late '60s, undoubtedly spurred by the significant box-office returns enjoyed by Toho and Daiei with their giant-monster movies. Shochiku's effort in the kaiju field, The X from Outer Space (1967), is a deliriously weird but naively charming blend of suit-mation mayhem (in the ungainly form of bug-lizard-chicken hybrid Guilala, who returned four decades later in Minoru Kawasaki's even stranger Attack the G8 Summit) and pulp rocket ship thrills. Its harmless camp appeal offers a brief respite before the back-to-back chills of Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell and The Living Skeleton (both 1968); the former is an unsettling survivor story about a group of plane-crash survivors preyed upon by a sluglike alien with world-domination plans, while Skeleton is an atmospheric black-and-white ghost story about the restless spirits of a freighter's murdered crew who seek vengeance on the pirates that attacked their ship. Drenched in pop art color schemes (and costumes), Goke also rivals Ishiro Honda's Matango for its downbeat conclusion, while Skeleton--arguably the best film in the set, and probably least known to American audiences--unfolds like a languid nightmare with its striking, expressionist set pieces and surprising flashes of grisly violence. Apocalyptic freakout Genocide (also known as War of the Insects, 1968) is an unrestrained mélange of atomic and ecological terrors with heavy-handed political overtones and a dash of mad science in its story of the search for an American plane carrying the H-bomb that was brought down by a swarm of mutant insects. The film has a simmering dash of the tensions that existed between the United States and Japan in the postwar years, but it's largely trampled by over-the-top performances and the out-to-lunch premise. Fans of vintage Japanese science fiction and horror will mostly delight in this lesser-known foursome from the Criterion Collection's budget-minded Eclipse Series, which also includes informative liner notes by writer Chuck Stephens. --Paul Gaita
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I have already forgotten The X From Outer Space (where's the crew of the Satellite of Love when you need them?) and Genocide was a painfully preachy nature-run-amok flick that isn't worth your time.
This a fantastic collection of largely forgotten Japanese horror/scifi from the 60s and 70s and I'd recommend it to anyone. Lots of cheesy goodness here.
I didn't really care for the other movies, some were a little too icky for me. I did enjoy "The X from Outer Space".
Obviously, these are Japanese films with good English dubbing. The DVDs came on high quality pressed discs.