Monday, 4 July 2011

Goke, Bodysnatcher From Hell (1968)


Directed by Hajime Sato

Ordered to return to Haneda Airport after a bomb is reported to be somewhere aboard a passenger plane, an assassin makes his presence known and demands they change course for Okinawa. Shortly after the sky turns a blood red color and a number of suicidal birds dive into the windows, the plane encounters a UFO. Crashing in a remote location, the varying personalities bicker over what to do till the assassin comes to and escapes into the night. Happening upon the glowing UFO, the hired killer is beckoned inside where his body is overtaken by a blobular creature. Now possessed by an alien force that thrives on the blood of its victims, this space vampire proceeds to stalk and suck the blood from the remaining survivors who wait desperately for a rescue party to arrive.

Hajime Sato, the helmer of the irrefutably silly, but highly enjoyable super hero movie GOLDEN BAT (1966) and the middlingly goofy TERROR BENEATH THE SEA (1966) is the mastermind behind this grotesque anti-war allegory from Shochiku. While those two films had a very young Sonny Chiba in the lead, Teruo Yoshida of Teruo Ishii's groundbreaking JOYS OF TORTURE (1968) and the controversial HORROR OF MALFORMED MEN (1969) leads the way here as Sugisaka, one of the planes pilots. Hideo Ko is also notable as the hitman who is death personified decked out in his white suit and dark sunglasses. Once he's subjugated by the Gokemidoro (the alien invaders), he is the bringer of a different kind of death--by sucking the blood from their intended victims. These space vampires, upon taking over a host body, do not leave puncture marks, but merely suck away at the neck till their quarry turns pale within a matter of seconds. For these bloodsuckers from outer space, there's a host of less than honorable characters to choose from whether it be shady politicians, creepy psychiatrists, assassins, or unstable widows who've lost their husbands in Vietnam.
To call GOKE bizarre is a bit of an understatement. Predating the AIRPORT disaster movie series and feeling like an extended episode of the Japanese TWILIGHT ZONE styled TV show OPERATION: MYSTERY, this science fiction/horror thriller accomplishes quite a lot with what was obviously very limited resources. The special effects are often mesmerizingly surreal and quite well done. The opening shots of the blood red sky give the impression the plane has descended into hell. The other effects shots are a multi-colored cacophony of nightmarish sights and sounds that resemble the work of Mario Bava who appears to have been a major influence not just in the visual palette, but in the films plot. Fans of the Italian maestro of the macabre will no doubt draw comparisons with both Bava's photographic style and his PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965). The shots of the shapeless monstrosities entering and exiting through the ripped open skulls of their human hosts are grisly as are the scenes where the discarded corpses turn to ashes, blowing away in the wind.

The first 45 minutes of GOKE are deftly handled. From there, the film fluctuates between campiness and a genuine sense of dread. The anti-war sentiment is glaringly obvious and even more so once the aliens make their intentions known. While the bombings of Japan are touched upon, the conflict and conflagration in Vietnam are an oppressively heady subject here as well. One of the most blatant instances is when a pilot is shot in the arm and his blood drips down on the cracked photo frame of the American woman's dead husband, a soldier in Vietnam. Enhancing the ugliness of man's folly, the actions of the stranded humans and mankind's propensity to destroy himself give the perception that WE are the villains and not the aliens.
Occasionally stumbling when the limits of the scenario offer nowhere else to go, the script manages to enliven things a bit during the stunningly depressing finale. The payoff here is incredibly shocking and may leave some viewers dumb-struck. The horrifying denouement recalls earlier Japanese apocalyptic fare, but with a sci fi slant and even looks forward to the even more downbeat PROPHECIES OF NOSTRODAMUS (1974), a film that's still banned in Japan today. But where that film is a warning of what will happen, this picture ends in outright cataclysm culminating with an eye-opening shot of what appears to be global extermination of the human race. Hajime Sato's movie is frightening and engaging, but also occasionally campy. It starts strong and ends stronger all the while possessing a fascinating approach for condemning events of the day and of the past.

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