My notes on the Japanese slapstick horror Jigoku no chimidoro Muscle Builder (Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell). Available on DVD from Terror Cotta on April 24.
This 62-minute gorefest is touted as ‘the Japanese Evil Dead’ – skipping over the Evil Dead Trap franchise of the ‘90s – but it’s more like the Japanese Equinox or Winterbeast … a home-made, one-step-up-from-a-fan-film project that director-writer-star Shinichi Fukazawa shot in 1995 but didn’t finish until 2009, though I’d suspect the bulk of work with the very small cast was done on the original shoot (in home movie grainy 8mm) and Fukazawa tinkered with the gore/monster stuff off and on before finishing the thing just in time for it to blend in with a smattering of retro video nasty efforts from the US (eg: The Devil’s Rook) as a pastiche of a form Sam Raimi wasn’t taking that seriously in the first place. Apparently, this release is a 2012 cut that differs from the 2009 version – and it’s down to some future article in Monster! to tease out the variations between editions.
It opens with a marital argument that leads to murder, as a nagging wife’s corpse is concealed in a small, not-that-atmospheric home which reminded me a little of the cramped, everyday old dark house of Thundercrack! Thirty years later, the couple’s son Shinji (Fukazawa) – a fitness freak and body-builder – returns to the house with a journalist (Asako Nosako) and a psychic (Masaaki Kaji) and is bothered by the spirit of his mother, who possesses people and causes inventive dismemberment which is depicted through strikingly effective, violently non-realistic claymation and ketchup. A typical creation is a blue-faced living severed head with a hand attached to its neck-stump. Our hero finally decides to take on the spooks with his personal weapons – a set of lifting weights – and much head-squashing and eyeball-popping commences.
It’s a thin story to spend seventeen years of your life on (I’m hoping Fukazawa had other things going on during production), and makes surprisingly little of the oedipal angle that the ghost mistakes her heroic son for her cheating husband and persecutes him (the ghost is just a regulation angry spirit rather than the monster mama of Braindead). Performances are enthusiastic but shrill enough to make the brief running time merciful. It’s a curiosity rather than a ‘real film’, but there are enough lo-tech horror effects to keep viewers entertained and it’s over with inside your average lunch hour. The sleeve image is by Graham Humphreys, which captures the tone of the film – though not perhaps its scuzzy look.