OCTOBER 19, 2010
The problem with seeing a movie in a sub-genre you’re not too familiar with is that you don’t know if the one you’re watching is good, bad, or par for the course. I can speak with some “authority” that Halloween represents the best of the suspenseful slasher movie, that Poltergeist is a terrific example of a haunted house movie... but I have no idea how Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl measures up to the other films in its sub-genre, because I think this is the first one I’ve watched.
I’ve seen a few 80s/early 90s films at the New Bev that have a similar kitchen sink approach (I Love Maria, for example), but there seems to be a new breed of splatter action/comedy movies, including this, Tokyo Gore Police, The Machine Girl, etc. that I have completely ignored so far, beyond watching the trailers. Based on this one, it’s just not really my type of thing – it seems like “forced” weirdness as opposed to genuine batshit nonsense like Hausu. So you have science teachers dressing as kabukis, and a girl using her disembodied arm as a propeller to fly around, and a group of girls cutting their wrists for fun (they have a club!)... but it just seems like something they thought would be funny instead of anything significant to the story. Maybe there’s a cultural connection that I am missing, but I never felt like I was missing a joke with Hausu or some of those Grindhouse viewings (most of which I enjoyed).
I think the problem is that directors Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu start the film already cranked to 11 and thus have nowhere to go. The end battle is pretty fun, but it’s also reminiscent of some of the other battles in the movie. It should be a big spectacle that pulls out all the stops, but it seems we’ve already seen that sort of thing several times. It’s exhausting, really – and this is coming from a guy who likes Armageddon and Con Air. Every now and then there would be a fun gore gag or inspired bit of madness (the droplets of blood becoming pointed weapons, for example), but more often than not I was just kind of indifferent to the movie. It didn’t offend or insult me, but it just wasn’t particularly engaging either.
The narration by Takumi Saitô, who is at the center of the film’s title-promised battle, doesn’t help either. Maybe it’s just the dubbing (for some reason, the Japanese mix was only in stereo, whereas the English was in full 5.1? I like my surround sound, dammit!) but it was very distracting and flat. Nothing should ever remind me of the movie Animals, but that’s exactly what Saitô's narration was doing. It sort of pays off for the moment he realizes his place (or lack thereof) in the grand scheme of things, however – perhaps they should have used a “less is more” approach to this aspect of the film. In fact, the film as a whole could use better editing; there are a lot of clunky transitions and shots that go on for too long. The slack editing makes some of the fights feel less frenetic than they should, not to mention allows time for the effects to be revealed as “not that great”. Cut away before we notice the lousy compositing!
But it’s certainly amusing at times, and worth a look if you’re in the mood for something different (especially if you, like most males I know, enjoy the sight of Japanese school girls doing crazy shit). It’s short enough to keep it from being any sort of inconvenience, and there’s almost always SOMETHING going on that can be considered “action”. It’s broad and garish, sure, but I have to applaud the enthusiasm. And there’s a couple of great laughs in the movie, particularly when a teacher begins talking to his class about the “Ju-On remake called The Grudge”.
And I also liked that, ultimately, neither of the girls are particularly heroic. Usually with this sort of thing we’re led to side with one over the other (such as Alien vs. Predator – the Predator was a “good” guy), but here we’re sort of on Vampire Girl’s side, only to discover she’s kind of a selfish bitch. So it’s sort of the Changing Lanes of Japanese splatter movies.
The disc comes with an hour or so of behind the scenes material, which is split into two pieces for some reason. The 2nd one is longer but better, as one of the actresses takes us through pretty much the entire shoot, narrating what is otherwise largely “fly on the wall” footage. It’s pretty interesting to see how much their sets differ from ours – everyone seems to be having fun and really appreciative of each other (and the camera crew). No surly union guys or actors hiding in their trailers! There’s also a press conference from the day the film opened in theaters, which could have been edited down a bit but again, is interesting to see how they handle these sort of things in Japan. Here, press conferences are very cold and dull. But this is pretty loose and candid – at one point everyone has a good laugh about the director insisting on shooting a certain romantic scene with a POV shot so he could pretend the actress (half his age) was saying those things to him. The trailer is also there, if you want most of the highlights.
So I leave it up to you guys – is this one of the better examples of the genre, or should I be watching something else? And furthermore, should I even listen to you? You’re the ones who kept telling me to watch Gozu, which a. didn’t exactly love and b. wasn’t a horror movie in any sense. I guess it evens out with me telling you to see The Hitcher or Black Xmas.
What say you?