FEBRUARY 17, 2013
As with yesterday's Fiend Without A Face, I took advantage of Hulu's free Criterion weekend to watch a movie I can't afford to buy due to the company's ridiculous pricing. But actually, for them Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is a bit of a steal, since it only comes in a boxed set with 3 other movies and retails for about 60, or 15 a movie (less on Amazon). None of the movies have any extras of note, however, so you're not getting any extra value, and for that price you can get 150 movies from Mill Creek! Not a single Criterion release will entertain you as much as Cathy's Curse.
Goke is a Tarantino favorite (the ridiculous red lighting in the Bride's flight to Japan in Kill Bill was inspired from this film), but I have to wonder if it's an influence on Carpenter as well, as it follows one of his favorite scenarios - a bunch of folks trapped somewhere and facing off against a common enemy. In this case they are the passengers on a commercial airliner that has the absolute worst luck in the world: there's a hijacker, a terrorist with a bomb, and birds keep hitting the windows, smearing blood on the windows and rightfully freaking everyone out. It's basically a relief when the aliens show up and cause the plane to crash (quite safely! A few people die as a result but as depicted via miniature, it's very smooth and efficient, all things considered), because I suspect another 5 minutes in the air would have produced 2-3 MORE problems for the flight crew to deal with; maybe they were out of coffee too.
It's not long after they crash that the aliens attack, though they're helped by the constant panic of the passengers. The hijacker guy takes a hostage and runs off (where?), discovering the alien in the process and being infected. It basically turns him into a vampire/zombie thing with a penchant for biting necks, but unfortunately it doesn't "spread" like a zombie movie - he's our only villain until the final reel. Apparently, the actor had to leave the production and thus the alien finally exits his body and infects a new host, letting us see the cool effect (and a decent dummy head) of the alien oozing out of the vertical slit on the hijacker's face. It sort of looks like silver toothpaste as it oozes out, and then takes a bit of a Blob like appearance as it crawls around looking for a new victim - it's a shame we see the effect so sparingly. Most of the action actually stems from avalanches, which occur quite regularly - it's like the earthquakes in New Nightmare where I had to wonder if someone behind the scenes was out to launch an inexplicable smear campaign against the damn things.
Of course, if everyone just stayed in the plane (or went in the opposite direction from the infected hijacker, who doesn't seem to be blessed with any super-speed as a result) the movie would be over, so in the fine tradition of Stagecoach and (the same year's) Night of the Living Dead, our protagonists fight each other more than they do the damn alien. Most of the drama comes from a politician who is also an incredible asshole, making even Cooper from NOTLD look noble at times. He berates everyone, constantly complains that he's important and thus should be rescued, bangs his friend's wife (yes, on the plane), etc. And there's no water, so when he drinks whiskey and burns his throat, he complains even more. I don't know if he's a parody of any actual politician of the time, but either director Hajime Satô or one of the screenwriters definitely didn't think too highly of his type - there isn't a single moment in the movie where he's even remotely pleasant or humane.
His buddy is no better; he produces a canteen of water and then pours it out to get back at him, as if he was the ONLY one on the plane that needed it. They also have a lengthy argument about a weapons contract that the politician was supposed to help secure for the other guy, and while it goes on forever it actually plays into the alien's motive - humans are so busy trying to kill each other that they realized that their goal of wiping us out was going to be easier than originally planned. I'd say it's like in Halo 4 when you see the Prometheans fighting the Covenant and you just hang back for a bit and let them weaken/kill one another for a while before swooping in to take down the rest, but that would make you the genocidal alien villain, so that's no good.
The rest of the group is more civil; it's these two and the other "villains" that cause all the problems and keep everyone on edge. It's a pretty good mix; there's the noble pilot, a helpful flight attendant (a "stewardess", back in the day), a scientist that will of course explain everything, an American widow whose husband was killed in Vietnam (more war backdrop - there's even a couple of red-tinted photo montages of war atrocities), the weapon manufacturer's wife, etc. The co-pilot probably would have survived too, but he hilariously just keeps standing up in the cockpit when things start getting hairy instead of, you know, sitting down and being the goddamn co-pilot. At first I was kind of disappointed that the hijacker became the alien villain, since it might have been more interesting to send off some anonymous passenger and force him to become part of the group, but once I saw how much they all fought without him it's probably for the best. Hell, even the American lady gets into arguments and she doesn't even speak the same language.
Speaking of which, this is a bit sloppy - sometimes they understand her and vice versa (she even understands the alien when he lays down his plan), other times a translation is required. And then only a couple of her lines are subtitled in Japanese while most are not - where do they draw the line? And if her husband was killed in Vietnam (she's got his belongings) why was she flying out of Japan? Seems like they added in an American to add another problem (language barrier) and get some more war talk in there, but forgot to consider the specifics or do it logically. It's all good though; I enjoyed the war allegory, and even though it was tenuous I don't think enough horror movies use Vietnam as a backdrop - World War II gets all the glory!
And that's my only complaint, really - it can be a bit slow at times, but I enjoyed this one a lot. It's by far the most coherent Japanese horror film I've ever seen (not counting Godzilla sequels) and despite the goofy alien blob monster it still had something to say, and the ending is a knockout. Plus it looks gorgeous, and restored my faith in subtitles after the Guard Post debacle. Winner all around!
What say you?