Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Living Skeletons Never Die

Although I reviewed it on imdb in 2005, only recently has it been released in Japan on a beautiful DVD with a crummy, generic cover that suggests another Ringu flick; my initial review of the film was based on a fortunate VHS sighting.

The film is an extraordinary low budget horror film that was originally released by Shockiku in 1968.

To borrow from my review:

Made a decade before Carpenter's "The Fog", this is clearly that film's inspiration, and what glorious pulp horror it is.

A scar-faced pirate and his cronies gun down a dozen men and several stunningly beautiful women.

One woman grips the trouser leg of her killer as she dies, triggering a series of events that will see watery vengeance visited on the miscreants.

This has a mysterious fog surrounding a quiet coastal town...

... a haunted ship of the dead...

...a local priest who carries a terrible secret...

... and a ghostly, beautiful woman whose appearances strike fear into the hearts of evil men.

It is made with incredible affection for its subject matter and total sincerity. Not once does it wink at its audience or betray its genre origins. No, it is proud to be a pulp horror film.

There is some model work of a ship crossing the ocean shot through clouds that is both incredibly artificial and incredibly beautiful.

Some of the special effects are not exactly believable, but these are key to the film's charm.

The "living skeletons" themselves, though not expertly incorporated into the central narrative, are beautiful.

Highly recommended for true lovers of fantastique films.

Shockiku's transfer of the negative elements is superb.

The black and white photography of Masayuki Kato was always wonderful; on DVD it is luminous.

The cinemascope compositions are quite breathtaking.

The DVD is still in print, but I fear that it will not remain so for too much longer.

Unfortunately, it is director Hiroshi Matsuno's only feature film.


I don't know why Living Skeleton was not more widely distributed. It most definitely deserved to be.

Shockiku certainly pushed it to global customers.

The company's April-May "sell sheet' (below), which appeared in the long-defunct Movie/TV Marketing magazine, announced international screenings of the film, as well as screenings for Goke - Body Snatcher From Hell (a favorite of mine also), Genocide, Black Rose, The Day the Sun Rose, and Who Is Gomez?


  1. Wow this film looks fantastic - I must try and track it down.

  2. Excellent mondo macabro flick. I had no idea there was a DVD version.

  3. I wish more people knew about this film. It reminds me of CARNIVAL OF SOULS in its moody aesthetic.

    Matsuno actually made three or four other films (mostly jidai-gekis) prior to this I believe, according to the JMDB.

    GENOCIDE/WAR OF THE INSECTS is a pretty good pulp Shochiku programmer from 1968 too. Not as well made as GOKE or LIVING SKELETON but with socially conscious writing just like GOKE.

    Also noteworthy from Shochiku that year (1968 was a great year for Shochiku with their three horror films plus Fukasaku's BLACK LIZARD) is REQUIEM FOR A MASSACRE. Nasty murders and rapes and moody black and white photography, though the only place I've found it is via a VHS tape that looks like the contents of a urinal quality-wise.

  4. LV -- you won't be disappointed. Still available from cdjapan and amazon.co.jp


    d -- Japanese releases are not touted much (by the Japanese) outside Japan.


    JLC -- I get the CARNIVAL OF SOULS comparison.

    I'm very surprised to hear that he made more films. Can you point me to the correct jmdb page? There are several sites called that. Thanks for correcting me on that.

    I like GENOCIDE quite a bit.

    REQUIEM FOR A MASSACRE I know of but have not seen. I must hunt it down.

    I like Fukusaku's BLACK LIZARD, but prefer (by a small margin) the Inoue version of '62. Both are very good, though.