The 'Gokemidora' (that name is like something ripped from old time Dr.Who) is my kind of alien -- a blue, putrid, gooey puddle who creeps across a spaceship floor like runaway diarrhea . Shapeless, perhaps attractive on his own planet, mean-spirted, evil, he defines what a monster -- a thing! -- really is. I love the Gokemidora. I love him for his otherworldly ways.
Goke - Body Snatcher From Hell (When Horror Came to Shockiku collection; Criterion) , is perfect Japanese pulp, a film so nutty, so inventive, so gosh darn entertaining, it plays like an unearthed Ed Wood film from an alternative universe where Ed insisted on solid production values, eschewed stock footage, pressured his writer to strengthen the characterizations, but forged ahead, as Eddie always did, with audacious concepts that were truly his own.
Of course, Ed didn't direct Goke; that credit goes to Hajime Sato, the talented director of one of Japan's genuine (almost) unseen gems, the '65 Ghost of the Hunchback (aka House of Terrors aka Kaidan aidan semushi otoko; Toei); a film whose only Western release was in Italy. For a while, a crappy VHS of the Italian release did the grey market rounds, and that's how I caught and fell immediately in love with its utter strangeness, insanity, and thick mood.
For big hunchback fans, it's the cat's meow.
The Italian release is dubbed.
Below is the stunning colour poster:
Horror and sci-fi meet and greet in Goke, a true original that fuses outrage at the war in Vietnam (and war itself) with a survival story not unlike Ishiro Honda's brilliant Matango, released five years earlier. After a plane encounters shabby weather, a distressed, red sky, a terrorist threat, and a close call with a light resembling the outer glow of a saucer, the pilot manages to crashland the craft on a rocky plateau where creepy horrors lurk. The feel for atmosphere and suspense that Sato demonstrated so well in Hunchback is in plentiful supply in Goke. While finessing a strong science fiction scenario, Sato lays on the scares and surprises with masterful strokes, a rich choice of colors, and an exotic location. Stunning cinematography by Shizuo Hirase, who also shot The X From Outer Space and Genocide (two other titles included in this box set), and fine special effects and miniature work, combine to produce a stellar work truly deserving classic status.
The film's climax features a superb shot of dozens of glowing alien spaceships hurtling towards a compromised version of our home planet. It's a grand, epic ending that Ed Wood would have applauded. Of course, by '68, (when Goke hit screens) Ed had had his heyday (relatively speaking), and his finest works, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Bride of the Monster, were already nine and fourteen years old respectively. One watches Goke with warm appreciation for its purity and innocence, and laments how terribly calculated and bloated so much sci-fi and horror is these days.
The fourth film in this wonderful box set is the hypnotic Living Skeleton, a film I've covered on this blog several times already over the years, and surely an influence on John Carpenter's The Fog.
A link is here: http://phantomofpulp.blogspot.com/2009/07/living-skeletons-never-die.html
The Criterion version is, for the first time, officially subtitled in English, while the transfer appears similar to the Shockiku Japanese DVD I've reviewed.
If you're curious about Goke's true origins, the film doesn't go there. Although he's a body snatcher in the tradition of flicks like The Thing and The Hidden, he's most probably not from hell. Unless hell is running trips to Earth via spaceship these days.
Plan to spend an evening with the 'Gokemidora'. I won't say he doesn't bite. That would be denying his true nature.