Sunday, 10 July 2011

Evil Dead Trap (1988)

Country: JAPAN

Shiryô no wana
Tokyo Snuff

Evil Dead Trap is an absorbing oddity that takes it inspiration from a myriad of western sources. Unusually for a Japanese horror film it pays little heed to its own indigenous traditions and history, preferring to take its cue from the expectations of westernised genres. The screenplay by Takashi Ishii could have conceivably been set anywhere and it gives the film a strange lack of cultural specificity which only confirms the artifice of the whole proposition. Ishii went on to much more interesting things as a writer and director. Films such as the Takeshi Kitano starring Gonin (1995) and the unusual arty rape/revenge thriller Freeze Me (2000). The director Toshiharu Ikeda remains something of an obscurity in the west. Evil Dead Trap is the only film of his that had reasonable trans-national distribution. It is incredibly easy to see why it achieved this. The title itself is a reference to Sam Raimi’s irreverent gore soaked debut The Evil Dead (1981), and the film abounds with the echoes of other filmmakers and films. Perhaps the most notable influence here is the hyper-stylised baroque fantasies of Dario Argento. This inter-textual plundering includes a scene in which maggots fall from a ceiling onto an unsuspecting woman’s head lifted from Suspiria (1977), the use of a colour scheme that evokes both Suspiria and its sequel Inferno (1980), and the repetition of a musical theme courtesy of composer Tomohiko Kira. Unfortunately shoddy prints and patchwork distribution have lessened the effect of Ikeda’s carefully constructed pallette. But the film still emerges as highly inventive and incredibly gory. Qualities that have helped it to become something of a cult film.

Miyuki Oné plays Nami Tsuchiya the host of a late night reality TV show which deals in extreme material. When she receives a mysterious videocassette the unmistakable spectre of David Cronenberg’s monstrous meditation on subversive media Videodrome (1983) inevitably rears its head. The material on the cassette is ghastly in the extreme, it is a snuff video depicting a young woman being sadistically tortured. One scene of ocular trauma is especially difficult to watch, but provides the obligatory nod to the eye violence of Lucio Fulci. Naturally (for a dumb horror film) this inspires Nami to head out on the road to locate the scene of the crime, and in another concession to horror film stupidity she has a number of eager colleagues wishing to join her. By looking out for landmarks seen on the video the TV crew are able to locate the abandoned military base where the sick deed took place. The base is a nightmarish relic of the cold war and is an excellent space in which to play out the cat and mouse aspects of the slasher film plot. The location has a suitably desolate and despairing air. The ceiling and floors are apt to cave in, bits of disused machinery become lethal death traps, and the overriding atmosphere of rust and decay adds further melancholy. Once there the quartet of morons decide this is just the place to split up and explore…I don’t think I need tell you what happens for the next forty minutes!

It almost goes without saying that the development of plot and character is not a major concern of the filmmakers. This is another thing Ikeda’s film has in common with Dario Argento’s. But like Argento, Ikeda is particularly adept at composing impressive set pieces which never fail to surprise due to their bizarre and gruesome creativity. When it comes to dealing in death, it seems there are no limit to the filmmakers abilities. It should be noted that Evil Dead Trap is a vicious and very unpleasant little film. If the vivid special effects of Takashi Ito are not enough we also have a terribly protracted rape scene in a car to contend with. In the best fashion of exploitation cinema this sequence adds nothing to the narrative whatsoever. For two thirds of the film Ikeda creates a tense atmosphere that is alive with pregnant menace. The misstep comes with the decision in the final third to bring in the supernatural. By the standards of slasher psychopaths Masako Abe (Aya Katsuragi) must rate as one of the barmiest.

He is a schizophrenic maniac who talks to a brother that doesn’t exist and has an obsession with his dead mother. The split personality conceit is quite interesting for the psychoanalysts out there, but the film makes an error when it decides to make literal what we are initially led to believe is a neurosis. Masako manages to give birth to his non-existent brother! The vile pulsating foetus is vaguely reminiscent of the ugly blob in Basket Case (1982), and the close nit relationship of these sadistic siblings offers a further echo to Frank Henenlotter’s grindhouse classic. The psychoanalytical undertones are typically self-indulgent and self-conscious (another similarity, if one needs anymore, to the films of Dario Argento). But ultimately Ikeda’s bag of tricks become irritating rather than exciting. A kill scene that is lit with the flash bulbs of a camera for example is nauseatingly stupid. I would say that Evil Dead Trap is just about deserving of its cult reputation. But the incredibly daft finale, and the need of the director to show off, sullies the experience somewhat.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. Great review as always, Shaun. For whatever reason, I've skipped over these movies since reading about them in '95. Not sure why as they seemed what I was most interested in at the time. The second and third films are supposedly not as good as this one. I see the Synapse DVD is still available for part 1.

  2. Cheers Brian :-)

    I've not seen any of the sequels, and this film doesn't quite inspire me enough to seek them out. A potential influence on SAW though, but whatever the language, I just can't seem to get along with slasher films. Apart from a few special exceptions of course.

  3. It's good to see a review of EDT that isn't completely dismissive. I love this flawed film and it's very flawed sequel. Nice work!

  4. Thanks Richard, I appreciate it greatly. If a film is going to fail, which EDT largely does, at least try and make it an interesting failure. EDT is a very interesting failure. I'll try and get around to the sequel, but that very much depends on the status of its distribution in the UK. I don't hold out much hope.

  5. This movie has been on my Unearthed Films to-see-list for a long time. I'm glad someone watched it for me. There always seems to be a harsh rape scene thrown into these types of Japanese films, especially from the late 80s to 1990s. One such captivating film that happened to have a nasty scene like that thrown in was Rubber's Lover. Not really a good movie, but very watchable in an odd way I'd say.

  6. Thanks for commenting Mr. Xploit - Yeah it's well worth unearthing. The rape scene is a peculiar and grubby moment without context that seems totally gratuitous and out of place. I haven't seen RUBBER'S LOVER, so I'll have to try and unearth that one myself.


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