Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Toshiharu Ikeda's Evil Dead Trap (1988)

Late-nite media personalities, at least in horror cinema, have it bad: poor radio DJ Stevie Wayne, atop her lighthouse station, in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980); sweet and unsuspecting host of television show, "While You Were Sleeping," Ángela in Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza's [Rec] (2007); and Nami, also a late-nite t.v. show host of a sensational news show (of clips of horrific news stories), in Toshiharu Ikeda's Evil Dead Trap (1988). Stevie really gets thrown for a loop: she's just spinning her records and keeping the sailors tuned in with her seductive voice, while the ominous fog comes in across Antonio Bay bringing in ghostly figures from past. Ángela just wanted a little action, beyond folks eating, sleeping, and watching t.v.; she didn't expect at all the horror which awaited her within an apartment building in the wee hours of the morning. Nami, however, should know better: she accepts an invitation to horror. Here is what her invitation looks like: a videotape sits at Nami's editing deck in a envelope with a label which reads, "For those who suffer from sleepless nights." Thinking its a work tape, a submission from a viewer, Nami pops it into the VCR. The initial imagery is from a person's p.o.v. while driving: shots of tollway exits, tunnels, roads, etc. leading to a location. Nami stops her fast-forwarding when the tape shows a bound woman, and now the camera seems to have a knife attached to it: a penetrating cut to the woman's abdomen followed by an extremely graphic piercing and slicing of her eyeball. After the killer (and camera person) finishes the victim with a final stab, the camera lingers on the disfigured face of its victim. In a static shot, the image pixelates into Nami's face. Nami's a little shocked.
Nami wants to investigate, but her producer attempts to dissuade her.
It's probably not genuine.
We don't have the money in the budget for an investigation.
Fine, then, do what you want, but I'm not responsible.

What does Nami expect to find?
A corpse, which would equal some serious and needed publicity for the show.
Nothing, because it's a hoax.
A killer, maybe.
Toshiharu Ikeda's Evil Dead Trap (1988) is a low-budget exploitation/horror film, which became quite (in)famous in the pre-Internet era, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. Its low-budget roots are glaring: its central focus is a genuine location, seemingly an old army base in Japan once used by Americans. Its main building and curtilage seem quite large. And spooky. It looks like the type of place where kids do not want to play, but film makers fall in love at first sight. Takashi Ishii, the screenwriter (and writer/director of many of an (in)famous exploitation flick, himself), pens his script around it. Nami and four of her colleagues decide to investigate the location, and within ten to fifteen minutes of Evil Dead Trap, the five have arrived, using the video that Nami received as it was intended: a map. The five immediately split up: Nami goes in one direction alone; Rei, Nami's stylist, and Kondo, a production assistant, also a budding couple, go in another; and Akio and Rya, the final two in Nami's production team, go in another. Rei and Kondo begin squabbling. Apparently, during their first date, Kondo had a little too much to drink. Rei shrugs him off when Kondo apologizes. "It seems as if everyone stopped working," says Rei, "and just left," as she investigates the location's workshop. Kondo is nowhere to be found. In a closet, Kondo pops out wearing monster teeth and gives Rei a scare. She pushes him down and Kondo gets up excited. Whether its the location, Rei's aggressiveness, or their seclusion, Kondo and Rei decide to shag. Rei cleans up, and Kondo splits, leaving Rei all alone in the workshop.

Akio and Rya are snapping photos and chit-chatting in a spooky, rubble-filled room. Apparently, Nami really does need this story. Being a woman in the media with an all-woman production team means Nami has to work twice as hard to be successful. Rya leaves the building and wanders off alone, hoping to find their vehicle. Rya wants to go home. Akio finds the main location shown on the videocassette and enters.

Nami finds the corpse of an animal, riddled with maggots, in another building. A mysterious stranger appears, wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses. The dark stranger asks Nami what she is doing here. She's a television reporter and investigating a story. Who is he? He's looking for his brother, who is somewhere in the building. Don't take any risks, says the stranger, and be careful for what you go looking for. The stranger wanders off, and Nami and her team reunite, minus one.
Story, setting, and location are simple, but Ikeda's execution (and violence) are unique in Evil Dead Trap. The score by Tomohiko Kira is effectively well-done and evocative of Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975) and John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). Nearly every murder sequence is completely different; the killer doesn't have a particular motif, so each murder seems out of a different film. All are extremely bloody and very disturbing. Several shifts in tone and atmosphere are disorienting: slow and quiet in daylight, slow and quiet in a dark tunnel, fierce and intense and quick, one-time sensual and sexual, and often graphic and explicit. Ikeda's visuals are disorienting as well: his camera doesn't often match the action but goes against it: for example, one character will be seen going down the hall, while the camera is running the other way and capturing the action; or in a scene, where the crew spies something down a long corridor and the camera zooms in and pans out (making the crew and what it spies collapse together within the frame). Ishii ties the location together with as many exploitation elements as he can imagine, while Ikeda delivers an incoherent and multiple style visually, atmospherically, and viscerally. The ending is mind-boggling. Over twenty years later, Evil Dead Trap stands above most slashers which have come after, so its notoriety is unsurprising. As a caveat, Evil Dead Trap is still perhaps too much for a lot of viewers, so beware.As I write this entry during the witching hour, I am glad that even with its most liberal definition, an amateur blogger cannot really be considered part of the media. Just writing about Evil Dead Trap gives me the willies, and it is a film "For those who suffer from sleepless nights."


Mr.LargePackage said...

Hans, a man wiser than myself once told me that if you look for horror and death, you'll find it. He also told me that dogs can't look up, but that is what made him large and in charge.

Hans A. said...

Mr. LP--how true that is, brother. How true.