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1988, dir. Toshiharu Ikeda
105 min. Not Rated.
Starring: Miyuki Ono, Aya Katsuragi, Hitomi Kobayashi, Eriko Nakagawa.

Review by Noel Wood

Take one part Italian splatterhouse flick, one part low-budget American slasher movie, and one part Japanese thriller. Add goofy soundtrack and lots of bad foleywork. Stir and Simmer for 110 minutes. Slashes 6-8.

EVIL DEAD TRAP, which is connected in no way to the Sam Raimi trilogy starring Bruce Campbell, is a grotesque blend of horror movie styles, and one of the standouts in the resurgence of Japanese horror in the past couple of decades. But this film draws more influence from Dario Argento and David Cronenberg than any of its countrymates' work. Not to say that the end result isn't decidedly Eastern, but this one definitely crosses a lot of international and cultural borders to bring together a film that is, for better or for worse, like nothing you've seen before yet derivitave of everything that comes before it.

As our story begins, we meet Nami, the high-maintenance host of a late-night tabloid show called "Late Night with Nami". Nami sports thick eyebrows and a Julia Louis-Dreyfus hairdo, and has no connection to Conan O'Brien. Like in THE RING or LOST HIGHWAY, she receives a mysterious videotape in a bubble-wrap sealed envelope one night and decides to watch it. In a scene reminiscent of VIDEODROME, she witnesses a gruesome snuff film, which shows a woman being meticulously tortured and having unspeakable acts being performed on her skin and eyes. While Nami gets lots of tapes sent to her, this one is chilling enough for her to investigate. Coincidentally, the senders have atached directions to a warehouse, so she readies her crew and heads out to get the scoop on the origins of the tape. Of course, any normal person would call the cops, but if there's one thing that the movies have taught us (and this film proves it's not just a Hollywood thing, this aspect knows no cultural bounds) it's that reporters are greedy twits that only care about their ratings and are willing to put lives on the line to get them.

The crew takes a drive out to the middle of nowhere to find the warehouse, and I do mean the middle of nowhere. Common sense would have you believe that the action remained in Japan, but it appears as if the trek is being made through the Serengeti and the Outback on the way there. Maybe they just took the long way, I'm not exactly sure. I do know that they spend way too much time in the car, babbling about some nonsense that doesn't translate so cleverly when it's presented in subtitled form to a gaijin. But anyway, they finally arrive at this warehouse in the middle of nowhere, and as you can probably expect, the bodycount begins to accumulate.

In the process, we get a variety of different methods of offing the victims, in ways that again seem to transcend genres. The violent scenes range from the subtle to the ridiculously over-the-top. A girl is assaulted by spears and is shown writhing in pain in graphic detail. A woman narrowly escapes a MouseTrap-like rigged crossbow assault only to see an anticlimactic end. A woman fights off the advances of the world's most ineffective rapist, who also manages to let her and the rest of us know of certain plot details. Oh, he meets his end by getting shot in the head. And of course, there's the completely irrelevant and gratuitous sex scene, because as we all know, nothing is a better catalyst for hot sex than abandoned warehouses in the middle of nowhere.

What's odd about all of this is no so much the wonder of who's doing it, but wondering why. We're introduced to a mysterious stranger who pops up at many opportune moments during the story, warning Nami that she's not in the safest place imaginable. All the while, a hooded figure is offing people that are, in true horror movie fashion, so stupid that they probably deserve it. After Nami's entire crew is pushing up daisies, she has the opportunity to escape, but suddenly has this overwhelming black cloud of guilt, and feels like it's her duty to go back and redeem herself from the stigma of leading a carload of people to their demise.

And then, things just kind of get silly. Like I said, it's no secret during the movie as to who is responsible for all of the atrocities, but why. After about the hour mark hits, we finally get some insight, and man, is it some goofy stuff. The goofiness kicks into high gear as we approach what we think is the climax, with hellfire and brimstone being tossed about, the killer being set on fire, his ashen body being hurled to the ground, and then the real evil bastard revealing himself in the form of some bizarre freak baby thing. About every horror cliche imaginable is employed here, including the see-it-from-a-mile-away corpse springing back to life when your back is turned sequence. And then, when we finally think it's over, we get a scene from ALIEN and the last special effect the filmmakers could afford when the budget ran out.

EVIL DEAD TRAP starts out with a fresh concept and some clever suprises, but quickly deteriorates into a splatter-by-numbers flick that we've been seeing for thirty years now. The final arc of the story is a different tale altogether, but comes as too little too late to redeem the pedestrian middle act. And, as I mentioned, it's pretty goddamn silly. The movie is aided by a soundtrack whose minimalist aspects could well be ripped from one of its Italian counterparts but still has a distinctively Japanese feel to it. Oh, and if you're looking for the loudest, most obnoxious foley work you've ever heard, you've found your movie. I know what they were trying to accomplish by drawing out the senses, but it really just plays out as being more annoying than frightening.

Still, it's a fun movie, especially for aficionados of the genre (or genres, I guess) that it fits in to. Sure, you're going to see elements of a lot of familiar movies (plot elements ripped from FRIDAY THE 13TH, CARRIE, and even BASKET CASE come to mind) but nobody said that this type of movie had to be strikingly original, just so long as it serves up its quota of real live scares and/or stomach-churning gore. EVIL DEAD TRAP certainly accomplishes that goal.

EVIL DEAD TRAP was so successful in its native Japan that it spawned two sequels. I'm not exactly rushing out to find them, but I'll gladly recommend the first one for any fun night of splatter movies. Halloween or not. Just remember that you will probably have to read a little, because as far as I know, there's no dubbed version available on DVD. That idea alone may frighten you more than the movie itself.


All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

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