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Thursday, October 12, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 12: GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

As Air Japan flight 307's crew faces birds committing suicide by flying into the plane, thanks to an unexplained phenomenon that turns the sky blood-red, they must also contend with sorting out a bomb threat and an armed hijacker (Hideo Ko). But as if all of that were not enough, they cross the flight path of a UFO and are forced to crash land on an uncharted, uninhabited island. 

An unwanted close encounter.

Only nine people survive the crash, with the presumed-dead hijacker suddenly sitting up and bringing the number up to ten. He takes a stewardess hostage at gunpoint and escapes onto the island, only to run straight into a parked flying saucer. He turns to flee but is compelled to approach the ship.


As the terrified stewardess watches from behind a boulder, the hijacker enters the spacecraft and immediately has his forehead telekinetically split open. A silver/gray, pulsating, blob-like life form enters his body through the new cranial orifice and possesses him, after which he disappears.


"You may call me...Vulva-Face!!!"

Hearing a radio bulletin stating that no trace has been found of their plane and that all attempts at rescue have been called off, the survivors must work together to stay alive, which is not going to be easy because every one of them, with the exceptions of the co-pilot (Teruo Yoshida), the stewardess, and a cute blonde American war widow (Cathy Horan), are all either idiots or outright self-serving assholes. Among the survivors is a psychiatrist who theorizes that while mankind fights among itself with senseless wars, hostile space aliens will use that distraction and stage a stealthy invasion. That theory is proven true as the possessed hijacker, now more or less a space-vampire, gets to work on draining the hapless humans of their vital fluids.


Feeding time.

Feigning death, the hijacker/alien allows itself to be brought into the plane, where it feasts upon the film's most obnoxious character (Nobuo Kaneko) and takes the man's wife (Yuko Kusunoki) as the next host body for one of its compatriot invaders.

Speaking telepathically through the newly-possessed female, the aliens identify themselves as the Gokemidoro, who hail from "a universe far from Earth." The Gokemidoro have had their eye on our world for some time — previous sightings of UFOs are chalked up to being our first encounters with the Gokemidoro — and are now in the active process of full-scale invasion, with the complete and utter extermination of mankind as their goal. Stating that we have already turned our world into "a monstrous battlefield," the aliens blame us for their choice of Earth as their conquest objective, since our own in-fighting distracted humankind from believing that UFOs were a clear and present threat. Having thus explained themselves, the aliens deem the human woman no longer of use, so they vacate her body and pitch it off of a cliff, and upon rushing to her corpse, the survivors find that her body is now as desiccated as that of a mummy.

Locking themselves in the hull of the crashed plane, the survivors opt to pick one of their number to be bait so they can actually witness a vampire do its thing, all in the name of science.


The invader stalks...

...and preys.

The survivors are picked off one by one until only the co-pilot and the stewardess remain, and they defeat the alien by dousing it with previously foreshadowed jet fuel and setting it alight.

The invader seeps out, vanquished by flame.

But, in a ludicrous "twist" ending, it turns out that the plane did not crash on some deserted island after all. Instead, the plane ended up within wandering distance of a major city, and the last of our survivors find themselves on a highway packed with cars, each of which contains the dead victims of the alien invasion. As they venture into the city, they find everyone is dead and hear the aliens announce that humanity is done. As the camera pulls away from the Earth, we see an armada of flying saucers approach the world as its new occupants.


There goes the neighborhood.

While Japanese sci-fi movies were certainly no strangers to the American/western market, straight-up horror films from the Land of the Rising Sun seldom played in the States, and when they did they were usually deemed the sort of highbrow fare that got relegated to "art" theaters. Films like ONIBABA and KWAIDAN may have seemed too culturally inaccessible for western tastes, so instead we were deluged with giant monster movies, a genre that Americans invented but that the Japanese very much made their own and arguably improved upon and codified. Toho's Godzilla and his city-razing brethren, as well as the far cheaper and goofier adventures of Gamera, found themselves in heavy rotation on U.S. television and in theatrical releases for decades and eventually became one of the major pop culture bridges between East and West. That said, Japanese straight-up horror films seldom saw releases in the States until roughly the 1980's, and Shochiku Studios' GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL — its original Japanese title translating as something to the effect of VAMPIRE GOKEMIDORO — was one of the few to sneak through, but it remained largely elusive until the advent of home video. (And   even then it was only likely to be found in dubbed versions on dodgy bootleg VHS copies at comics conventions, which is how I first obtained a copy and saw it during 1990.)

Much like the later AIRPORT series of disaster movies, GOKE's narrative intersperses the impending doom with the personal drama of the main cast and, also like with the AIRPORT films, we don't necessarily give a shit about any of that stuff. The promise of mayhem with a space-vampire is what put butts in seats in the first place and that aspect of the story delivers with creepy and atmospheric flavor, while the rest is just un-involving and over-wrought claptrap that brings the proceedings to a dead halt.

In re-watching GOKE for this year's round of horror movie essays, I got my hands on a crisp, widescreen subtitled DVD of it and finally saw it as intended. Seeing it in its native tongue improved the experience somewhat, but other than a few good effects — the aliens entering and exiting those very vaginal-looking forehead wounds being the highlight — bolstered by some occasionally creepy lighting and atmosphere, GOKE is really only worth sitting through once, and that's only for Japanese horror completists and vampire movie addicts, though the monsters here are only count as vampires on a technicality. You've definitely seen worse, but that ending pretty much sinks all of the good will the film had garnered up until we find out that the whole film took place pretty much right next to a highway.

Poster from the Japanese theatrical release.

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