Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Living Skeleton (1968)

Some times it takes 35 or more years to find the source of a picture thats haunted you since childhood. My Mom got me this illustrated history of horror films back in the early 1970's and in it was a picture of a frightened girl on the deck of ship terrorized by an odd skeleton. It's an odd picture that made me want to know what the film was that went with it. (actually the image is not in the film and is just a publicity photo...possibly the only one since until recently it's the only image I've seen, and recently I've only seen screen captures)

The problem seeing the film is that apparently its never been released here in the United States. I'm not sure why, though I'm guessing that the film's black and white cinematography was deemed a drawback for US release when most films were being released in color (this would have been released in the US in 1969 at the earliest). I finally found a copy of the film at the Wizard World Convention in New York. It was sans subtitles but I could pretty much work out what was going on, and get creeped out by it.

The plot has to do with a bunch of pirates who kill everyone on board a ship and steal a treasure. Sometime later a woman (a relative of one of the victims), and her boyfriend end up setting in motion a series of events that begin to bring justice to the pirates, who are now on dry land, and herald the return of the ghostly ship.

This is a strange film that was eerily shot in black and white. The film balances light and shadow to fantastic effect. Much of the film seems to be an odd marriage of Japanese sensibilities and Western style images, with skeletons, bats, vampires, and a Christian church. The plot doesn't completely make sense as we are often in a world of dream logic. Images of the massacre haunt the people there as well as those caught in the supernatural web. Things are often not what they seem. The effect is not so much a straightforward film but a cinematic tone poem that gets under your skin.

I'm explaining this badly but if you pop this in and turn off the lights I think you'll find that the film will give you a few shivers. Now to find a copy with English subtitles...

(ADDENDUM: This film will finally be released in a Criterion Eclipse box set of Japanese horror in November 2012)

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