OCCULT. (2009) A JAPANESE HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


OCCULT. (2009) DIRECTED BY KOJI SHIRAISHI. SCREENPLAY, CINEMATOGRAPHY AND EDITING BY KOJI SHIRAISHI. INSPIRED BY THE WORKS OF H.P. LOVECRAFT.
STARRING MIKE AZUMA, HORIKEN, KOEN KONDO AND KIYOSHI KUROSAWA.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent ‘found footage’ Japanese horror film that actually delivers on its promises. I loved it, anyway. It starts with a stabbing on a beautiful scenic bridge in Japan overlooking the ocean. The stabber, one Ken Matsuki, kills two women and injures a man called Eno, then he drops off a cliff into the sea, and no-one ever lays eyes on him again.

Three years later, a documentary crew decide to investigate the stabbings. They discover that the souls of the two murdered women are not at peace and that the women keep appearing to their loved ones, apparently trying to tell them something. Warn them about something, maybe?

The man who was injured, however, is still very much alive and delighted to be in the film. Eno thrills the crew with tales of the supernatural incidents- he calls them ‘miracles’- that have been occurring around or near him since the stabbing. He also confides in them that he has premonitions now and has been hearing voices in his head since the stabbing. The excited film crew agree to pay him for any of the ‘miracles’ that they can capture on camera.

They let Eno sleep in their office because he’s down on his luck and a bit short of a few bob. They pay him well for film footage of the weird stuff that happens when he’s around, and this provides Eno with some much-needed brass with which to buy, well, Korean barbecue and booze for himself and his newfound film-making buddies, although he turns into a bit of a jerk when he’s pissed, lol. Fancy telling a woman the reasons why she can’t get a boyfriend! You’re taking your life into your own hands there, Eno matey…

Anyway, remember the stabbing, right? Eno shows the film crew the pattern of elaborate symbols that the stabber engraved into his person during the attack. What do the symbols mean, the film crew guys wonder? Also, it turns out that Matsuki said something significant to Eno when he carved him up that Eno specifically remembers.

It’s your turn now, he said. To be stabbed? Maybe, but Eno interprets the cryptic words differently. He sees them more as a passing of a baton to him from Matsuki, but a baton in what sense? What exactly is Matsuki passing on to Eno, and what is Eno meant to do with it?

Eno, a very strange young man indeed, thinks he’s been touched by God, much to the unease of the documentary crew. No offence intended to anyone here, but frequently people who say they’ve been given a mission by God end up hurting other people and then we call them terrorists…

In vino veritas, they say. The film’s director and his producer get Eno good and drunk so he’ll tell them precisely what he thinks his God-given mission is. They’re also keen to know why Eno, an obvious loser who normally kips in one of those all-night Internet and manga cafes because he’s so skint, secretly has, literally, bazillions of yen in his possession. Where did he get it and, more importantly, what the hell is he planning to do with it…?

The best bit in the whole film is the bit they film on the haunted mountain, Kuturo Rock, once dedicated to a Japanese god who took the form of a leech. Eeuw, leeches! The crew is given this information by none other than the real-life movie genius, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who makes a special guest appearance in the film as himself. As he’s credited with directing such superb films as CURE, PULSE, EYES OF THE SPIDER and SERPENT’S PATH, I’m guessing that Koji Shiraishi had a little director-to-director crush on him, lol.

Anyway, up the scary mountain we go, and it really is PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK-level scary. The creepily discordant score will freak you out even if the spooky rocks themselves don’t. Koji Shiraishi and his assistant find some rocks up there with the by-now familiar symbols carved into them… the same artwork carved onto the body of Eno by the ‘missing, presumed dead’ Matsuki. That’s not meant to sound misleadingly mysterious, by the way. Matsuki’s dead all right, lol.

The other equally weird thing is that, a few years previously, at the precise time Matsuki was busy stabbing people on the bridge overlooking the ocean, Shiraishi was up on Kuturo Rock, aka Nine-Headed Spine Rock, and nine leeches were biting his leg in an orderly fashion… There are just too many strange coincidences in this case. Shiraishi and his crew are badly shaken.

If I were them, I’d have gone straight to the cops with my information, scrappy as it was. Shiraishi & Co. decide to skip the going-to-the-cops bit and instead say they’ll stick with Eno to the end, so that they can film whatever special event it is he’s planning in his sick mind that he claims God wants him to carry out. Okay, but whatever happens to Eno will taint them too, if not kill them. On their own heads be it, and so on and so forth. Great film, great build-up, great ending. End of story…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE/ROGER CORMAN FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vincent-Price-Blu-ray-Collection

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THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) BASED ON THE POEM BY EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ON THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD BY H.P. LOVECRAFT.

DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL, LEO GORDON AND CATHIE MERCHANT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows, see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While, like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh- but smile no more.’

This is such a lush luxurious film, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a really fancy box of chocolates. The same can be said of all of the films in American International Pictures/Roger Corman’s Poe cycle: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. All of these star Vincent Price in the lead role, except for THE PREMATURE BURIAL, in which Ray Milland is on leading man duty.

This film is book-ended by part of a Poe poem, which allows it to be included in the Poe cycle of films, but it’s mainly based on the Lovecraft story, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.

I much prefer Poe to Lovecraft; the tentacles thing espoused by the latter isn’t really for me. I love a nice psychological horror story or haunted house tale, and my preferred ‘monsters’ are the Universal ones, lol. Still, there’s much to praise in this visually sumptuous first major filming of a Lovecraft work, even if you can’t help noticing the odd plot-hole.

Vincent Price plays the titular Charles Dexter Ward who, together with his lovely wife Ann, arrives at the spooky New England harbour village of Arkham in order to take possession of the family residence, the titular Haunted Palace, abandoned for a century or more.

The villagers are all horrified because Ward is the spitting image of his evil ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake exactly one hundred and ten years earlier for being the male equivalent of a witch.

Curwen was a much more interesting individual than his insipid descendant Ward. In the  mid-1700s, he lured the virginal young women of Arkham to his house and tried to mate them with ancient deities spawned in his vast underground dungeon. Kick-ass, huh…? His ultimate goal was the resurgence of a master race of Old Gods, ‘such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.’

Unfortunately, these dubious ‘matings’ gave rise to several generations of hideous mutant or mutated eyeless monstrosities, some of whom are still alive and kicking and hidden in the locked rooms of the villagers of Arkham by the villagers themselves, whose progeny they are.

Some of the less dangerous, but no less physically shocking, mutants are brought out in force to scare the Wards away from Arkham, but Charles Dexter Ward has a destiny to fulfil, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he opts to stay in his newly-acquired residence. There’s no law against a man living on his own property, is there? Of course there isn’t, more’s the pity for the poor doomed villagers…

To the horror of his loving wife Ann, Ward becomes possessed with the evil spirit of Joseph Curwen, through a magnificent portrait of the latter which hangs in the palace. Determined to carry out Curwen’s unfinished work of creating the master race of ancient gods through the mating of local young beauties with his basement ‘experiments,’ Ward/Curwen gathers around him his undead assistants of old, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr., aka the Wolfman) and Jabez Hutchinson. Now he can pick up where he left off…

He seems to waste a lot of his newly-recovered time in trying to revive his long-dead mistress Hester Tillinghast, and also in revenging himself against the villagers who are direct descendants of the ones who burned Joseph Curwen to death over a century ago.

His two helpers beg him not to waste his time in petty vengeance, but Curwen feels that, after being dead for a hundred and ten years, he’s entitled to a little fun. Well, okay, fine, Master, but will there still be time to create a master race by forcibly mating your terrified wife Ann to the ungodly thing you’ve got hidden in your basement prison? If there is, there is, lol. We’ll have to see…

The movie, as well as being the first of Lovecraft’s works to be filmed, marks the first screen appearance of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a sort of mythical Book of the Dead which contains spells for conjuring up those ancient deities we mentioned earlier.

It’s the sort of really cool book which, if it really existed, you’d need permission from the Vatican to consult it, and you could only consult it by accompanying a grim-faced, disapproving elderly clerk in rusty black togs through several locked doors, the keys to which he keeps about his person.

In a huge, book-lined room, he’d take the book out of a locked safe, blow the dust off it and place it reverently on a table, and then he’d watch you like a hawk while you leafed nervously through its yellowed pages, looking for the bits you want to read. Oh, and you’re only allowed to consult the specific pages you’ve requested to see and no more. Can’t you just picture it…?

Vincent Price is perfectly at home in his two roles. Joseph has fancier, frillier togs and a sneerier, more menacing tone of voice than his nineteenth century counterpart, but Vincent Price is well able to chop and change between the two characters.

The sets are gorgeous, the costumes exquisite and the fog rolling in from the sea good and plentiful. The mutants are disturbing, the silhouette of the palace awe-inspiring and Lon Chaney Jr. as cuddly and loveable as ever he was in his Universal Wolfman films of the 1940s.

(I’m sure he thought he was being terribly frightening in that role, lol, but I’ve only ever thought of him as cuddly and loveable, with his cute little furry face and matching clodhoppers…!) 

I heartily recommend this Poe-Lovecraft mash-up. The critics had a lot to say about it- and not all good, either- but that doesn’t mean that it’s not both enjoyable and entertaining. Never mind the critics. What do they know? We’ll make up our own minds. Can I get an answering harrumph…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor