Horrors of Malformed Men

April 30, 2017 at 10:13 pm (9 Heads) (, , , , , )

Horrors of Malformed Men – 1969 – Japan

An amnesiac surgeon named Hirosuke is locked in a Tokyo insane asylum. After killing another inmate (a deranged monk) in self-defense, he escapes. Outside, Hirosuke encounters a circus magician with a mysterious connection to his forgotten past, but the magician gets murdered and Hirosuke is framed for it. Fleeing Tokyo, he reaches a seaside town where a wealthy local businessman named Genzaburo has just died. Hirosuke discovers that he is the dead man’s doppelganger, even down to the swastika scar on the bottom of his foot. Hirosuke impersonates Genzaburo, surprising everyone with his sudden resurrection. As he grows ensnared in Genzaburo’s life, he discovers that he is actually Genzaburo’s lost brother. He also learns of a mysterious island where his father lives in isolation. Hirosuke is forbidden by his family to go there, but goes anyway.

On the island, Hirosuke meets his father who has webbed hands and wears women’s clothing. His father owns a menagerie of deformed people and performs surgeries to further disfigure them. They are treated like animals or pieces of furniture. To stop his father, Hirosuke must delve into his family’s deep, dark, perverted history.

Horrors of Malformed Men is grotesque, kinky, horrific, and surreal. It’s based on the writings of Edogawa Rampo and borrows ideas from across his spectrum of work. The film’s complex, unpredictable plot is a constant source of bizarre imagery. The island is full of animal-like mutants who enact strange rituals. Their flailing, jerking movements and expressionistic makeup are derived from butoh—an avant-garde dance style founded in part by Tatsumi Hijikata who acts in this film.

Horrors of Malformed Men has unforgettable (and often arresting) images. A beautiful woman and a reptilian hunchback are conjoined twins. People coated in metallic paint act as living statuary. A man lives in a compartment inside a chair and feels up women as they sit on him. A woman is sealed in a cave with her husband. When he starves to death, she plucks the crabs from his body and eats them alive to survive. The island’s master proclaims delightedly, “The crabs have been eating her husband’s dead flesh, and now she eats them!” In the strangest scene, two lovers discover that they are brother and sister. Ashamed, they commit suicide by lying atop a battery of fireworks. Their severed limbs and heads fly through the sky amid colorful explosions.

When it was released, Horrors of Malformed Men was apparently reviled and banned in Japan. It has a little gore, a little torture, a lot of topless women, and is pretty insensitive to handicapped people. However, it’s most distasteful because it’s just so freaky. Its situations and characters are threatening in the intangible way that nightmares often are, and even its comedy is grotesque. For instance, Hirosuke terrifies graveyard attendees by pretending to be a walking corpse.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Japanese circuses look pretty much like American circuses.

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