191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

“A fiendish vampire from a strange world in outer space drains his victims’ blood and turns them into weird corpses!”–U.S. tagline for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

DIRECTED BY: Hajime Satô

FEATURING:Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Satô, Eizô Kitamura, Hideo Kô, Kathy Horan

PLOT: A Japanese airliner crash lands in a remote mountain area after a close encounter with a UFO during a hijacking attempt. On the ground, the hijacker flees but is drawn to the glowing flying saucer, where the blob inside splits open his forehead and possesses his mind. Meanwhile, on the crashed plane the survivors squabble in a power struggle between an arms dealer, a senator, and the take-charge co-pilot.

Still from Goke Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)
BACKGROUND:

  • Goke was the most notable of four horror/science fiction films made by Shochiku studios (previously best known for Yasujirō Ozu’s award-winning chamber dramas) in the late 1960s to attempt to replicate the success of rival Toei’s smash hit Godzilla.
  • Goke wasn’t shown in the U.S. until 1977, when it played on a drive-in double bill with 1965’s Bloody Pit of Horror.
  • This movie is a favorite of , who paid tribute to Goke‘s blood red skies in an airplane scene in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to pick the scarlet heavens the airliner cruises though in the opening scenes, which makes it look the the clouds are saturated with hemoglobin and about to rain blood. After all, this was the image Tarantino chose to homage in Kill Bill. Instead, we’ll go with the vertical slit that forms in the assassins forehead at the climax of his psychedelic encounter in the alien spacecraft, a look affectionately know to the film’s fans as “vagina face.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Goke is a run-of-the-mill alien-blobs-in-glowing-orange-UFOs-turn-airplane-crash-survivors-into-vampires-by-crawling-inside-bloody-slits-they-carve-into-their-foreheads flick, but with a delirious psychedelic twist.


Japanese trailer for Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

COMMENTS: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell is frequently described (even by its own fans) as “cheesy,” but I’m not at all sure why this should be. The special effects are cheap—the airplane is obviously a model—and the characters are stock types, but other than that the film is filled with nothing but bizarre surprises, all wrapped in a sheath of bitter cynicism. Goke may be a B-movie in form, but with its convoluted plot, stabs at social relevance, and cosmic imagery that verges on the surreal, its content transcends its genre origins. If it’s cheesy, it’s the cheesiness of a fine cave-aged cheddar, not the stuff you spray on crackers out of an aerosol can.

The demented first ten minutes—a prologue before the credits appear—let you know you’re in for something beyond the ordinary. A commercial airliner is sailing through a crimson sky the concerned pilots characterize as “like a sea of blood.” Inside the cabin the passengers’ blasé conversations revolve around the Vietnam war and terrorist assassinations. Suicidal birds splatter against the plane’s windows, smearing gore over the plastic panes as their wings flap like windshield wipers. As if that wasn’t enough, the traffic controllers alert the pilots to a bomb threat on the flight. Someone has a vial of caustic acid in their luggage. There’s also a hijacker in a smart white suit, pink turtleneck and sunglasses. But before he can force the pilots to land the plane, it’s sideswiped by a glowing orange flying saucer, causing a crash landing. To reiterate: all this happens before the opening credits.

The effects may be done on a budget, but they’re imaginative as whatever hell the body snatchers come from. The airplane is an obvious model, but it looks amazing as it glides through the bloody skies, taking out bonzai trees as it crashes. Newspaper inserts of the assassination of a diplomat and the carnage of Vietnam are also delivered in a blood-red color scheme. The body snatcher’s first victim is mesmerized and drawn by a hot tangerine glow and a chorus of theremins into the mothership’s mysterious belly, where alien latticework and a quavering lens herald the presence of a pulsing blob, which telekinetically peels open his head like a piece of fruit. Low budget or not, there is no way to envision such madness without creating one hell of an impression.

Things may go from bad to worse after the plane crash, but as in ‘s Night of the Living Dead (released in the same year) it’s the squabbling survivors, not the monsters, who pose the biggest threat. The band includes the co-pilot and stewardess, uniformed authority figures and our default heroes; an American widow on the way to pick up her husband’s corpse from Vietnam; a Japanese senator, his arms dealer patron, and the latter’s wife; a young man who collects Dali prints; a psychologist who likes to stir up trouble for his own amusement; and a space biologist (!) Rather than uniting against the space vampires prowling outside, they fight among each other over the dwindling water supplies. The munitions merchant turns on his senator backer, revealing him to be a pathetic coward. The crew pull guns on each other. The psychologist predicts, “the strong will prey on the weak like animals. In the end we all die!”

To call Goke a political allegory would be too strong, but it definitely captures the turbulent anxiety of the late 1960s—-the feeling that humanity was on the brink of annihilation, whether by nuclear holocaust, anarchic social implosion, or invasion by space vampires. Even without the supernatural element, Goke‘s world is one of warmongering, political corruption, and rampant terrorism. “Japan is becoming just like America… assassinations and such,” goes some light traveling banter. That observation elicits a chuckle from the senator. No wonder birds are throwing themselves into  plane windows. Who wants to go on living in a world like that?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the weirdness shows no letup… Goke is the most demented episode of The Twilight Zone never filmed, an absurd apocalyptic horror show.”–Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk (Eclipse box set)

“…the widescreen Fujicolor images burst with hypnotic splendor, suggesting nightmares remembered with all the exuberance of a kid in a neon-colored candy store.”–Rob Humanick, The Projection Booth (DVD)

“…iron-clad-nutso proof that a film can be simultaneously ridiculous and smart…”–Christopher Long, Movie Mezzanine (Eclipse box set)

IMDB LINK: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) – The Criterion Collection – A three minute clip from the film and Chuck Stephens’ ecstatic essays on Goke and the other movies in the “When Horror Came to Shochiku” box set

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) – Articles – TCM.com – David Kalat’s effusive appreciation, written for Turner Classic Movies

DVD INFO: For years, Goke was only available on a VHS tape that could not possibly do its vibrant color schemes justice. That changed in 2014 when Criterion Collection released the 4-disc box set “When Horror Came to Shochicku” on its “Eclipse” sub-label. Although there are no DVD extras, the restorations are glorious, and it does come with an exuberant and informative set of essays by Chuck Stephens providing background on each film. Although Goke far outclasses the other entries in the set, each of the companion pieces boast points of interest for fans of fantastic cinema. The X from Outer Space is a kajiu outing featuring a ridiculous beetle-chicken-lizard hybrid monster and a swinging space pop soundtrack. The Living Skeleton is a ghost story with some -esque B&W cinematography marred by absurd plot twists. The creature-feature Genocide posits a scenario where insects take over the world and sports some truly inane dialogue: “I just want to breed vast numbers of insects that drive people mad and scatter them over the world.” Is that so wrong? It’s a box set to turn your coolest friends green with envy, and cause your lamest friends to look at you like you’ve got a vagina growing on your face.

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard, who simply stated it was a “bizarre film…nuff said.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)”

  1. My eye sockets prolapsed from laughter just from reading “vagina on your face..” at the end of the review.
    Never seen this film, but golly if that isn’t a fantastic film still.

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