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The bravest part of Horrors of Malformed Men is in confronting deformity. Although set pre-World World II, the narrative considers the madness of isolation for those left disfigured by fallout. Covered in ash or distorted by their conditions, it’s easy to read the surrealism as a means to confront radioactive disease, and those shunned for their scars.
Horrors of Malformed Men earned a taboo label after being shunned and banned in Japan. That’s likely why it’s remembered. Otherwise, it’s an oddball film, distorted and languishing in pacing with little urgency to solve its mystery.
It’s also flooded with nudity – all female – lending Horrors of Malformed Men a perverse, even sadistic touch. At one key juncture into the third act, topless women crawl down a mountain as a man whips them into bloody submission. There’s no narrative point to make; it’s there because of a sick attraction to submissive women.
Horrors of Malformed Men is easy to clock out from
Horrors of Malformed Men is easy to clock out from
Also consider the depraved depiction of mental health. The hero of this story, a young doctor Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida), is initially confined to a mental hospital. He’s surrounded by partially nude women, dancing and maniacally laughing. It’s worse than the cliché of most mental hospitals, turning anyone with a disability mad.
There is a mystery here. Hirosuke is unaware of his past, drawn to a small island to discover where he came from from. The third act is that island; the first two act as a laborious set-up. Once onto the island, there’s a tinge of Dr. Moreau. Scenes of incest, lust, derangement, and murder follow. Some of this remains utterly detached from anything else, including a native Butoh dance fit for an LSD nightmare.
When Horrors of Malformed Men wakes itself back up and returns to its story, cinematography locks itself into a darkened cave. An eye-rolling, excessively long backstory then explains each sequence and overarching mystery. It’s not only exposition, but tedious exposition. There’s no thrill. A little surprise potentially, but Horrors of Malformed Men is easy to clock out from.
In spite of the awkward and bizarre staging of its people, this is a lush, colorful piece of cinema. The isolated images draw the eye, while the serenity of it all is unusually attractive. For a story approaching the horrors of a post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki Japan, Horrors of Malformed Men captures dazzling color. Certainly, that adds something to those seeking a movie to go alongside their high. That is the only way to tolerate this cultural oddity.
With gorgeous saturation and hearty primaries, this release from Arrow is instantly gratifying. Showing the exterior of a circus, blue sky hangs over the scene with intensity. All of the other colors shine. There’s no sense of oversaturation, rather a beautiful replication of a late ‘60s film stock with zero aging evident.
If there’s a flub, it’s black levels. They lack density, enough to lose out to compression. Artifacts pop up in the shadows, coarse and distracting. That’s a shame since the small grain structure is handled with care, sans any concerns.
Luckily, detail runs high, texturing Horrors of Malformed Men whether in make-up or not. The various paints used to show distortions crack and fade, not natural in terms of selling the horror, but superior in delivering detail. Sharpness works out to an acceptable degree and a number of exteriors look superb.
PCM mono only goes so far for a rough, pitchy audio presentation. The opening music sounds garbled and under water. Most of the dialog will follow, aged, more so than films of a comparative time. Pinched dynamics limit attempted shocks. Passable, and likely the best Horrors of Malformed Men can sound.
Two separate commentaries sit in the extras menu. First up is Tom Mes, and on the second Mark Schilling, both experts on Japanese cinema. Malformed Moves is Arrow’s new interview with screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda. That runs 13-minutes.
Malformed Memories carries over from a previous DVD release, featuring interviews with cult filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto and Minoru Kawasaki as they discuss Malformed Men’s director Teruo Ishii for 23-minutes total. Raw footage from an Italian film festival (with Schilling and Ishii along for the ride) runs 14-minutes. Keep going for some trailers and photos.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Horrors of Malformed Men holds a taboo appeal after remaining unreleased in Japan, and while odd, it’s a slog to get through.
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