Monday, 30 April 2012

Evil Dead Trap (1988)

I first came across ‘Evil Dead Trap’ back in 2010 while I was researching Sam Raimi’s soon to be remade seminal classic ‘The Evil Dead’. This was in preparation for the writing of The Evil Dead (1981): Video Nasties, Misspent Youth and the Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror. Some of you who have yet to see this Japanese production may have crossed paths with it too when conducting searches for the celebrated American franchise as it comes up on nearly all of them on IMDB. Digging in deeper, I became quite intrigued with this Asian homage to the Western horror sub-genre of the slasher done in the Italian giallo style, as this was not something I had seen before in Japanese cinema and being the nostalgic sucker I am for all things hack n’ slash I knew I had to check it out. That first viewing two years ago was a disappointing let down and watching it again just very recently only reaffirms my opinion.

TV host Nami (Miyuki Ono) presents a late night programme in which she shows homemade videos sent in by her viewers. She receives a disturbing snuff film of a woman being horrifically tortured in a local abandoned factory that contains an image of Nami shown at the very end. The cutting up of the victim by a large butcher knife is shown in close-up drawn out graphic detail that will please Lucio Fulci fans. The destruction of her eyeball resembles that famous eye-gouging scene in ‘Zombie’ (1979) and the sequence as a whole recalls the mutilation of Kitty in The New York Ripper (1982). Mixed in with the grainy authentic looking camcorder colour footage is the employment of stylish black and white visuals. Nami takes her camera crew down to the factory to do an investigative report and finds the place deserted. As the rest of the group search around the building, Nami meets a strange man in a black suit wearing shades who warns her of the danger her and her friends are in. He says that he is looking for someone as he walks away and disappears. Sure enough, one by one they all meet grisly deaths by the hands of a maniac. 

So far so good, there is nothing inventively groundbreaking about the story that sticks very closely to the basic slasher formula but director Toshiharu Ikeda gets out of the material a solid atmospheric experience. This is in loving tribute to the gialli with stylized standout murder set-pieces. It is quite an engaging time as the suspense is turned up a considerable notch and there are some very memorable moments with disturbingly gruesome gory imagery wrapped up in the imaginatively creative well-executed kill scenes. Ikeda was clearly aiming for homage to the heralded Italian giallo filmmakers Fulci and Dario Argento in terms of style while using the conventions of the American slasher. However, it is such a shame that it all collapses in the last half hour.

‘Evil Dead Trap’ was released exactly a decade before Hideo Nakata’s masterpiece ‘Ringu’ would innovate J-horror into what we all know today - tense psychological terror entailing mostly ghost stories that for almost a good decade churned out some refreshingly vibrant highly original movies only for it to stagnate towards the end of the '00s. This film planted the seeds for all things Oriental supernatural in its last act with also an influence of Cronenbergian body horror but it is all just nonsensical. It is suddenly brought in as the big twist with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop just lumped on at the end never explicitly hinted at during the first hour.

I emphasise upon the word “explicitly” because while there are nods to the mystery sprinkled throughout the hour especially in the second act never once does is it give us clues that what is in store for us at the end is something of the supernatural. When the big reveal is utilized instead of knocking its audience for a six, it just cheats us. For this to work effectively, to be convincing the hints over the course of the movie previously should have been more supernaturally distinct but in it its failure to do that it just takes the viewer completely out of the film they have just been watching into something way out there that could not be further removed from the material. On a more intellectual note, it is all just a load of old bollocks!

John Carpenter handled this expertly in ‘Halloween’ (1978). Going back to Halloween II (1981) - A Worthy Companion Piece to the original or Not?: “Throughout the course of the entire film, the late great genre veteran Pleasance as the unhinged Loomis constantly warns the other characters of the extreme danger that Michael Myers is. Smith’s Grove officials and Haddonfield’s Sheriff Brackett believe none of it. Given some sublime dialogue, the actor delivers great monologues about how Michael is pure evil and the devil incarnate. He is very convincing in his conviction that Myers is something other than a man. This serves as a narrative purpose.” I then went on to say, “These powerful lines coupled with Donald Pleasance’s powerhouse performance are used as a superiorly effective device to help turn Michael Myers into more than just a mad psycho killer. Tommy Doyle believing that the Boogeyman is coming for him this Halloween night supplements this. Michael realizing this belief. To enhance all this is the superiority of the cinematography by Dean Cundey. John Carpenter has Cundey shoot The Shape in such a way that he becomes an enigma. Is Laurie seeing him or not? We actually start to believe that this unstoppable murdering machine although born of the world he is not part of it...

The reason I chose to compare Carpenter’s original ‘Halloween’ to ‘Evil Dead Trap’ was despite the director’s ideas being a lot different he was able to set up a supernatural theme by planting its elements all the way through the movie making his audience believe that something of the supernatural could indeed be at foot. This was for the sole reason to lead up to its supernaturally ambiguous final moments and more importantly to make that ending feasibly convincing. While the closing scenes of that film are left up for interpretation as opposed to the sledgehammer to the face revelation we have here it still would have worked effectively if we had an inkling that something off the wall was going to hit us. As it stands, it is all just utterly bemusing.

‘Evil Dead Trap’ is a strange one to sum up. I can wholeheartedly recommend the first hour of it as an effective and highly entertaining slasher. The pace and suspense is top draw, the characters are likable, there are generous amounts of T & A and the elaborate death sequences are nothing short of fantastic with sickening splatter . All this is encapsulated in an impossible to ignore atmosphere heightened supremely by an addictive keyboard synthesizer soundtrack. Then there is the dreadful bullshit last half hour that cancels it all out. So… 

** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.


  1. Diggit. This should be waiting in my mailbox from Netflix when I get home, actually.

    1. It's a real shame because the first hour is really solid but the third act just fucks it all up.

  2. I really disagree with your criticisms of the last act. I don't think this movie actually needs to do anything to make it's last act credible, because it just simply doesn't matter. I honestly don't think most viewers of this movie will care. This is a style over substance movie... there is very little substance to any of it, but it has an excellent style and it's fun to watch. The last act has some good, memorable scenes and a crowd-pleasing ending. Whether the audience has been "prepared" for it seems like a moot point.

    1. It's true that many viewers, namely hardcore fans of the slasher sub-genre, might not look too much into the third act. After all, the slasher is infamous for its displays of illogical bullshit and most fans are just along for the entertaining ride. Sometimes I can be forgiving of this being a slasher fan myself. However, for me the third act is just far too removed from the conventions of the sub-genre with little nodding towards a supernatural element in about the whole first hour of what we have been watching. This is why I compared the movie to 'Halloween' '78 and John Carpenter's expert handling of these elements that make the ending credible. 'Evil Dead Trap' just loses the plot completely, which is a shame because I really enjoy the first two acts and the film's overall stylistic traits.

    2. I guess some fans care more about plot than others, but I think it also depends on the movie. Some movies are meant to be taken more seriously than others, and I think this is a movie that is clearly meant to be shlock. I could list a bunch of reasons why I like this movie and the plot will not be one of them.

      Also, I actually think there is some nodding to the supernatural early on... for example, in the first death scene where do those spikes come from? A trap like that doesn't seem remotely possible, unless psychic powers are involved. Same for the second death, the killer performs feats with a noose that don't seem physically possible. The first time I saw this movie, I was actually hoping that the movie wouldn't try to sell all of these acts as the work of an ordinary man, because that would have been flat out ridiculous. I was actually pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be the work of a psychic creature because that kind of makes sense... or at least as much sense as this movie could possibly make.

    3. It's feasible about the over the top kills being impossible for a human being to pull off physically. Then again, a lot of murder set-pieces in slashers are very elaborate to the point of being unbelievable anyway. From the early 80s onwards, it has been a sub-genre made up of WTF moments. So much so that these are elements that characteristically defines this type of horror.