Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare
The second of three "Yokai" movies produced by Daiei Studios in the 1960s, YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE has a slightly off-the-rack feel, re-using several monsters - in some cases literally the same props - from YOKAI MONSTERS: 100 MONSTERS. What's changed most is the mood: whereas the previous film was a relatively adult fantasy with spooky overtones, the sequel is a weird combination of bloody horror and comic kiddie movie.
Set hundreds of years ago, the story follows an expedition to Babylon that (in a development that predates THE EXORCIST) unleashes an ancient Middle Eastern demon, which flies to Japan. There, the hideous-looking monster takes on the appearance of one of his victims and sets himself up in his home. While the human characters slowly realize they are grappling with a monster in their midst, the local Yokai (e.g., "spirits") object to the intrusion of this foreign monster and set out to drive him from their homeland. Individual attempts prove futile, but after the prodding of some kids, the Yokai agree to team up and defeat the intruder.
Like 100 MONSTERS before it, SPOOK WARFARE tells a story of human beings grappling with a problem they cannot solve, until the Yokai come along and solve it for them. Here, the monsters take a somewhat more central role, and they are given a bit more personality (for better or worse, depending on your taste, as their antics sometimes take on a very juvenile tone). Although their designs are always eye-catching and imaginative, they are realized with a combination of makeup and marionettes that sometimes suggests sub-Jim Henson shows like H.R. PUFF-N-STUFF. The effect is underscored by having some Yokai speak, even ones whose stiff masks feature no facial movement.
With goofy Yokai, two children in the lead, and a heart-warming moral about closing ranks to for the benefit of mutual protection, SPOOK WARFARE might seem aimed at a younger audience than its predecessor, but the occasionally comic tone is balanced by some horror scenes that were reasonably graphic for their day. The film seems heavily influenced by English horror films produced by Hammer at that time, particularly the Dracula titles. There is an almost lurid look to the colorful scenes of the demon sucking blood from his victims. The jarring contrast between these two tones gives the film an interesting edge that helps distinguish it from its predecessor.
SPOOK WARFARE may not be powerful enough to exorcise audience preference for 100 GHOSTS, but it is a spirited blast of cult entertainment in its own right, and it is far superior to the awful 2005 namesake directed by Takashi Miike.
ADV's DVD release of YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE features a beautiful widescreen print of the film, along with Japanese-language dialogue and English subtitles. Also included are trailers from the two "Yokai" sequels that followed, along with trailers from other ADV home video releases.
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