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April 8th, 2002 Issue #103

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

Evil Dead Trap
(1988; Japan Home Video Co. / Directors Company)

Cover art courtesy Synapse.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Japanese: Shiryo no wana
English: Trap of the Evil Spirit


This Japanese thriller (which has no connection to Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD trilogy) boasts intriguing visuals and plenty of enthusiastically applied bloodshed. Thanks to wide exposure on the grey market, it has developed a fairly substantial cult following on this side of the pond and can now be purchased on DVD in a good quality, licensed edition. Late night TV show hostess Nami (Miyuki Ono) receives a videotape that shows the gruesome torture and dismemberment of a bound female victim. The tape also includes a detailed look at how to get to the location where the killing supposedly took place, so the repulsed but inquisitive woman decides to investigate, in the hopes that a morbid expose might help to combat her program's increasingly fluffy reputation. Accompanied by female co-workers Rei (Hitomi Kobayashi), Rya (Aya Katsuragi), Masako (Eriko Nakagawa), and male assistant director Kondou, Nami heads out to the remote spot, a filthy, abandoned factory complex in an equally unkempt area. A killer in a hooded raincoat begins to stalk the TV crew, dispatching them one by one with ingeniously sadistic traps, until the lone survivor is left to rely on a mysterious stranger (Yuji Homma) who knows more about the murderer and the place's dark secret than he is letting on.

Miyuki Ono. Image courtesy Synapse.
Click here for another still of Miyuki Ono (courtesy Synapse)

Those hoping for eerie, innovative Japanese genre thrills along the lines of THE RING, THE RING 2, and SWEET HOME may be disappointed to discover that EVIL DEAD TRAP is essentially a local homage to 1980s Italian horror, with visual references to Dario Argento's gialli and some Lucio Fulci-style mayhem (a graphic eyeball puncturing, a la ZOMBIE, and "loud" maggots), not to mention an electronic score reminiscent of Goblin. There are also a few American horror perennials (accelerated low-level tracking shots, sex before death, dumb characters doing dumb things, etc) and even a nod to the Canadian bodily horrors of David Cronenberg. (A key plot element from a certain early 80s New York City horror thriller also figures prominently in the final act). The dearth of originality is not so much an obstacle as the fact that director Toshiharu Ikeda never knows when to quit: the second half is needlessly protracted and downright repetitious, delivering about three climaxes too many. On a more favorable note, there are a couple of effective jolts, a very palpable ambience, admirable location work, wonderfully squalid art direction, and some memorably gruesome killings (in particular, a spectacularly gory multiple impalement). In ambition and execution, EVIL DEAD TRAP definitely exceeds the majority of comparable Western productions, but its reputation as a high water mark in the annals of Japanese horror seems undeserved.

DVD Specs:

Synapse Films #SFD0009 (U.S. Label)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Japanese Language
Optional English Subtitles
16 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Stills
Letterboxed (1.85:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
100 Minutes
Contains brutal violence, graphic horror, sexual violence, and sexual content

DVD menu courtesy Synpase.

Film Board Ratings and Consumer Advice

Australia: BANNED
Netherlands: 16


Presented at its intended 1.85:1 dimensions, the image is mildly grainy and contrasts are variable but this is no doubt attributable to the film's low-budget and 16mm origins. There is occasional, minor wear on the print (including some small splices), but it appears that Synapse has undertaken a digital clean-up and the end result offers an improvement over the old Japan Home Video release. The audio (apparently taken from the optical track of the print) is a bit noisy in spots but passable and the sound design sometimes creates a mildly stereophonic atmosphere. There are optional English subtitles (the same translation created for Video Search of Miami's VHS version), a trailer, and an unfortunate commentary track (prepared overseas without Synapse's involvement) featuring Ikeda and special FX manager Shinichi Wakasa. While their heavy accents and middling grasp of English can certainly be forgiven, the pair's feigned enthusiasm and strained attempts at spontaneity grow wearisome. A few interesting anecdotes manage to surface in between sound dropouts and several long periods of silence: the backers insisted on the casting of adult film actresses Katsuragi and Kobayashi, originally wanting the latter (their most popular AV star at the time) to play the lead role; the impressive location is an old U.S. Army base that was used in a number of later Japanese productions; and the budget was the equivalent of only about $500,000 in US funds.

EVIL DEAD TRAP is available at Poker Industries.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

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