Posted September 16, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) Blu-ray Review

Director Teruo Ishii is a director best known for being a director of exploitation films, most particularly the ‘Roman Porno’ for Toei Studios, one of the ‘Big Five’ major studios in the studio system. During the late 1960s and early 1970s that also included a number of horror films with Ishii led the way. Many of these were series films and proved very popular. Horrors of the Malformed Men (1969) was a one-off, however, and proves that even exploitation films could be genuinely odd and have quality in equal measure.

In Denis Gifford’s classic 1973 film book, ‘A Pictorial History of Horror Movies’ there was an illustration for Horrors of Malformed Men, but little detail and certainly for me something of a curio. The film has been little seen in the West and as a genre film deserves to be better known, not least of all for its strange and weirdness. Great that it has been released by Arrow Video as a 2K restoration, making it look as fresh and new as ever. Arrow have previously released Ishii’s fascinating samurai film, Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) and we can look forward to the Roman Porno Orgies of Edo (1969), set to be released by Arrow in November.

Based off a novel by Edogawa Rampa (called ‘Panorama Island Otan’), a novelist known as a writer of ero-guro stories, or erotic-grotesque, the plot of Horrors of Malformed Men twists and turns in direction, but does wrap up in the end, bringing all the strands together. Set in the mid-1920s, it opens with a young man in a lunatic asylum. The man, Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida) had been an apprentice surgeon and placed in the asylum for an unknown reason. The scene in the asylum is mirrored in a later scene, but here has a group of half naked women dancing around and wailing in a cell. A bald man comes to murder Hirosuke, but his would be killer ends up dead himself and Hirosuke successfully escapes. He makes his way to a circus where he gets a lead back by a woman to a rural place where his answers lay, but she is murdered and Hirosuke framed for her murder. He also has recurring dreams of cliffs and seascapes and the haunting melody of a lullaby in his head. On the soul of his foot there is also a gammadion (swastika) cross scarred on his foot.

There he discovers the coastal-scapes of his dreams and that a man to whom he bears an uncanny likeness has recently deceased. He also discovers that the dead man had the same gammadion on his foot. Taking the place of the dead man, including the beautiful widow, she believes that her husband has come back from the dead and in a moment of wit realises that he was almost given away by the dead man being left handed. He travels to a nearby island where a strange web fingered hermit lives claiming to be the dead man’s father. He takes Hirosuke to the island of malformed men and explains that he wants him to use his surgical skills to operate on the malformed men, when the story of his past begins to unravel for him.

There are many grotesque and macabre elements to Horrors of Malformed Men that pre-curses the more recent J-Horror of the late 1990s and 2000s. The appearance of the web handed Jogoro as he leers towards the camera with his strange jerky movements and hair hanging down his face is reminiscent of the appearance of the ghost Sadaka in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1999). The island itself, and of course Jogoro as the overseer and lord over the malformed men has strong links to H.G. Wells’ ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ of course famously filmed in 1932 and again in 1977. Elsewhere, the film does not hold back with its grotesque side elements whether it’s the twisted Jogoro’s revenge on his wife and family, including infanticide, a revelation of incest as well as cannibalism. Even for 1960s Japan this was quite shocking and climaxing with an unbelievable firework show of exploding limbs is both funny and macabre in equal measure. There is also a deep psychological element to the film evinced in the dreams of Hirosuke.

There are plenty of quality extras on this Arrow Video release including two commentaries by Tom Mes and Mark Schilling. There are also three featurettes on the disc; one being an archive with director Ishii arriving in Italy for a film festival. Others include an interview with regular Toei exploitation movie screenwriter and collaborator with Ishii, Masahiro Kakefuda and an appreciation by two current Japanese directors, Shinya Tsukamoto (director of the cyberpunk horror film, Tetsuo, the Iron Man, 1989) and Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler, 2004) on the career of director Teruo Ishii and how he has influenced and informed their vision as filmmakers.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick