Friday, May 14, 2010

H.P. Lovecraft Week: Mystery of the Nothingtodowithlovecrafticon

In the interest of full disclosure I should let you know that I am not one of those “Anime Guys”. It takes a whole hell of a lot to drag me to an anime. In about 1990 bootlegs of a Japanese animated series called THE WANDERING KID (1989, aka UROTSUKIDOJI) started making the rounds in Japanese with no subtitles. A jaw-dropping onslaught of gore, sex and monsters, and monsters having gory sex; things that should not be, doing things that should not be done. At the time it was total insanity. Hell, even these days after being exposed to hentai for the past 20 years, it’s still pretty freakin’ nuts. WANDERING KID pretty much started a huge fanbase for extreme anime in America and part of that is because of its extremely shocking content. What gave it legs was the fact that the animation was better than average and the storyline was actually an epic end-of-the-universe kind of thing with tons of subplots and allegoric overtones. Because of this, it’s always got a place in my movie collection.

Other anime that I’ve watched tends to be either a bad anime that was the basis of a great movie. RIKI-OH (1989) was a mediocre Japanese anime that was adapted into an amazingly violent Hong Kong film titled THE STORY OF RICKY (1991) which was strangely lifted out of the bootleg market when “The Daily Show with Craig Kilbourne” featured a clip of the head-smashing scene in damn near every episode. Conversely SUPERNATURAL BEAST CITY (1987) was a stunningly stylish, beautifully animated horror anime about a Men-in-Black-esque organization who maintain the integrity of the barriers between our world and what is tantamount to hell. Dark and gruesome with major Lovecraftian influence, it was a gorgeous, well produced masterpiece, adapted into a completely uninspired, low-budget Hong Kong Tsui Hark film, WICKED CITY (1992).

When I heard that the latest outing from WANDERING KID director Hideki Takayama was a Lovecraft-inspired tale and was getting a stateside release, I was pretty excited. Animation is a great forum for Eldrich Horrors, if it's done right. The operative words being "done right".

I guess if I was one of those guys that watches nothing but anime and sits through all kinds of badly animated OVA crap, the half-assed detective story in MYSTERY OF THE NECRONOMICON (1999) might be a breath of fresh air. The plot slowly rolls out as a swarthy, long-haired private detective goes on vacation with his 20 year-old, no-longer adopted, daughter of his dead girlfriend. Once there he finds the bodies are starting to pile up, all with their eyes and faces removed. One of the female suspects was being blackmailed over a video in which she is masturbating while looking at a photo of her young female student. More suspects die and after the cops give him a hard time about being found near the scene of a similar crime years ago, the detective finds himself at another hotel. Here the same thing happens, except more graphically. A late-night lesbian S&M session between two college girls leads to them being found brutally killed. This extended sex scene features one of a couple unintentionally funny bits where as her lover forms the fabled 69, she gazes into her spread-wide much box and in a hushed voice whispers "mysterious..." before diving in. Hey, in an entertainment desert, that's a cool glass of water, lemme tell ya. Anyway, as the cops investigate, the girls suddenly re-animate and are re-killed with a bullet in the head. Next!

The wandering around, talking to witnesses, finding someone dead sort of thing goes on over the span of 127 minutes and while it’s not entirely a bad premise, it could have been 45 minutes easy and would have been all the better for it. If only for the fact that there would be less of it to sit through. Even though we spend almost two hours with a relentlessly padded mystery, the whole thing is wrapped up in a few half-assed minutes that half-heartedly tries to answer all the questions it posed in the last 120 minutes as fast as it can and if some slip through the cracks, if it doesn't make any sense, well that's just too bad because you've already paid your money! Sucker! The ending is as lame as anything you’d see in an episode of HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or SCOOBY-DOO... except maybe with out the nudity, urination and subsequent cunnilingus.

Compounding its errors is the fact that it’s got fuck-all to do with H.P. Lovecraft. For some reason I was thinking “Necronomicon = Eldritch horrors” and I thought animation would be a great medium to be able to show the things that should not be. Apparently I was wrong. The plot and characters have nothing to do with HP Lovecraft and his mythos other than the villain being named “Herbert West” and in his possession is the Necronomicon (modeled after the one in EVIL DEAD II, by way of Leatherface), which he explains is “the Devil Book. The book that contains the power of the Devil”. That’s it! Done! Peace out! Please go back to the kitchen and pack your knives. Seriously? Is that all you got? It makes me wonder if the script wasn't given a quick re-write to add those two elements so that they could slap "Necronomicon" on the cover and push a few more units.

Since this was directed by Hideki Takayama of UROTSUKIDOJI fame, I was expecting some sort of style or at least some crazy monster action. You’d think that there would probably be some elder gods popping up with the Necronomicon being bandied about, but no! The closest thing you get to a monster is a couple of brief appearances of a couple of zombies that are nothing but the same characters rendered with no pupils and grey-green skin (or, for some reason, just purple). It's pretty sad when an episode of "The Real Ghostbusters" sports more monsters and more authentic Lovecraft influence than an adult anime! The animation is rank, low-budget stuff. Stiff and jerky with no detail and a bland color palette. There isn't much gore past the few discovered murder victims and the sex scenes are perfunctory at best. Most are dull, lifeless scenes that are typical of R-rated movies, some are a bit more explicit with specific fetishes being catered to, but either way, you’d have to be really into cartoon sex to find any of this even marginally exciting.

I usually dismiss most of what the on-line Lovecraft fanbase has to say about adaptations because they’ll bitch, piss and moan about a movie not being an exact translation of the source material, and then ironically talk about how great RE-ANIMATOR is (which it is, but c'mon now, it’s hardly got anything to do with Lovecraft). Unfortunately this time they were right. I was particularly disappointed to see Hideki Takayama turn out such cheap, sloppy crap because of my fond memories of THE WANDERING KID, but then I remembered that he was also responsible for the awful, cheap-ass sequels too. The biggest mystery here is why they even bothered to try and associate this with Lovecraft at all. Something, I guess, man is not meant to know.

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