We often think that as society goes on it becomes more promiscuous. Sex and nudity are everywhere, from the more subtle way (or not so subtle way) that is used in advertisements to the way Game of Thrones become the most popular show of the last decade thanks to political intrigue, dragons and copious amounts of nudity. However, when we take a look back, we can see that nothing has really changed. We see it in the ancient Greeks who had an obsession with the male figure. We see it in Chaucer and Shakespeare, literary greats who were as filthy as a pig in a pen.
Then, of course, we have the various exploitation films of the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps the most prolific and influential exploitation cinema were the Pink films of Japan, and one in particular - released by Arrow Films via their Video label - an odd film by master of the Sexploitation genre Teruo Ishii and his Horrors of Malformed Men.
Hirosuke Hitomi finds himself locked up in an insane asylum under false pretences, haunted by dreams of a shapeshifting girl, a writhing man with webbed hands, and a lullaby. Hirosuke later escapes with a young circus girl, but bad luck follows him as he is then framed for the murder. As Hirosuke flees on a train he spots a picture of a recently deceased individual, the wealthy Genzaburo Komoda, who much to Hirosuke’s surprise is his exact double. He then journeys to the Komoda household to take up the dead man's identity. There, Hirosuke stumbles into the harrowing truth behind his own life and the mind-melting island filled with the horrors of Malformed Men.
Based on the work of mystery writer Edogawa Rampo - I should briefly say that this is just the A-story for the highly lauded 1969 Teruo Ishii film - Horrors of Malformed Men contains many mysteries in its 99 minute run time. Some are developed well but tend to lead to a disappointing payoff. This is undoubtedly true of the overall puzzle, about the life of the man Hirosuke has impersonated. Shadowy figures are present in the house and strange whisperings and conspiracies surround the head of the family. It all works together to create a tense and compelling aesthetic. However, this atmosphere all but disappears when we enter the island, and see the special effects that comprise of the malformed men. Clearly, there was little budget for them and the results are incredibly tacky looking. Most of the deformities look more like a stagehand has smeared rice on people, or covered them in still wet papier mâché. That said, this adds to the appeal of the film.
There is indeed creativity evident and when our heroes finally get to the island, we are treated to a carnivalesque cavalcade of bizarre creations. Albeit mainly women in various stages of undress. We have silver ladies, fish ladies, grey ladies, vivisected ladies and ladies that have been sewn to the back of a disfigured man, to say the least. While this may be off-putting in the blatant titillation to some, one cannot deny that these are powerful images that break all the taboos that are known to man.
Horrors of Malformed Men is a spinning vortex of weird. Filled with bizarre visuals, a mind-melting mystery that seems to stack back into itself. It’s overwhelming and the extras that Arrow lean heavily into just its bizarrely and status. The disc contains interviews with Masahiro Kakefuda, screenwriter of many a Toei exploitation movie, as well as another extra with statements from Shinya Tsukamoto, maker of Tetsuo the Iron Man, and Minoru Kawasaki, another cult filmmaker behind the Calamari Wrestler. Both these interviews allow a peek into the odd work of Japanese exploitation as well as the influence Ishii has had on film. While the two commentary tracks from Tom Mes and Mark Schilling, though a little personal at the start, delve into the stories behind the Ofero-gro or erotic grotesque.
Presented in glorious 1080p Horrors of Malformed Men is for fans of the 'midnight movie'. Thanks to Arrow Video, it has been given a shiny new coat of paint making it is easier to see all of its odd quirks and deformities. Just be prepared for the sheer amount of gruesome absurdity.