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"Goke - The Body Snatcher From Hell", Dir: Hajime Sato, 1968

Hajime Sato's 1968 chiller "Goke - The Body Snatcher From Hell" or "Vampire Gokemidoro" must surely be one of the oddest additions to Japanese sci-fi films of the 50's and 60's since it's a bizarre mash-up of science fiction and vampire tropes wrapped up in a plot that might have inspired J.J Abram's "Lost" and a notable scene from John Carpenter's "The Thing".

It was not produced by studios more well-known for this type of genre film, such as Toho or Daiei, but "P Productions" which made few theatrical films and focussed more on producing "Anime" and "Tokusatsu" for the television market, a sector eager for content in the boom period of the 1960's.

I first came across the intriguing title in Ed Naha's book "Horrors From Screen to Scream" and it works as a hook to reel in the viewer who might anticipate the kind of low budget B-Movie shocker reserved for late night TV screenings, which it is to some extent, though it aims a little higher with its message to humanity of ending wars and protecting the environment.

Part commentary on Cold War / Nuclear paranoia that followed in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that left an indelible mark on the Japanese psyche and that continues to inform Japanese science fiction to the present, if not so much in films then in Manga and Anime.

It's also surprisingly prescient in terms of references to global terrorism, political instability leading to conflict and UFO's, the latter triggering the events in a plot concerning a passenger airliner that is forced to go off course by a hijacker on board coupled with a near collision with a mysterious unidentified flying object that causes it to crash in an unknown location killing many of the crew and passengers but sparing a few, comprising the pilot, an air hostess, an ambitious and amoral politician and his lover, the lover's husband, a psychologist, a doctor, another terrorist and the hijacker.

Worth noting are the well-executed (for the period) and creepy visual effects, from an air crash to the depiction of the "Goke" of the title, an alien race of parasitic protoplasmic blobs that invade the brains of a host and turn them into blood-sucking vampires. The aliens arrive in the type of glowing UFO seen in other Japanese sci-fi films of the period, ie saucer-shaped.

The first victim is the hijacker, who is hypnotised into entering the alien ship following an attempt to kidnap the air hostess and hold her hostage, and where he is turned into a vampire that begins to prey on the hapless crash survivors. At this point the film seems very influenced by the Christopher Lee cycle of "Dracula" films made by Hammer Films throughout the late 1950's and into the 1970's, though the hijacker, now with a vertical scar on his overhead where the alien entity has entered, is wearing a white suit and wears no "Dracula" style cape, thus avoiding any inadvertent Ed Wood comedy.

The tone of the film is of creeping dread and at one point one of the desperate survivors suggests testing those who have so far escaped being drained of vital fluids to see if they haven't been infected by the alien blobs, which immediately brought to mind a similar sequence from John Carpenter's "The Thing".

I have a feeling I have watched the film already since the sequences where crew members enter the alien saucer is very memorable but it's also very likely that I dozed off the first time around, so this felt like a first time viewing :)

Whichever, if you're looking for some suitable Halloween viewing, "Goke - The Body Snatcher From Hell" fits the bill, providing of course that you don't mind watching a mash-up of vampires and alien space blobs that also delivers a very gloomy and ominous conclusion.

"Goke - The Body Snatcher From Hell", Dir Hajime Sato, 1968

Criterion Channel.

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