“A fiendish vampire from a strange world in outer-space drains his victims blood and turns them into weird corpses!”

If nothing else, the tagline should at least let you know what you’re in for with Goke! There’s a bomb-threat, a hi-jacker, an aeroplane crash, a political assassin and - just to top it all off – a UFO! And that’s just in the first ten minutes! Okay, so we all know there’s some pretty weird Asian cinema out there, much of it being brought to light in America and Europe over the last few years. So, here is one of the originals….

Filmed in 1968 by one Hajimi Sato (also, bizarrely, known as Terrance Ford) the film was only his third but became his most famous work and something of a cinematic legend – well, in Japan at least. In the rest of the world it has a small cult following, featuring in hard-to-find video stores and private collections as well as making appearances as ‘the midnight movie’ in many an old cinema. Last month saw it’s all region DVD release, so everyone can enjoy this strange piece of movie making for themselves.

Shot in, what was at the time, a particularly European style of filming, the film is often compared to the work of Italian horror director Mario Bava. The cinamatography is presented in lurid, at times almost overwhelming, ‘60’s Technicolor. The blood-red sky the plane flies through in the opening sequence was one of the scenes ‘homaged’ by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill. This film itself also pays tribute to many before it, most notably, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer-space! and The Blob. The setting, cinamatography, and occasional passable effect all go toward creating quite an atmospheric and at times striking experience, although somewhat cheesy – but hey, would you be expecting anything else?

The plot? I hear you ask… well, if you really want to know, it goes something like this.

A commercial airliner flies through a flock of birds, all of which proceed to get massacred in a feathery mess on the windows. As the polite struggles to see where he’s going they receive news of a bomb threat, just as one of the passengers (actually a political assassin out to prolong the Vietnam War!) hijacks the plane in mid-air! Suddenly a strange and blinding light appears in the sky – it’s a UFO! The plane skims the side of it and in the process looses a wing, thus naturally falling to the ground. The nine passengers who have survived scramble out to find themselves' crash landed in a desert wilderness with no supplies – but wait – the UFO has crashed too! The demented hijacker seems to take quite an interest in it and wonders over to go take a look. As he’s staring at it a huge would (remarkably resembling the female genitals?!) opens on his fore-head. What could that be for? Of course – that’s how the aliens will get inside the humans and take over the world by reanimating human corpses! No sooner said than a blue, bubbling ooze exits the UFO and enters the scar in the hijackers head. It follows that this must turn him into a bloodsucking monster!

While this happens we are introduced to the other characters, there’s a resourceful co-pilot, a nerdy but kind psychiatrist, a pretty stewardess, a self-centred politician and a rifle-wielding Vietnam widow (played by an American who speaks English the whole way through which explains why, if you’re watching a Japanese version dubbed with English, every time she speaks Japanese subtitles appear). Your usual cast of characters then – you just can’t wait to see in what order they’ll get picked off in and in what gruesome fashion. Because you already know without me having to tell you, that everyone else who sees the hijacker also gets a scar, blue slime and the sole thought of sucking people’s blood! This progresses through the passengers all amidst more UFO shenanigans, psychotic episodes, constant peril from the dangerous surroundings and eventually culminates in a shocking and twisted ending that even those who don’t see anything else in the movie talk about as it’s redeeming feature… *dum dum dum* Go on, go watch it.

Yes, it has terrible acting, dodgy special effects, cheesy characters with cheesy lines and a very unsubtle anti-war message that gets hammered home once too often to be effective, but it still remains a great piece of movie-making (if you’re into that sort of thing, or at least appreciate badly written dialog that provides plenty of opportunity for unintentionally funny one-liners) and looks set to remain a cult favourite for a long time to come. And in the end it all turns out to be a metaphor for atomic war…. So, um… enjoy?

Technical information and credits

Japanese title: Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro
English title: Goke - Body Snatcher From Hell
Japanese title translation(literal): Vampire Virus Gokemidoro
Japanese release date: August 14, 1968 (Shochiku)
US release date: 1977 (Pacemaker Films/TFC double billed with Bloody Pit of Horror)
Japanese runtime: 84 minutes
US runtime: 83 minutes
Film: 35mm (Anamorphic)
Colour: Eastman Colour
Process: Grand Scope (Cinemascope) (2.35:1)
Sound Mix: Mono

Producer: Gyo (Takashi) Inomata
Director: Hajime Sato
Screenplay: Susumu Takahisa, Kyuzo Kobayashi
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Director of Photography: Shizuo Hirase
Art Direction: Tadataka Yoshino
Film Editor: Akimitsu Terada
Assistant Director: Keiji Shiraki
Sound: Hiroshi Nakamura

Teruo Yoshida as Ei Sugisaka
Tomomi Sato as Kasumi Asakura
Hideo Ko-Teraoka as the terrorist
Masaya Takahashi as Dr. Sagai
Eizo Kitamura as Mano
Yuko Kunsunoki as Noriko
Kazuo Kato as Dr. Momotake
Kathy Horan as Mrs. Neal
Nobuo Kaneko as Tokuyasu
Toshihiko Yamamoto as Matsumiya, the bomber
Hiroyuki Nishimoto as the pilot