My viewing journey through the WHEN HORROR CAME TO SHOCHIKU box set continues with GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL. (Nice title, eh?)
A Japanese airliner is traveling through a sky filled with nightmarish blood-red clouds. The crew suspects something is amiss (ya think?). Soon birds begin to smash themselves against the side of the plane. The crew is then alerted by radio that there may be a bomb on board. Then...a UFO is spotted, which almost sideswipes the jet, causing all the instruments to malfunction. The jet crash lands on a barren, rocky landscape....and all this happens before the credits roll!
The disparate collection of survivors includes a corrupt politician, a slimy arms merchant, a Vietnam War widow, the mad bomber, an assassin, and a creepy psychiatrist. While running away from the plane the assassin encounters the UFO, which has landed nearby. A blob-like alien enters the assassin's brain through a slit in the middle of his forehead, turning him into a vampire. The alien's plan is to invade and subjugate the entire Earth.
GOKE is wilder and stranger than all the other films in this set. It certainly starts off with a bang, and then sort of resembles other plane crash movies which have desperate characters fighting for survival--except this one has a space vampire. The scenes where the alien enters the "host" body are genuinely disturbing (see picture above). The design of the alien spacecraft's exterior and interior is pretty simple and low-budget--it's mostly flashing lights and primary colors--but it's effective, and it has a Mario Bava-esque quality to it.
Director Hajime Sato uses the confined space of the crashed jet's interior to create a tension-filled atmosphere. Almost from the start of their ordeal the survivors start turning on one another, and the jet almost functions as a sort of haunted house. There's no food or water, and no one knows where they have landed, so the mood gets ratcheted up as the story moves along. The possessed assassin stalks his victims just like Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi would. When a possessed human is killed off, the body crumbles into dust (another unsettling effect).
The various passengers are examples of the greed and violence of mankind (the Vietnam War widow's function in the story is very obvious). At one point the alien (who refers to its race as the Gokemidoro) explains that Earth is ripe for conquest because humanity is too busy killing each other off. So not only do we get a disaster/horror/sci-fi flick, we get a late 1960s message movie as well.
The only two passengers who don't go off the rails are the plane's First Officer and stewardess, who manage to get away...but instead of finding civilization, they find themselves the last people standing in a grimly apocalyptic finale. The downbeat ending feels like it comes from a picture of today instead of 1968.
I'm sure a lot of people will be put off by a title like GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL. But if you are into this type of film, you will be surprised at how effective it is in creating a bizarre, macabre story. For fans of horror and science-fiction, it is definitely worth seeing.