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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Horrors of Malformed Men (Blu-ray)
Horrors of Malformed Men (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // Unrated // September 18, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 8, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Adopted for the big screen by Teruo Ishii who based his screenplay on legendary Japanese author Edogawa Rampo's novel The Strange Tale Of Panorama Island, the often talked about but rarely seen Horrors Of Malformed Men finally saw its first legitimate home video release thanks to Synapse Films and Panik House some years back and now it gets a high definition upgrade from Arrow Video.

Hirosuki Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida how also shows up in Ishii's notorious The Joy Of Torture and Goke Body Snatcher From Hell) is an amnesiac medical student who winds up in police custody. Before long, he breaks out and runs from the law and when he sees a local newspaper reporting on the death of a man named Mokota Genzaburou who could pass for his identical twin, he sees an opportunity to assume the man's identity and in turn, to try and figure out his own past and the many mysteries that comprise it.

Hirosuki eventually travels to a strange island ruled by a mad doctor named Jogoro Komodo (Tatsumi Hijikata who plays the hunchback in Blind Woman's Curse), a truly strange man with webbed hands and a penchant for turning every day, normal folks into freaks by way of some unorthodox surgery and chemical treatments. As such, these malformed men populate the island, with Jogoro serving as their king. Hirosuki investigates Jogoro's work and his life and soon uncovers some disheartening revelations, which indicate that he may be his long, lost father.

Filled with completely bizarre and at times rather surreal imagery, Horrors Of Malformed Men appears to borrow from Todd Browning's Freaks in a few spots but definitely puts a unique spin on things making this film one that has a strange lasting effect on the viewer. When the film debuted in 1969, it reportedly left quite a mark on the Japanese movie-going public who still had fresh memories of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As such the film was more or less yanked from circulation and when the Japanese word for ‘malformed' was effectively banned, the film was only very rarely ever seen afterwards. While some of the impact may have weakened in the decades since this film was made, most of the scenes still disturb not because of gore or jump scares but because of the legitimate and genuine feeling of perversity. At the same time, the choreography used by some of the malformed characters and by Jogoro in particular, who moves like a crab, is eye-catching and at times almost beautiful.

While the story is certainly less impressive than the visuals (the influence of H. G. Wells' The Island Of Doctor Moreau seems obvious) there are still some interesting twists thrown in here to keep this from being more than just a series of bizarre and pretty pictures. The finale in particular is rather surprising and more than a little disturbing and if the first third of the film seems a little bit ‘by the numbers' once we're at the second act we find there's really no turning back.

The cinematography, courtesy of Shigeru Akatsuka, the man who shot Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon and Girl Boss Guerilla, is fantastic. The camera does a great job of capturing the subtle macabre undertones of certain aspects of the picture as well as the more blatant and obvious make up effects that are used to bring the various characters to life. The movie looks fantastic from start to finish, and the unusual score from Masao Yagi does a fine job of enhancing the mood without becoming distracting.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Arrow brings Horrors Of Malformed Men to Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 in a transfer that is taken from a ‘brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original negative' and it looks very good. The film's intentionally bizarre color scheme is nicely replicated here, the strange green hues that are cast over much of the film adding to the picture's macabre atmosphere. Black levels are solid and there's strong shadow detail. The image is quite clean, showing very little print damage, just the odd white speck here and there. Detail and texture are stronger than the DVD release, and there's better depth here as well. The image shows no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and there are no noticeable problems with any obvious noise reduction. All in all, a very solid transfer of a decidedly strange looking film.

Sound:

Audio chores are handled by the original Japanese language track presented in an uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM mix with newly translated removable English subtitles. No problems to note here, the audio is fine. The track is understandably limited in range but the levels are well-balanced, the dialogue clear and the track free of any hiss or distortion related issues. The subtitles are clean and easy to read.

Extras:

Two audio commentaries by Japanese cinema experts Tom Mes and Mark Schilling (who writes for The Japan Times). The Shilling commentary, ported over from the Synapse Films DVD release, finds him speaking at length about the history of the production but spends just as much time putting it into context alongside some of the Ishii's other pictures and in providing some welcome biographical details about the director. Shilling details the involvement of the dance troupe in the film and explains why they were chosen and the importance that they play in certain key scenes. He also does a good job of giving us some basic but essential information on Edogawa Rampo's story and some interesting biographical information about the author who is widely considered to be the Japanese equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe. Mes' track, which is exclusive to this release, covers some of the same ground (it would be hard not to) but also goes into quite a bit of detail about the film's scattershot distribution history, its influence, its cultural importance and some of the controversy that surrounded the film when it was first released. He also spends quite a bit of time providing some welcome context for the picture, comparing it and contrasting it to some of Ishii's other films and discussing what sets this apart in what is, let's be blunt, a truly strange filmography overall.

Also new to this release is Malformed Movies, a new video interview with Toei exploitation movie screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda that chimes in at just shy of fourteen-minutes in length. Here the writer talks about getting his start in the business and his contributions to some of the studio's less than mainstream efforts. He shares some interesting stories about some of the directors that he worked with and gives a nice career overview.

Carried over from the Synapse Films DVD release is Malformed Memories, which is essentially a twenty-three-minute sit down interview/chat with two of Ishii's contemporaries, Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (who directed The Calamari Wrestler). Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, the pair discusses Ishii's influence and the importance of his work. A few clips of Ishii video interviews allow the director himself to make a posthumous appearance and speak briefly about the picture. We also get the Ishii In Italia piece from the Synapse disc. This a fourteen-minute clip from Ishii's appearance at The Far East Film Festival that was held in Italy in 2003 where he introduced a rare screening of Horrors Of Malformed Men to a fairly enthusiastic audience by discussing his appreciation of Rampo's work and why sex and violence have a place in the movies.

Rounding out the extras are a still gallery, a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Arrow packages this release with some nice reversible cover art as well as an insert booklet that contains credits for the disc and the feature as well as writing on the film from Jasper Sharp, Tom Mes and Grady Hendrix

Final Thoughts:

A genuine masterpiece of Japanese genre cinema, Horrors Of Malformed Men gets an impressive high definition debut from Arrow Video. The transfer is great, the extras are interesting and plentiful, and most importantly, the movie is both unique and compelling. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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