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Born in 1894 in Japan, horror and fantasy writer Edogawa Rampo shocked his country until his death in 1965 with horrific stories about basic primal human vices and obsessions. Set stylistically between Edgar Alan Poe (for which "Edogawa Rampo" is the Japanese phonetic version) and H.P. Lovecraft, Rampo was a unique voice in Japanese literature with his detective stories filled with perversion and a little touch of supernatural here and there. In this day and age of diluted copycat Japanese horror films, this masterpiece is a breath of fresh air for the true fan of Japanese horror films and Asian Extreme Cinema. If there were anything in this world that defined sinister beauty, then this film would be it.
Based on three short stories from Rampo, the film delves into primal human compulsions that end up unleashing unfathomable horrors. The first segment, Mirror Hell, follows a detective investigating a string of deaths that seem to all be related to a special mirror. The second short, The Caterpillar, is quite a stunning and nauseating grotesque story featuring a wounded war veteran returning from the front line as little more than a bloody torso who finds himself at the mercy of increasingly perverse caprices of his embittered wife. Finally, the third and final episode, Crawling Bugs, tells the story of a chauffeur who becomes so infatuated with an actress that he kidnaps her, kills her, and dresses up like a doll until her body start rotting, forcing him to use extreme methods to keep her beauty as intact as possible.
It's incredible what a good budget, and carte blanche have allowed three different directors to do with the material. This is not a film for the faint of heart as some imageries are truly difficult to watch and horrific. But it's done in an intensely intellectual way, with stories of deep human emotions such as narcissism, bitterness and obsession. You won't find a ghost or supernatural force in here, and that makes the film all the more unsettling: it's all about real people, albeit in a surreal world. With gorgeous visuals, top notch art direction, and incredibly rich stories, this film is a hit. Each story is shot by a different director, with a definite individual touch and feeling.
This film exemplifies what made so many Japanese extreme (exploitation) movies so attractive to a number of people. Its frank eroticism, visual creativity, and willingness to explore the darkest corners of the human soul have found quite a following. But those very things are also why such films have had a hard time escaping the cult circle: most people cannot go beyond the strong material, or keep an open mind, and appreciate the true artistry of such films. This is a real unabashed NC-17 film.
- Laurent Hasson