Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater Vol 2
[The Present / Death Make]
Genre: Santa Slasher and Guppy Mantis Monster!
review in one breath
This is the third and last volume of the Kazuo Umezu Horror Theater collection and contains episodes five and six of the six-episode whole. Unlike the child-centric tales in volume 2, these two episodes are squarely aimed at adults, at least in terms of the horror and gore meted (meated?) out. In the first story, you better not cry, you better not pout... or Killer Santa will feed your BRAINS to his reindeer. In the second tale, a group of amateur clairvoyants gather to confront their inner demons, which may or may not turn out to be a giant fish-faced bug from Hell!
This is the third of three volumes in the recently released Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theater. Each volume contains two one-hour horror vignettes based on Umezu's (or as he prefers, "Umezz") horror manga. The production of this series celebrates the 50th anniversary of Umezu's debut as manga artist. His fifty-year career has been nothing short of prolific.
The following six tales comprise the entire collection:
House of Bugs (vol 1)
The Diet (vol 1)
Snake Girl (vol 2)
The Wish (vol 2)
The Present (vol 3)
Death Make (vol 3)
Umezz defines horror as extreme pyscho drama and his tales thus usually center around some dire, unexpected situation arising out of a psychological state or trauma. The ability with which the tales in this collection accomplish this varies. Some are remarkably effective while others, and especially those in this third volume, fall more squarely within a more mainstream definition of "horror". Here, that definition would include extreme slasher gore and killer bug-like monsters from another dimension.
The two tales in Volume Three come across as the most "horrific" of the entire collection, not necessarily in terms of their spook factor but in their visual (blood soaked) content. I have found that each of the three volumes has its own flavor. Volume 1 was very effective in depicting the "psychological horror" which Umezu specifically sees as his specialty. Volume 2 was almost purely child-centric, involving very young protagonists and the weird encounters which befell them. Volume 3, which we are reviewing here, is far more gruesome that the others and offers tales which are certainly aimed at adult audiences.
Most of the collection's six tales are by the hand of a different director ranging from the well-known to nigh obscure. Here one established and one newbie director take the helm at depicting stories based on Umezz's manga.
The following are brief descriptions of the two tales contained in volume 3:
The Present [Purezento]
Yuko finds herself on Santa's "Naughty List" and gets a whole lot more than a lump of coal in her stocking. On Christmas Eve she and her friends end up at a Love Motel bedecked with Christmas decorations and run by a large, steely-eyed bearded guy in a Santa suit. By night's end (and after a brief romp in the sack with her new boyfriend) she will see her friends' limbs torn from their bodies and their brains fed to Ravenous Reindeer. HO HO HO!
This tale is directed by Yamaguchi Yudai who also directed the zombie flick Battlefield Baseball (2003) and Meatball Machine (2005). Here he takes a plump jolly Santa and throws him over the edge into bezerkoid slasher territory.
On a side note, the notion of a killer Santa is not all that far-fetched to Japanese sensibilities. They actually have their own tale of the Namahage, a demon-like creature wielding a huge knife or cleaver which visits children's homes on New Year's Eve. After pounding on the door, the demon screams out asking whether there are any misbehaving children inside. The traditional threat (which the children are told to no end) is that if the children are bad, they will be flayed alive and EATEN by this demon. (!!) Just to make sure this image sticks with the kids, adult men dressed as Namahage actually make the rounds on New Year's Eve and pound on neighborhood doors, to the terror of the kids inside (and the apparent glee of their parents). Ive seen this in action first hand while living in Akita prefecture. Here's a youtube video of a Namahage scaring the crap out of a young kid. All this to say its not a huge conceptual leap from this kid-eating demon to a similarly violent scenario with Santa (who, after all, is keeping track of bad kids, right?)
In pursuit of ratings, a blogging TV director attempts a show dealing with the supernatural. He gathers a small group of amateur clairvoyants in a supposedly haunted building which, as it turns out, is actually an ad hoc portal to an apocalyptic dimension inhabited by a large fish-headed cricket with a taste for clairvoyant flesh. (!!)
This tale is directed by Taichi Ito and seems to be his first directorial work. His inexperience comes through loud and clear in this highly disjointed and bizarre tale which tries to include a plethora of elements (ghosts, monsters, dimensions, cute goth girls) but fails rather miserably at most. (The goth girl is cute, though.) I'm also not sure why this is called "Death Make", unless "make" is short for "make-up" (as in prep for a TV show). Death "mask" seems more appropriate. "The Killer Guppy Cricket from Another Dimension" would have nailed it precisely.
In all, the six tales in this collection offer quite a range of horror tales. The two stories in Volume 3 might well be good for a few laughs with your friends. There's nothing ground-breaking here nor anything which merits a strong recommendation (or second viewing). But if you're in the mood for some strange schlock gore, these may do just fine.
All three of these volumes, as well as the Box Set are now released in Region 1 subtitled versions and can be easily rented through NetFlix or BlockBuster.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with English subtitles available at all mainstream venues.
|Not much cultural value here unless you include the discovery of carnivorous reindeer.||HO HO HOLY COW! Better be good! 'Cause Santa Claus is coming to town with Meat Cleavers, Chainsaws and Brain-Eating Rudolph!||At least Santa waited until they were done unwrapping each other.||I gotta admit, this is pretty strange.|