Several times during the first few minutes of Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), I thought I was going to have to turn it off. It reminded me of A Page of Madness, another Japanese horror movie that takes place in a mental institution. That one was hard for me to endure from beginning to end; however, once the action moved outside the institution in Horrors of Malformed Men, it really captured my interest.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when that was, because the story propels the movie forward, hopscotching over scenes that would explain how it gets from point A to point C. Don't worry if you get confused; there's a convenient recap during the movie's finale. That’s probably my biggest complaint with the film. It starts as a complex fever dream where you have to deduce what's happening, but ends with a word by word explanation that leaves no ambiguity.
The first two-thirds don't seem like a horror movie at all. However, once the main character arrives on a remote island in the final third, it goes crazy. There are monsters and a mad scientist with a fiendish plot. It's the human part of the story, though, that contains the real horror. It takes us to some dark places, and the family drama is even more awful than what we see on the island. What begins seemingly as a typical mystery thriller undoubtedly ends in pure depravity.
The depravity lies within a simple mystery. Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) escapes from the institution, is framed for murdering a circus girl, and discovers that a man who looks like him, Genzaburo Komoda, has recently died. He masquerades as the dead man to uncover the truth about his identity and what happened to place him in the institution. It’s a clever and intriguing concept, albeit one we've seen in other movies since the time this one was made.
It's not that the opening scenes in the institution aren't depraved. It's a facility in which the residents, mostly women, gather in public areas in various stages of undress. The camera pans and lingers at a pair of breasts resting behind bars. That's a big clue about the nature of the film. Hirosuke's internal monologue asks a question we have, also: "Am I really insane?" Or, is the bald man who stares at him and the beautiful woman who changes to an ugly man real?
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM audio
Optional English subtitles
Two audio commentaries by Japanese cinema experts Tom Mes and Mark Schilling
Malformed Movies: a new video interview with Toei exploitation movie screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda
Malformed Memories: Filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo the Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler) on the career of director Teruo Ishii
Ishii in Italia: Ishii and Mark Schilling visit the Far East Film Festival
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Jasper Sharp, Tom Mes and Grady Hendrix
Written by Teruo Ishii & Masahiro Based on the novel by Rampo Edogawa Directed by Teruo Ishii Starring Teruo Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi, Michiko Kobata Released October 31, 1969 (Japan) RT 99 min. Home Video Arrow Video (Blu-ray)
Except for featuring an awesome burned corpse with popping eyeball, The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) isn’t a horror movie at all. It’s barely even the giallo it claims to be. First, there’s only one murder and we don't see it graphically committed. Second, the mystery of the movie is not so much the identity of the killer as it is the identity of the victim. Third, a police force that is normally incompetent in gialli is over-competent here. They prematurely believe they’ve solved the murder. It’s a good thing retired (and determined) detective Thompson (Ray Milland) is trying to fill some of his idol time with a little police work.
Meanwhile, there’s a parallel story about a whore, both figuratively and literally, Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro), that you’re not quite sure how it belongs. Characters eventually overlap, and then there’s a twist, even though it seems a bit familiar. As in Horrors of Malformed Men, its impact today is lessened because it’s been done several times since this movie was made in 1977. I appreciate the risk it was taking in storytelling at the time, and even if the plot device itself didn’t surprise me, the movie offers other twist and turns, and one unexpected event that caused me to jump.
The timeline of the story is a little fuzzy; undetermined amounts of time seem to pass between scenes. I guess by the time you get to the end though, it doesn’t turn out to be much of an issue after all. The broad strokes are what’re important. Don’t worry that the two parallel stories seem to be unraveling at a different pace. Just be patient and it will all make sense… well, as much sense as a movie like this can make.
While the movie doesn’t have a distinct style such as Dario Argento had with his gialli, director Flavio Mogherini demonstrates some style of his own here and there. In an early shot, as the body of the victim is discovered, the camera looks down from above. Also, when Inspectors Thompson and Morris (Rod Mullinar) chat in the morgue, it's in front of a window where we continue to observe the business taking place. The problem with his style, which is not unique to a 1970s movie, is that it includes slow-motion shots at strange times.
Since there’s usually an American star included in a mostly-Italian cast, gialli have an international feel. The Pyjama Girl Case is really international. Not only does it take place in Australia, which is unique, but makes a point about the nationalities of its characters as part of the story. So-and-so is Italian. So-and-so is French. Of course, Thompson is American. The character who is targeted for the murder believes it is because he is an immigrant, which in turn makes him a second-class citizen.
Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of "So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films"
New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo
New video interview with actor Howard Ross
New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani
Italian theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas