Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)


TCM televised Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) fairly regularly during the last year. I had never heard of it and finally decided to read its synopsis. Wow! It sounded fantastic, like Airport meets Invaders from Mars meets Dracula. Finally, I took the opportunity to watch it and I was not disappointed. The movie lived up to my expectations.

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With red skies surrounding it and birds crashing into its windows, an airplane has a close encounter with "a flying object," and makes a crash landing. Although there is political talk among the passengers prior to the incident, I didn't realize a movie like this would continue to focus on the characters and relationships through the very end.

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I didn't find it heavy-handed because I was thrilled at the screenplay's depth; however, I can see how some people might not want politics mixed into their space vampire movies. At first, it's a conversation between characters on a local level. By the end, though, it's a debate over whether or not humanity has brought worldwide destruction onto itself.

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Perhaps this aspect of the story connected with me because its politics are so timely, particularly in 2017. The senator, Gozo Mano (Eizo Kitamura) is a duplicitous scumbag to whom I would not want to be near during a real survival situation. Forget the deadly representative of the alien Gokemidoro race that threatens everyone; this guy is the real villain.

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Luckily, other passengers include Dr. Momotake, the psychiatrist (Kazuo Kato) and Toshiyuki Saga, the scientist (Masaya Takahashi). It's lucky because the psychiatrist can hypnotize Kazumi Asakura, the stewardess (Tomomi Sato), when she's in shock after being on board the flying saucer and the scientist can put people at risk because he wants to witness how the Gokemidoro function.

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So, yes, you see, the alien craft has landed not far from where the airplane crashed. When another passenger, Hirofumi Teraoka, the hijacker (Hideo Ko), grabs Kazumi as a hostage and takes her on the run, they stumble upon it. She fares much better than he does, though. His forehead splits open so that a blue blob-like organism can crawl inside.

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In this form, the Gokemidoro feeds like a vampire, sucking all the blood out of its victims without a single drop being spilled. Even with this detail, for much of its 84-minute running time, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell unfolds like a survival drama. It's merely coincidental that the characters are threatened by an otherworldly menace.

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And if it isn't dramatic enough, Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American passenger goes rogue on the others because the physical appearance of whom I like to call "Slitface," reminds her of the fatal wounds her husband suffered in Vietnam. She was on her way to Osaka to lay him to rest. This ties in to the plan of the Gokemidoro…

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While possessing another woman, Noriko Tokuyasu (Yuko Kusunoki), one of them speaks through her. They have been watching Earth for a long time and, since they've "already turned the planet into a battlefield," they intend to wipe out all mankind. In a shocking scene, Noriko then throws herself off the edge of the cliff. On the ground below, her face is a skull.

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This movie does not stop! When it turns out the teenager who originally reported a bomb threat on the airplane does indeed have a bomb, he threatens to blow a hole in the plane when they lock him out of it. Everyone knows it's hard enough keeping the bad guys out with conventional doors and windows. What do you do when you have a big hole in the side of your secure location?

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My one point of confusion with Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell comes near the end. It's either an example of horrible plotting, or a big twist. [Possible spoiler alert!] All along, I've assumed the plane crashed on a deserted island. Yet, when the two survivors leave the area, we learn they're just outside a city.

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I'm going to take it as an intended twist because we get to see what the Gokemidori have done to Earth on a larger scale, and it is grim. In a movie that gives you everything you want and more, the final shot is even more apocalyptic than that. I loved this movie. Any technical flaws are quickly forgiven with a story that pushes all the right buttons.

Written by Kyuzo Kobayashi, Susumu Takaku

Directed by Hajime Sato

Starring Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Sato, Eizo Kitamura, Hideo Ko, Kathy Horan, Yuko Kusunoki, Kazuo Kato, Hiroyuki Nishimoto

Released August 14, 1968 (Japan)

RT 84 min.

Home Video The Criterion Collection (DVD)

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