What was it about Teruo Ishii's Horrors of Malformed Men that appalled Japanese audiences and compelled distributors to pull all prints from circulation for decades? Was it the rampant female nudity? The avant-garde bizarreness? The themes of deformity and mutilation? The hints of perversity? Or was it just the creepy voodoo vibe that permeated the story like blood seeping through the ceiling, making even mundane scenes vibrate with the heebie-jeebies? Whatever the reason, this DVD is the first time Ishii's ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) cult classic has been released, according to the liner notes, in 'any commercial format, anywhere â?¦ until now.â?�
The going gets weird from the very first scene: Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) is surrounded in a mental institution by cackling hordes of topless madwomen stumbling drunkenly and jabbing at him with a springloaded theatrical knife. He escapes, but soon hears news of the death of a man who looks exactly like him, right down to the swastika carved into the sole of his foot. Hitomi figures if he assumes the stranger's identity and insinuates himself into the family compound (including dallying with the dead man's widow) it's the perfect way to cover his tracks. But soon a series of mysterious murders leads him to a strange rocky outcropping where a wraithlike man with webbed hands insists he help him expand his twisted menagerie of deformed freaks.
Based on a story by Japanese mystery horror writer Edogawa Rampo, the film isn't horror in the slasher-flick sense ' rather, it's got a spooky flavor of subsumed Gothic depravity somewhere between Psycho and Carnival of Souls, with a heaping spoonful of fringe-theater weirdness (the legion of freaks were portrayed by performance artists from a butoh dance company) and exploitation-film verve. It's easy to unsettle audiences with severed limbs and buckets of gore, but Ishii eschews those cheap tricks in favor of art-film-worthy images like a phalanx of nude, chalk-white women cresting a hill, thrashing their coarse black hair and yipping like dogs in hot pursuit of our hero, or a sadistic punishment for an unfaithful woman that involves a very subtle and sublimated cannibalism. By the film's denouement, where a descent into a cavern visually reinforces the Freudian depravity of how all the story lines converge, it's obvious this film is too strange, too deep and too unique to be lumped in with other low-budget shockers. Horrors of Malformed Men is a must-see unburied treasure for Asian cinephiles, mondo-cine fanatics and all connoisseurs of a slow-burning scare.