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DVD Review: Hiruko the Goblin

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There's not much darkness in the world right now. Everywhere I go
has lights, so it's getting harder for ghosts and monsters to
hide.–from the interview with Shinya Tsukamoto

"I'm not going and that's final," snapped Zombos. He folded his arms with finality.

"Me, neither," said Lawn Gisland. "Tarnation! That's one ornery, psycho-crazy film, and not to my liking." He folded his arms with finality.

"But no one else wants to review it," I protested. "You know I'm too squeamish to watch blood-oozing gore like that alone. I get sick at the sight of bloody body chunks flying helter-skelter across the screen. I fainted during the last one." I was desperate. No one wanted to come with me to see Saw IV.

"You're the high-falutin horror reviewer," said Lawn, "you go and have all the fun."

What would Roger Ebert do? Would he ignore a film just because he was squeamish? Sure, why not? I decided to review Hiruko the Goblin instead. Spidery goblins ripping off heads is so much easier to watch than that creepy Billy the puppet wheeling around on his squeaky tricycle anyway.

You don't need a Wikipedia entry like the lengthy one that explains the convolutions of the Saw series, either, for this film. Hiruko the Goblin (Yôkai hantâ: Hiruko) is a simple, heartwarming story about a boy, his longing for a girl's head, and an eccentric archaeologist with enough demon-hunting gadgets to put the Ghost Busters to shame. A foreboding school during summer recess, built over a gate to hell, adds some spice to this manga-frenetic actioner from co-writer and director Shinya Tsukamoto (he did the bizarre and inexplicable Tetsuo, the Iron Man; I dare you to explain that one).

This time he tones down his surrealistic art-house style in favor of grotesque, slapstick humor as the archaeologist, Hieda (Kenji Sawada), and the boy, Masao (Masaki Kudou) fight against Hiruko, a nasty, six-legged goblin with siblings to match, in and around the deserted school. Copious amounts of blood spout, here and there, but Tsukamoto plays it for absurdity and icky frights.

At the heart of it is perky Reiko (Megumi Ueno) and Masao's crush on her.  Reiko becomes an early victim, along with Hieda's friend and fellow archaeologist, Mr. Yabe, Masao's father, when they stumble into Hiruko's cave. Masao's buddies soon lose their heads over Reiko, too, as she–her lovely head, anyway–and the beastie scamper through the empty hallways of the school, singing a hypnotizing melody to lure them to their doom. When Hieda shows up with his homemade goblin detection and eradication-stuffed suitcase of gadgets, he's just in time to rescue Masao. In a calamitous, high-speed bicycle chase through the school, Reiko's head chases after them, sticking out her really long tongue for disgusting effect, but they escape, screaming all the way.

Hiruko04Borrowing visual tidbits from such films as John Carpenter's The Thing, and Roger Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors, Tsukamoto follows the bumbling pair as they search for Hiruko's home, hoping to seal him in permanently. Like Audrey, the man-eating plant whose victims' faces appear as blooming flowers, Masao receives a searing image of a face on his back each time Hiruko claims another head. The mystery of that, and his part in sealing the gate to hell, is soon revealed.

The skittish school janitor soon joins in the fight, and all three go against Hiruko, who sprouts wings and flies away after Hieda whips out a can of bug spray. Realizing where the entrance to Hiruko's cave is–the tool shed at the rear garden–Hieda and Masao enter the stone room and open the gate to the goblin's home. Of course, at this point, considering their purpose was to keep the gate closed, you may wonder why they opened it. Why, to get to the other side, of course! And the other side is a cavern filled with hundreds of Hiruko's pesky siblings, each looking to get ahead. When the bug spray runs out, it's a free for all as Hieda and Masao fight off the monsters while trying to seal the gate they shouldn't have opened to begin with.

Hiruko the Goblin is a fun, farcical horror romp from a director not known for his lighter side. The less than stellar use of stop-motion animation and jerky animatronics for the goblins only adds to the over the top style, which approaches Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II in its bloody, gory mayhem.

The DVD from Fangoria International contains a short but essential interview with Tsukamoto, where he cites the Shonen Drama Series as a strong influence for his cinematic work. An interview with the special effects designer, Takashi Oda, details his construction of Hiruko, and a low-res photo gallery and trailers round out the extras. For fans of Tsukamoto's Tetsuo, the Iron Man, this film may be a disappointment; but for the rest of us horrorheads, it's a stylishly weird monster movie that's entertaining and creepy.

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