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Synapse Films presents
Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

"Am I truly insane?"
- Hitomi Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: September 05, 2007

Stars: Teruo Yohsida, Tatsumi Hijikata, Minoru Ohki, Asao Koike, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi
Director: Teruo Ishii

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, violence, nudity
Run Time: 01h:39m:10s
Release Date: August 28, 2007
UPC: 654930306499
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-A-A- B

DVD Review

This film was released by Synapse alongside Snake Woman's Curse, but Horrors of Malformed Men could not be more different. Ostensibly a horror film, it is instead a tripped out, absurdist melange of Edogawa Rampo stories that starts off much better than it finishes. Teruo Ishii directed, and Synapse has put together a nice package to celebrate a bizarre film.

The basic storyline involves Hitomi Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida), a man trapped in an insane asylum at the film's start. He escapes rather easily, and then embarks on a quest to discover his roots, which leads him through murder, grave-robbing, and impersonation to an island run by a lunatic trying to create a personal world of "malformed men," one that he wants Hirosuke to help him out with.

Amazingly enough, the film remains out of circulation in Japan, finding its first home video release with this DVD. With such an infamous film, there are plenty of expectations to live up to, and in terms of sheer weirdness, Ishii doesn't disappoint; from the first moments, we are shown quite bluntly that this will not be your standard shocker. Simply put, the movie has the logic of a dream, and must be taken in that context. Any attempt to force the film into a plot-oriented assessment is going to fall short, and Ishii clearly doesn't have a whole lot of interest in going down that narrative alley, despite a late stab at explaining some of the backstory of the characters. Even with that awkward explication, there is much that remains unexplained. That Ishii and co-writer Masahiro Kakefuda took elements from several Rampo stories and mixed and matched how they pleased should indicate a desire for tone rather than plot.

All that said, some of the material here comes off today as simply cheesy or ridiculous. On a practical level, the make-up is pretty bad, with the malformed men that we can actually look at sporting a more theatrical, rather than cinematic, brand of disguise. Tastumi Hijikata, as the madman behind the horrorshow island, gives a performance that I found hard to take; the head of an avant garde theater troupe (who perform as the denizens of the island), he gyrates to and fro and speaks his lines in a gutteral monotone that grates. My weariness with his performance may simply indicate a dislike of butoh-inspired acting; your mileage may vary. And lastly, the final jaw-dropping finale (literally explosive) is laugh out loud crazy but also features abysmal effects that add to the humor. It's an audacious sequence, at any rate.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining too much; the film as a whole transcends its limitations to stand as a unique experience, though the jacket hype is pushing it ("you may never be able to watch normal movies again!") a little far. It's a remarkable film, if not the be-all end-all experience some might be expecting. Ishii certainly deserves a higher profile than he already enjoys; his Joy of Torture films are a trip, and he has plenty of other titles deserving of a release. This disc makes a nice start.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Given its lack of circulation in Japan for much of its lifetime, the film should be in pretty nice condition, and it is, as Synapse's excellent transfer indicates. The transfer is anamorphic and the optional English subtitles are clean and free of errors.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack does the job, with a clean, solid track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Film critic Mark Schilling
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Liner notes with two essays
  2. Poster gallery
  3. Reversible cover art
Extras Review: We get some decent bonus features here, starting with the insert. It features two essays, one on the film by Patrick Macias and Tomo Machiyama, and another on Rampo film adaptations, by Jasper Sharp. On the disc itself, we begin with Malformed Memories (00h:22m:53s), a double interview documentary with Shunya Tsukamoto and Minoru Kawasaki, two directors influenced by Ishii's work. They discuss Ishii and the film. Film critic Mark Schilling contributes a commentary track, which provides plenty of interesting material. Ishii in Italia (00h:13m:49s) covers the late director's visit to Italy in 2003 for the Far East Film Festival. It's very home movie-ish, but worth a look. Finally, the original theatrical trailer wraps things up, with text additions in the form of Ishii and Rampo biographies.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If you have any interest in horror or Japanese film or both, you probably owe to yourself to check out Horrors of Malformed Men; a relic in some respects, it retains a weird power all its own. Synapse's DVD is excellent, with a sparkling transfer and some quality bonus materials.


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