Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Dissection by Kelly
Currently listening to Bathory Blood on Ice
The 1980s are upon us again and this time I decided to venture forth to Japan, home of eccentric films. In my explorations I stumbled upon a splatterific slasher to review, which is currently streaming on Youtube. I was quickly held captive by this film and look forward to the dissection of Toshiharu Ikeda’s Evil Dead Trap from 1988!
The premise of Evil Dead Trap is initially quite straight forward, but in classic Japanese film fashion, things take a dark and twisted turn at the end. Beautiful and confident Nami (our Final Girl) is the head reporter on a late-night television show which asks viewers to send in controversial, or funny videos, to play on air. She acquires a shockingly realistic film of the murder of a young woman whose ending reveals the dead woman to be Nami. The disturbing video sets Nami on a path to discover the video’s origins. She gathers her crew and heads off to the abandoned building where it was filmed. As the crew separates (!!!!) and investigate the area, everyone gets killed in a variety of well thought out traps before Nami reaches the final, harrowing yet peculiar, body horror-filled conclusion.
The “snuff” film is truly a death on video and shows an incredible eye-gouging scene, making for a very strong opening to Evil Dead Trap! The practical effects are grisly and marvelous which is common for Japanese horror (J-Horror) as they relish in authenticity. Also, Japan is known for primarily releasing horror films regarding the supernatural with infamous ghost girls like Ringu, and Ju-On, or mega monster movies like Godzilla, so this foray into the slasher genre was a very pleasant -- and refreshing -- surprise.
There is a lot to love about Evil Dead Trap: the overall pacing, the music (Goblin-esque retro synth), the traps, the premise, and so much more. It’s a low budget film with sex, nudity, murder, and mayhem! There are many influences in Evil Dead Trap which makes it feel like a mash-up of cultures and genres; at first, it feels very much like a North American slasher (and a good one at that), but then the music comes in and you are whisked away to Italy -- it’s straight out of a Giallo. As a matter of fact, the music was so oddly familiar that I thought I actually recognized it from a Dario Argento film.
I can’t discuss Evil Dead Trap without mentioning the very oddly placed rape scene of one of the female crew members (played by Hitomi Kobayashi, an adult video star). It’s disturbing and a death trap occurs right afterward, making your head spin from all the brutality. What is also highly unsettling is the dialogue that happens at the same time. An unnamed man who happens to escape his confinement, describes the killer to her, even important plot points while raping her, and she responds! I am not reluctant to watch rape scenes in movies as I feel that they are, generally speaking, necessary if they serve a purpose to the narrative. However, I found this one incredibly unnecessary and exceptionally unnerving.
I believe that if one is to comment on misogyny in society, then one must place it into their films. A quote from Introduction to Japanese Horror Film by Colette Balmain that I found very relevant was: “This is the double binary, in which in order to criticize violence towards women explicitly, along with their objectification, films have first to visualize that violence; as a consequence, they run the risk of being castigated as misogynist.” So although I don’t find Evil Dead Trap to be inherently misogynistic because of this irrelevant rape, I do find it leaning more towards transgressive empowerment.
Despite this misplaced and unfortunate scene, Evil Dead Trap lacks the familiar male gaze of the North American slasher film and has some wonderfully interesting, progressive, feminist elements; the mainly female crew of TV reporters/producers, their male stylist, along with removing the objectification of the remaining women throughout the movie. One of them even says to the other “Everyone has to get used to an all-woman production team… it’s a tough business!” Historically in slasher films, women are “punished” or killed more viciously and gratuitously, but in Evil Dead Trap, men and women die with equal ruthlessness and I adore it. Evil Dead Trap is considered one of the emerging films of the 1980s to show gender discourse and social anxieties of women claiming agency and independence for themselves in Japan. In Visual Aesthetics and Ways of Seeing: Comparing "Ringu" and "The Ring" Valerie Wee states:
“...these films also exposed the larger socio-cultural anxieties of the period, which were grounded in gender shifts that saw the emergence of a generation of more independent, modern females, increasing anxiety of technological progress, and growing concerns over a perceived loss of traditional values and identities, fears that have continued to resonate through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century.”
I will very rarely reveal the ending of a film because these Taboo Terrors deserve to be experienced. I will discuss the journey but not the ever-important destination of these macabre tales! Yet, the end of Evil Dead Trap made me laugh, and shout, “What the fuck?!” multiple times. I found the film lost traction 3⁄4 of the way into the story, so the conclusion hits you like a ton of blood-soaked bricks. Sadly, the terrible lighting at this point distracts you from the big reveal of the killer and blocks you from clearly witnessing the events unfolding. I found that this element tarnished the effect the film is trying to portray but did not affect my enjoyment of it. Frankly, I was almost too busy trying to make sense of what was happening! Evil Dead Trap was an absolute delight and if you are a fan of J-Horror, or just a good, gory, hack n slash, then do not miss this one.
I would give Evil Dead Trap a ⅘ on the Nightmare scale for van rape, forced motherhood, maggots, and accidentally killing your friend in an evil death trap.