Evil Dead Trap (1988) Movie Review

With the ever-increasing list of Asian films being remade by Hollywood, it’s easy to forget how the West has influenced Eastern cinema. For every Americanized “Ring” or “Dark Water”, there are films like “So Close”, “Bloody Beach”, and the countless Hong Kong variations on the “Sixth Sense”. “Evil Dead Trap” is a perfect example: an Eastern film that wears its Western influences proudly on its blood-stained sleeve, and whose very title seems to have been chosen for its obvious similarity to a certain American horror series.

Very popular in Japan, “Evil Dead Trap” has inspired two sequels so far and has achieved a certain cult status worldwide, which is quite impressive considering that it displays both the best and worst points of what it pays homage to. The plot of “Evil Dead Trap” is suspiciously familiar: a group of people is lured to an isolated location where a masked killer gradually picks them off. The people in question are a group of nosy TV reporters, and the bait is a mysterious tape that appears to be a snuff movie.

Although there are some kudos due for the pre-“Ring” use of a videotape as an omen of doom, this is hardly inspiring stuff, and for those who have sought the film out after reading all the hype, it’s not a very promising start. To be fair, there is a little more to it than this, and though I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise, I will say that it’s not so much a plot twist as an unexpected smack to the head.

Right from the start it’s obvious that director Toshiharu Ikeda was heavily influenced by the films of Argento, Fulci, Raimi and the early “body horror” of Cronenberg. Anyone who has seen their films will know what to expect: sadistic imagery, wild camerawork, and a killer that spouts meaningless existentialisms. To be fair, although he never really equals the impact of any of above directors, Ikeda does a pretty good job of cutting and pasting together some of their greatest hits, coming across as a sort of Eastern Jess Franco more than anything. And apparently like Franco, Ikeda also used to be a porno director, which I can believe after seeing “Evil Dead Trap”, which is basically a poorly paced series of “money shot”-type kill scenes interspersed with lame dialogue and lots of wandering around.

The film does drag quite a bit in places, which isn’t helped by the script. Fans of Japanese cinema will be interested to know that “Evil Dead Trap” was written by Takashi Ishii, who would later go on to direct “Freeze Me” and the “Black Angel” films. Just as in his later works, Ishii seems capable of writing only two types of female character: avenging and abused. “Evil Dead Trap” certainly contains a lot of violence towards women. Ishii’s work here is nothing original or worth getting excited about, with characters that are sketchily written and motivated at best; the kind of people who decide to sneak off and have sex when wandering around a dark and dangerous place.

In these respects, the audience could be forgiven for thinking they were watching some forgotten American slasher flick from the 1980s. None of this is helped by the amateurish acting, especially by the actresses, who apparently used to work for Ikeda during his porno days.

Despite these lapses, “Evil Dead Trap” is generally enjoyable and keeps the viewer from falling asleep with its inventive and incredibly gory killings, which are well staged and shocking. Like most Italian gut-munchers of the period, we get a couple of close-up eyeball punctures that are sure to please gorehounds. The film is quite atmospheric, and Ikeda makes full use of the old industrial setting, both in terms of hiding the murderous traps of the title and in giving the proceedings a nice decayed, creepy look. Also worth noting is the excellent soundtrack by Tomohiko Kira, which is very much in the style of the “Goblin” music for Argento’s “Deep Red” and “Suspiria”.

Overall, “Evil Dead Trap” is worth watching for fans of Eastern cinema, or for horror fans in general. Though not particularly different from its American or European counterparts and not quite as good as others have claimed, the film at least serves up an atmospheric, if somewhat slow, package of slice and dice. Viewers should be warned, however, that although for most of its running time the film lurches around quite happily in its own semi-coherent universe, the final act will either astound the audience with its sheer weirdness, or have them throwing empty bottles at the screen.

Toshiharu Ikeda (director) / Takashi Ishii (screenplay)
CAST: Miyuki Ono …. Nami Tsuchiya
Aya Katsuragi …. Masako Abe
Hitomi Kobayashi …. Rei Sugiura
Eriko Nakagawa …. Rya Kawamura
Masahiko Abe …. Akio Kondou
Yuji Honma …. Daisuke Muraki

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