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Evil Dead Trap
cast: Miyuki Ono, Fumi Katsuragi, Hiyomi Kobayashi, and Eriko Nakagawa

director: Toshiharu Ikeda

100 minutes (18) 1988 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Eastern Cult Cinema DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James Starkey
However much we may hate them, film clichés exist for a reason. One such example is the claim that a movie is nothing without an effective ending. For the first 90-minutes-or-so before, a movie could be a marvel of visual entertainment, but if its conclusion is unsatisfying then all that good work will have been in vain. Such a sentiment often provokes strong condemnation amongst film viewers. Many prefer their endings understated. Others simply reject the importance of conclusions altogether. What did become clear however after watching Evil Dead Trap was that it is the horror genre that relies most heavily on endings in order to be effective. Whilst other genres can point to relevance within their subject matter as an excuse for ignoring a fitting conclusion, horror needs the final 10 minutes of any given production in order to give meaning and legitimacy to the barbarism that preceded it.
   Oriental horror movies have come along way since the excesses of Men Behind The Sun and this particular movie encompassed a newfound confidence of production that has been in evidence since the late 1980s. Talk show host Nami attempts to halt sliding viewing figures by having more interaction with her viewers. She requests they send her their home movies so she can profile some of their day-to-day lives. However, she is horrified to find that one of her viewers has sent in a tape of what appears to be genuine scenes of torture involving a young woman. Within moments the scene ends and is replaced by footage of a car journey through rural backdrops. It appears to Nami and the rest of her production team that whomever shot them film was trying to indicate to them the exact location of where this crime took place. Intrigued - Nami sets about following the trail and unraveling the mystery.
   Director Toshiharu Ikeda is frankly awesome in his selection of shots and set pieces for this movie. A deserted army barracks is the location chosen and is where Nami and friends find themselves at the end of the journey. Toshiharu's pan-shots, roaming the dark broken windows and empty silos, contrast perfectly with the upbeat mood of the television crew as they embark onto what appears to be a mini-adventure. (Why they would not simply take the film to the police in the first place remains unanswered however.)
   Despite numerous attempts to discover the room in which the murder took place, the reporters are unsuccessful. Furthermore, they soon begin to suspect that they are being watched from amongst the shadows and grimy walls of the military base. Ikeda manages to create a highly effective sense of unease as the group move from room to room. The audience is left wondering whether a single or multiple assailants are stalking the news team. When the first attacks come, they are truly brutal and eye-catching. Many have claimed that Ikeda took much of his influence from directors such as Craven, Argento and Bava. However, what is contained herein is a whole different level of visceral violence. There is simply nothing around on the Western market that can come close to the fiercely graphic scenes that envelop Ikeda's movie from the outset. Victims are attacked in a variety of ways from seemingly inanimate objects. As the films title would suggest, the group are led into a very real and dangerous trap. Set pieces are geared fully towards the idea of an individual or individuals setting traps for their victims that are then triggered by movement of any kind.
   Evil Dead Trap also offers its fair share of twists and turns such as the mystery man who continually appears and seems to want to help the victims. It appears obvious at first that he is involved in the killings. That is until he too is seemingly attacked by whomever is responsible. For the most part, failings are few and far between. Acting is surprisingly solid apart from a few suspect lines. Ikeda makes the wise choice of having most of the bit-part characters say very little. What sets the movie apart from others in its midst however is the way in which it manages to avoid becoming a victim of its own brutal content. It would be easy with a poorer cast, director and script for the audience to simply crave the next grizzly killing. Evil Dead Trap is far from being a 'body count' movie. The deaths of the television crew are pretty irrelevant compared with the terror imbued upon the viewer by as the murderers stalk them. It is the build-up to the crimes, and their seemingly motiveless nature that gives the film its edge.
   So what of the ending? Far from give away any plot details, it would be fairer to simply give an overview of the sheer folly that ensues. As mentioned earlier, a fitting conclusion is all-important when producing horror. There needn't be some magical solution that brings together everything that has gone before, there does however need to be a certain amount of fireworks. Evil Dead Trap has possibly the most disappointing ending of any horror movie you are likely to see. This is obviously connected to the level of expectation that proceedings before will have imbued upon the viewer. Ikedo appears to lose his love for plot-subtly in one horrible moment so the ending is a distortion, and a frankly laughable paint-by-numbers conclusion. Far from been too obvious, the script seems to try and squeeze one last gigantic twist from the plot. The result is simply a bloated mess that will leave the viewer skipping back through the DVD in an attempt to find out what exactly it was they have missed. Even worse is the fact that it appears to be obvious what is happening. From the moment Nami decides to forgo her opportunity to escape in order to confront the wrongdoers instead, proceedings go into freefall. It may be harsh to suggest that the scriptwriters were making the ending up as they went along, but this is certainly how it appears on the surface.
   Overall, Evil Dead Trap can be recommended as one of the greatest horror thrillers of the late 1980s. For the most part, it is an assured tour-de-force that leaves its impression firmly on the viewer. Its strength lies in its dismal portrayal of the human condition. What it suffers from however is a betrayal of its own agenda. Ikeda seemingly never wanted the violence to count for anything. The power of the murderers came from their lack of a reason. Often, such brutal behaviour is more real and devastating when undertaken in the absence of motive. Ultimately, the film tries to give the viewer a reason for the mayhem - and falls flat on its face in the process.
   DVD extra features on this release are fair - with trailers, artwork, biographies and filmographies included. There is a suspicion that this is not the full version compared with the Region 0 release available on the continent. What is here however is still impressive.
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