Hiruko the Goblin (1991, aka "Yôkai hantâ: Hiruko”, directed by Shin'ya Tsukamoto, screenplay by Shin'ya Tsukamoto based on a manga by Daijirô Morohoshi)
Review By Goat Scrote
Hiruko the goblin is a small six-legged monster with a prehensile tongue and a penchant for singing “tender melodies” through the severed heads that it steals and attaches to itself. If you aren’t perking your ears up already, then you might as well abandon ship now because you’re not the target audience. “Hiruko the Goblin” is bloody, strange, and fun. It has loads of decapitations and arterial spray, slapstick comedy, inventive camera work, and gross stop-motion monsters.
Oh, Hiruko, you torrid she-devil, you tempestuous vixen. You had me at “goblin”, darling. Yōkai is a broad term for all kinds of monsters, demons, and spirits, but goblin is as good a word as any for… whatever it is Hiruko is.
Writer-director Shin'ya Tsukamoto is the multitalented man who gave birth to the art-house sci-fi body-horror freakout “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989). It’s difficult to avoid mentioning that fact, even if it’s only to point out that the two movies actually bear almost no resemblance to one another despite being made just a couple of years apart. “Hiruko” is different in tone, style, and intention from his other work. If there’s any serious social commentary whatsoever in this movie it was completely lost on me. “Hiruko the Goblin” is a horror/comedy. It sets out to entertain the hell out of us and it succeeds better than most. If you’re a fan of J-horror as a genre you’re likely to enjoy “Hiruko” regardless of how you feel about any of Tsukamoto’s diverse other films.
Mr. Yabe (Naoto Takenaka), an archeologist and high school teacher, is exploring an underground tunnel. One of his students, a girl named Tsukishima (Megumi Ueno), follows him. Something invisible attacks and drags them both away screaming. I am already enjoying the movie and it’s just barely started.
Masao Yabe (Masaki Kudou), the son of the archeologist and (wannabe) boyfriend of Tsukishima is on summer break but has nothing better to do than wander the school grounds with his friends drinking beer. His father and the girl have both disappeared, but the kids spot her through a window at the school as some guy prepares to kiss her. The boys leave and don’t see the man die in a spray of blood. As he dies, Masao collapses, clutching his burning back.
Naturally, there is a scary old man issuing dire warnings. That role is filled by sinister groundskeeper Watanabe (Hideo Murota) who carries around a hand-scythe, shouts at those damned kids to get the hell off his lawn, and later cuts the phone lines so that no one can call for help. Thanks asshole. (It turns out he has his reasons.)
An old friend of the family turns up and rescues Masao just as he’s about to be attacked by the invisible Hiruko. Hieda (Kenji Sawada) is an archeologist like Masao’s father, but his reputation has been soiled by his belief in goblins. The archeologist has two homemade gadgets, one for detecting goblins, the other for killing them. The weapon soon gets broken but the detector keeps the goblin from sneaking up on them like it does to everyone else.
Masao’s two friends get separated. Hiruko kills them off by singing, which leads them to decapitate themselves with whatever is handy: Razor blades; Broken glass; Chainsaws. It makes sense to me, I have a similar reaction to “American Idol”. Masao has a mysterious supernatural connection to the deaths. The face of each victim is painfully scorched into his back when they die.
Hiruko terrorizes Masao and Hieda several times but leaves them alive, a decision the monster will later regret I’m sure. At one point, the groundskeeper shows up and beats the hell out of both of them. Eventually Hiruko gets the drop on Masao and sticks its slimy tongue down his throat. Ewww, gag me with a latex goblin.
Hiruko gives its victims happy dream-visions that cause them to willingly chop off their own heads. Hieda rescues Masao from this fate. Next Hiruko latches onto the groundskeeper Watanabe and swabs his tonsils with its phallic mouth-appendage. Watanabe sees that his own face has already appeared on Masao’s back so he walks away and shoots himself in the head. Well, that way the goblin doesn’t get it, at least. Before he dies he explains what he knows.
The school has been attacked by goblins before. They were stopped by a boy wearing a three-horned crown who had the faces of the victims branded into his back.This was Masao’s grandfather, and he entrusted young Watanabe with keeping the goblins contained. The school is built on top of the goblins’ tomb and that there’s a secret entrance. Hieda recites a magical passage at the inner door of the tomb and it opens. They enter armed with a single can of bug spray, hand tools, a flashlight, a photograph, and strong moral fiber to protect themselves from an army of immortal head-severing monsters. It’s not a brilliant plan but it’s a pretty ballsy move.
Inside is a pit full of goblins, which is somehow roofed by the moonlit lake at the school. I don’t really understand how that works but it looks neat so I won’t raise a fuss. They find a crown similar to the one Watanabe described. Masao’s father Yabe appears and he is looking greenish and pretty dead, but he’s temporarily in charge of himself. He warns his son to flee and then the goblins attack. Yabe loses control and his head tears itself loose to join the chase.
Hiruko is waiting at the door, blocking them in, and it calls the entire goblin horde. The two lovable goofballs jump out of the tomb door as Hieda chants the words to close it. The other goblins are trapped inside but Hiruko is still free. It attacks the archeologist and makes him recite the passage to open the door again, using a vision of his dead wife.
The crown grows horns and the kid finds a piece of paper inside. He reads more magic words and puts on the crown which makes the goblins burst into flames, sucks them into the tomb, and seals the door on them all, including Hiruko. Hieda is lucky to be alive. Masao’s burns are gone.
A watery magic beam runs from the lake into the sky. It has Tsukishima’s face although it kind of looks like a giant mutant sperm. Her soul flies to the stars with the other goblin victims, Masao stays as the new tomb guardian, and Hieda goes home to work on digging up some nice monsters for a change.
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