Today’s Post Brought to You by R.L. Stine

It’s time for another entry for Final Girl Film Club. Stacie Ponder chose a classy movie to watch this time to make up for the abortion that was Hellbound. Today’s film, Onibaba (1964) is from Japan and is part of the Criterion Collection. I felt so classy watching this that I put on a top hat and two monocles.
The story is simple. It’s medieval Japan and the country is in a civil war. A mother and her daughter-in-law are starving with the son/husband out fighting. They kill samurais who get lost in the very tall grass around their hut and then sell their stuff for grain. Their next-door-neighbor, Hachi, comes back from the war but the son doesn’t. What results is lust, jealousy, and rage. The daughter-in-law and Hachi start a relationship. The mother-in-law is angry that her son is dead and also jealous of their relationship. She starts to talk to the daughter-in-law about hell and sinners so it seems like good luck when she kills a samurai wearing a demon mask. She scares her daughter-in-law with the mask but the mask is haunted.

The movie sounds simple, but it’s intense and has layers like an onion. I’m certain that I didn’t understand everything with just one viewing. I wouldn’t say that it was scary the way a contemporary scary movie is scary but there was definitely tension. Part of that comes from the fact that the mother-in-law and daughter live in this tiny little hut in the middle of this field of hugely tall grass. There are references to the fact that no farm work is going on since the men are at war. There are lots of shots of the grass spreading out and rustling in the wind and you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and smothered by it. Plus, who knows what lives in it.
Then there’s the music. It’s hard to describe because I don’t know all the instruments that were used. All I recognized were a taiko drum and maybe a flute? There’s the rustling of the grass in the background, but at moments the drum would start up like a heart-beat and there were these scratching noises. In my last post about The Stepfather I discussed how the film-makers used too much music to fill every second of the movie. I wish they had seen Onibaba and realized the value of quietness. Or really good sound effects. At one point, the mother-in law goes into this pit where they’ve been hiding the bodies of the samurais. It’s huge and full of bones and is intensely creepy looking and the idea of walking on all of those bones squicks me out.

But the worst part was the sound, they had this perfect crunching noise that wasn’t too loud.
Aside from being spooky the movie was actually beautifully shot. I don’t really have a filmmaker’s vocabulary but I do paint so when I see a scene I tend to think of composition in terms of composing a picture to paint. There’s a spareness to the scenes that makes you feel isolated and reminds me of Andrew Wyeth while the dramatic lighting reminds me of Edward Hopper. Some shots that I particularly liked:


Honestly, I was a little nervous about watching this movie. All my experience with Japanese movies of this era are from MST3K episodes. Literally, all I’ve seen are Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Gamera vs. Guiron, and Godzilla vs. Megalon. It was such a relief to see a movie that didn’t feature shrill school-children in tiny shorts with level-five security clearance. Or stock footage of actual WWII bombings in a CHILDREN’S movie like Invasion of the Neptune Men actually used. In honor of this happy occasion, I’m posting one of my favorite host segments from Invasion of the Neptune Men. Time to learn about Noh theater.

I wouldn’t say that this movie is a light, popcorn movie but it’s definitely interesting and worth your time. In fact, I plead with you to watch it.

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About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 1960's, film club, foreign, thriller and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Today’s Post Brought to You by R.L. Stine

  1. Sadako says:

    Yeah for the R.L. Stine reference! That Haunted Mask will always skeeve me a little. I hate that they aren’t showing Goosebumps on Cartoon Network this year though.

    Every time I want to feel classy, I also put on a top hat and two monocles. Or when I want to feel Mr. Peanutish.

    • scarina says:

      Ha, thanks! Me too, although the Goosebumps book that always freaked me out was Welcome to Dead House. That one was creepy and enhanced by the fact that the family didn’t warn the new family moving in that hey, this is a town of the dead.
      Is there anyone more classy than Mr. Peanut?

  2. Sadako says:

    Yeah. Plus R.L. Stine was so riding the zombie train before anyone else. Except his zombies were weird because they talked about how hungry they were.

    The thing I loved about Goosebumps? Those creepy covers. I HATE how they have new covers. And some of the older ones don’t have embossed lettering.

    • scarina says:

      I don’t remember Stine having talking zombies. The movie Return of the Living Dead has talking zombies.
      Wasn’t the cover to Say Cheese and Die sooo creepy? That one has stuck with me.
      I blame Stine for who I am today. Goosebumps led to Christopher Pike led to Anne Rice led to Stephen King. All his fault.

      • Sadako says:

        Oh, I just meant Welcome to Dead House. The people there seemed to be kind of like zombies because they were undead and feasted upon the living. (Who then turned into zombies, or something, and were undead…somehow.) But they talked and had conversations.

        I loved the cover of Say Cheese and Die, too. I was also a big fan of Welcome to Camp Nightmare’s cover.

      • scarina says:

        Oooh, yeah! I guess they are some kind of zombies. Or really, really solid ghosts.
        I liked the cover for Welcome to Camp Nightmare too. Actually, I liked the story. It reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode that I saw. WHich is probably where Stine cribbed it from.
        I like dthe cover to The Girl Who Cried Monster because Mr. Mortman (Was that his name?) looked so gross on it.

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