It looks like we’re entering a period of movies about urban legends. I just watched Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman and Candyman is on bench. I love urban legends–except for the movie, Urban Legend, which I don’t love. Except for the scene when the woman is driving and singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” But back to my urban legend love. I grew up reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books and moved on to Weird New Jersey magazine when I was about fourteen. Weird New Jersey goes beyond the Jersey Devil myth and tells about places like Demon Alley, Albino Village, the Devil’s Tree, and Shades of Death Road. Plus, it focuses on the weirder aspects of N.J. history, such as the pro-Nazi German-American bund groups in Hackensack, New York City, Passaic, and North Bergen.
The thing is, history itself can be pretty weird. Things like urban legends can be used to understand the past and reflect our current fears. Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman takes a common Japanese urban legend, Kuchisake-onna, and adds a modern twist about child-abuse. The legend itself can be traced as far back to the Edo period, although the woman in question would cover her face with her beautiful kimono. The legend resurged in popularity for some reason in 1979. The modern version features a tall woman with long hair wearing a surgical-mask. She supposedly asks unsuspecting children if they think she’s pretty. If you say “yes,” she pulls down the mask and says “Do you still think I’m pretty?” Then you’ll see that her mouth has been carved from ear to ear. If you say yes, she’ll carve your face to match hers with the enormous pair of shears that she carries. If you say no, then she’ll chop you in half. Supposedly, the way to escape is to answer so-so or ask if she thinks you’re pretty. This will distract her long enough to escape. Or throw sweets at her.
The movie is about the town where the rumor is supposed to have started, thirty years ago. For some reason, everyone is talking about (and drawing) the slit-mouthed woman.
It seems to be an act of child-abuse that summons her, though. The vengeful spirit starts to kidnap within the first twenty-minutes. She’s sufficiently gory and creepy.
The disappearance of local children links schoolteachers Kyoko Yamashita (Eriko Sato) and Noboru Matsuzaki (Haruhiko Kato.) They’re both people with dark secrets and pasts that they would like to hide. Matsuzaki-san, especially, has knowledge of who the slit-mouthed woman was when she was alive and why she’s so angry.
This movie was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me. There were times when I was, honestly, deeply bored. Sometimes it felt like the movie should have been called Carved: The Exposition-Mouthed Expositioning Woman. Especially when some of the twists were so very obvious. Twist-ending, I am looking at you. Also, I wasn’t terribly scared by the movie. It’s like the movie missed some opportunities to be really scary and settled on gory.
On the other hand, it did have some good points. I will admit that the gore it had was really good. The movie didn’t show a lot, but just the sound of her cutting her victims’ faces was enough. Let me make this clear, before someone takes what I say out of context–I don’t want bad things to happen to children in real life. But, in American movies, children are sacred. In movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth, the killers are chasing teenagers, not kids. You know that if Jurassic Park were real, those kids would have been eaten so fast, probably as an appetizer before killing Jeff Goldblum. I guess this is why Carved was never chosen to remake (Thank goodness, they butchered my precious Ringu.) What I’m trying to say is that I appreciate a movie that’s willing to show that bad things do happen to children and not everyone has good intentions for them. Kids don’t exist to give snappy one-liners and be comic foils to the grown-ups. They’re vulnerable and this movie shows their vulnerability.
Out of everything about the movie, I think that I liked the music the best. It was quiet, understated, and genuinely creepy. It kind of reminded me of the music from Audition.
I also liked how, when the movie went into flashback-mode, the shots became hyper-saturated and warm-toned. They looked kind of like photos from a family album.
Ok, maybe the sickest family ever.
Honestly, writing this review right now, I’m not sure if I liked this movie or not. Parts of it were so boring and I fond myself watching the clock. But parts were very engaging. I guess that the good outweighs the bad and I’d recommend this movie if you already like folklore and urban legends.
For more Japanese urban legends, check out this article in The Japan Times.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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