Yokai Monsters: 100 Ghosts ~ 1968, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Japan


100 Ghosts is the strongest film in what is already a remarkably strong franchise, the Yokai Monsters series, three rad movies which were produced by Japan’s Daiei Studios in the late 1960’s. 100 Ghosts feels like a Japanese book of scary stories masquerading as a costume drama, but each of the individual tales are well integrated into the plot, so in the end it feels like a single, concise narrative, rather than an anthology film, like Creepshow, or Two Evil Eyes. Unlike Spook Warfare, 100 Ghosts keeps its narrative focused on the mortal plane, and dishes out the yokai in more modest doses. This time, the Yokai don’t really feel like characters, and they have no evident personalities. Instead, we see them more as supernatural agents of cosmic retribution; delivering justice to those who break society’s moral code, and this makes them infinitely more frightening than the squabbling, almost humorous depiction we got in Spook Warfare. Really, this movie actually gets pretty damn spooky toward the end, and much like Daimaijin, another Daiei studios film which is thematically similar to 100 Ghosts (And also shares much of the same cast), 100 Ghosts takes it’s time setting the scene before it hits us with a heavy dose of monster. The pay off in this film’s third act is well worth the wait.

THE PLOT~  When a group of thugs rides into a small village in rural Japan and commences to destroy the local shrine, the villagers find themselves understandably confused and distressed. It’s about to get worse, though, because this is just stage one of their shitty plan; and stage two is to follow up the besmirching of this religious site with the abrupt destruction of the local tenement house, a structure which much of our central cast calls home. Apparently his is all legal, too, due to a shady alliance between a local businessman and a super corrupt Lord, who is basically a damn gangster. Once everything is torn down and smashed, the bad guys are going to open up a cheap brothel and basically ruin everybody’s lives, so naturally our main characters wanna put the kybosh on this evil scheme like, ASAP. Along with the help of a wandering samurai, the villagers hatch a plot to save the day.

I know what you’re thinking… When you look at it, this sounds like the plot to the most generic 80’s teen movie of all time. It’s basically Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, only in Japan, with monsters. “Hey, gang, we gotta stop the evil billionaire from tearing down our rec-center and opening a strip mall! Let’s organize a concert to raise community awareness!” Yeah, pretty much that’s the exact plot of 100 Ghosts, but you don’t really  notice that when you watch it, because this movie is awesome as hell, and also a lot of people die. Plus, in 100 Ghosts, our human characters aren’t even able to pull it off anyway, and the real solution ends up having nothing to do with them. Instead, it’s the yokai that save the day. Allow me to explain:

Having smashed the shrine to smithereens, our two bad guys decide to prematurely celebrate how awesome it is to be a big shit head with a night of recreational ghoul summoning. Sounds reasonable. They do so in the format of a rad party game called ‘The 100 Spirits ritual,’ which seems to be something like a group-friendly version of “Bloody Mary.” In order to conduct the 100 Spirits ritual, you must first gather a group of your friends and neighbors around a story teller, who then recites a series of cautionary ghost stories, which have all been handed down over the course of many centuries, or maybe just made up on the spot, depending on the credibility of the dude you hire. At the end of each story, a candle is lit (Or put out, I can’t remember. Don’t conduct this ritual at home.) Once all of the night’s stories have been told, and all the candles are lit, it is crucial that the storyteller conduct a “Curse elimination ritual“, because apparently just hearing these forbidden tales is enough to curse the shit out of you. Sounds like a pretty important part of the exchange to me, I would definitely want to take the extra time for the Curse Elimination Ritual, but our bad guys opt out. Having just sat through, like, 100 cautionary tales, they immediately prove that no amount of second-hand information is enough to teach them anything. Instead, they kick the story teller out, telling him not to let their sliding, paper door thing smack him in the side of the ass on the way out, and go on to chuckle turdishly about how ghosts are for losers and how neither of them are about to die terribly. Predictably, after this, the bad guys get the hell haunted out of them something fierce, which is super great to watch.

Like all of the Yokai movies, 100 Ghosts features a vast menagerie of ethereal Japanese bozo monsters, but none of them particularly hog the spotlight, except, of course, for the Umbrella Monster, which, just the very name of this thing is enough to raise an eyebrow. In all fairness, according to Yokai Attack; a nifty little book written by Hiroko Yoda (presumably of no relation to Jedi Master Yoda) and Matt Alt, the Umbrella Monster’s true name is Kara-Kasa, but holy shit, dude, who cares? Check this friggin’ thing out:


‘What’ indeed!

Pretty much, this particular monster doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot. It likes to sneak up and lick people, and it looks like the deranged little brother of that sexy lamp from A Christmas Story.


See the resemblance? Yokai are weird sometimes… Usually, even.

Like all of the Yokai films, even for the lousy ass one that Takashi Miike made in 2005, the greatest strength of 100 Ghosts is in just how many awesome, and unique, Japanese bogey men and women are crammed into the film’s brisk 90 minute run time, as well as the impeccable work by the art department in putting all of them together. Besides all the wonderful monsters, the set and costume design throughout the picture are also impeccable, and I’d say that 100 Ghosts really is Daiei at it’s best. All three Yokai films are legit gems, which remain puzzlingly under-appreciated stateside, and 100 Ghosts is easily the raddest of the batch. Go seek it out!


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Maximum Overdrive~ 1986, Stephen King, USA

maximum overdrive

“If you want something done right… You gotta do it yourself…”

And so goes the memorable and woefully confrontational advertising campaign for Stephen King’s directorial debut; Maximum Overdrive. Apparently dissatisfied with how his work has been handled in the past, King has taken matters into his own hands… His horribly, horribly incapable hands.

THE PLOT: Due to a bizarre astrological occurrence, all machines on the planet Earth gain sentience and unite to destroy humanity, even though most of them wouldn’t really be able to do anything. A band of survivors takes shelter in a roadside diner called The Dixie Boy, and begin their fight for survival. This is a movie where a soda machine and a steam-roller are equally lethal, and where a semi-truck looks exactly like The Green Goblin for no reason at all. Maximum Overdrive is stupid… and it doesn’t make any sense.

The trailer is a good place to start on this. First beef; if we can’t keep him seated in front of a typewriter or laptop, can we at least keep him BEHIND a camera? Because, damn, homeboy looks like a cross-eyed denizen of that village The Grinch used to terrorize.

Maximum 2

Stephen King; bumpkin exile from Whoville?

Secondly, hear that quasi-John Carpenter-esque music in there? Sounds creepy, huh? Building tension pretty good! Really fits the vibe… Well, apparently whoever cut that trailer together is a better director than Stephen King, because that shit isn’t in the movie. The soundtrack for Maximum Overdrive comes to us courtesy of Australian rock gods AC/DC. ACDC-LIVE2


I wish to be clear;  I love AC/DC… And you might love your car, but you probably want it parked in your driveway and not at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Even great things need to be kept where they belong. Sadly, AC/DC does not belong in this movie, and they are not doing Maximum Overdrive any favors… In fact, their high energy brand of hard rock is borderline uplifting, and not at all scary.

There is one sequence in particular where a little boy rides his bike through a neighborhood shortly after it’s been hit by the robo-jihad. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, nice houses, nice yards, tons of corpses all over the place. The juxtaposition packs a punch, and the scene being viewed by a lone child, desperately searching for survivors from the seat of his ten speed is also pretty damn heavy. It could have been extraordinary, the kind of thing you see on “Best of” lists twenty years later, except that the rockin’ soundtrack drags you the opposite direction. So, you’re like, “oh, wow, this is kinda brutal. This is almost scary- Oh, no, wait-ACDC 2SHOOK ME ALLLLLLL NIGHT LONG!!!! YEAAAAH WHOOOO!!!!”

The rest of the movie doesn’t fare much better. Perhaps the use of AC/DC music suits Stephen King’s vision. I’m willing to believe that his taste in cinema runs decidedly more campy and “Tales From The Crypt“-ish than his writing. Tonally, Maximum Overdrive has a lot less in common with The Shinning than it does with George Romero’s Creepshow; another comic book camp-fest to which Stephen King also contributed… So it would make sense if this was just the kind of movie that Stephen King wanted to see… But damn, he really threw down the gauntlet in that trailer, so no matter what we can’t cut him slack if this thing sucks.

Here are some other interesting points to address;

The plot holes in this movie are huge, glaring, and constant- oh wait,acdc-04-12-09YEEEAAHHH!!!! WHOOOOO!!!! DONE DIRT CHEAP!!!!!

Sorry- The music is seriously distracting. Anyway; plot holes; Where’s the cut off? A bike apparently doesn’t qualify as the kind of machine that can go all Christine on us, so perhaps they have to be electric, or gas fueled, or something? How does a pinball machine crack it’s own glass? How does an arcade machine blast somebody with lightning? How come Curtis and Connie’s car doesn’t turn against them when they’re on the run from all those killer semi trucks? Why don’t the machines just kill us all with nuclear weapons instead of trying to run us all over individually? I imagine there would be a lot more Skynet type stuff in the mix here, but this feels more like a garage door on the fritz than anything else. Also, at the end of the film, a caption informs us that a Russian “satellite” encounters a UFO hiding in the cosmic dust around Earth and takes it out with a missile or space laser or something. So, how? Why isn’t that Russian Satellite just raining death missiles down on we humans below? The aliens don’t control the satellite? Also, won’t the aliens just come back? How many humans did they kill, versus how many aliens were on board that space ship? Certainly these aliens know that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Maximum Overdrive doesn’t gel, and if it don’t gel, it ain’t Jello.

The funniest scene in the damn movie takes place early on in the game room of the Dixie Boy. You see, when the machines first start acting out against their oppressors, most people simply interpret their attempts at murder to be a malfunction of some kind. As you would expect, the people of Earth are reluctant to jump to the conclusion that all of our machines now literally have a mind of their own and are trying to kill us… All except for one dude, who immediately knows what’s going on, THIS guy:

black guy thief

This is the first person on Earth to get it. For most people, if you were to walk into a room of arcade games, and they were all freaking out, you’d think, “This room sucks. These games are all broken. This is annoying. I’m leaving this room.” And then you would. Not this guy. He understands what’s going on, and interprets the electronic boops and flashing lights to be intelligent, and also disrespectful… and he takes it personally.  His reaction to this electronic sass is the funniest part of the movie, but sadly, he doesn’t make it out of the room alive… Or without embodying hurtful racial stereotypes. 1986! He would have been a better main character.

Another interesting point; This is Curtis.

curtis weakHe’s a total nerd. Cowardly, weak, just a damp little wuss. Now, let’s look at Curtis after 24 hours in Maximum Overdrive world.

curtis die hard 2Damn! Suddenly he’s Bruce Willis in Die Hard! Seriously, what the hell happened!? Maximum Overdrive will turn your life around and transform you into a bad ass in a matter of hours. I think it might actually be a good thing. It’s probably all the AC/DC that does it. We should probably be hoping for a Maximum Overdrive type situation to happen in real life. We’d all be so awesome.

Underneath all off this, there is something endearing and very “80’s precious” about Maximum Overdrive, and it’s fun enough. It’s little wonder so many people have a lot of affection it, even if it can’t be called a good movie by really any stretch of the imagination. Somehow, in the face of all the stupid, Stephen King’s first major motion picture manages to be watchable, and probably pretty close to how he wanted it.

That having been said, as far as Stephen King motion picture adaptations go, it sucks out loud, so go figure.