A couple of years ago, at around the time that Redd Inc. came out, I mysteriously lost interest in horror movies. For about three decades horror had been my favorite genre and suddenly I didn’t care anymore. I still don’t know what happened, It’s not as if I decided horror movies were evil and to be avoided, so I can only speculate that a few months before I consciously came to the conclusion that everything is irreparably fucked up, my subconscious was running ahead of me and thinking “Everything in the real world is sooo bad that the last thing I need is doom and gloom in my entertainment.” This is only speculation, but it’s the closest I can find to a viable explanation. Anyway, recently I have been watching the second season of The Walking Dead – I pretty much ignored seasons two and three when they were first broadcast because, ironically, they weren’t horror enough for me – and this got me thinking about watching some of my favorite horror movies and seeing how I feel about them nowadays. Mostly because I bumped into it while rearranging the way I store my ginormous DVD collection, I decided that Test Subject Number One would be a little Japanese oddity called Uzumaki, which in English means Spiral, or Vortex, or Twisty Turny Thing.
While it wasn’t as good as the first time round, perhaps due to my reduced amount of interest in the genre, it is still quite impressive, though what makes it stand out now is its sheer weirdness. It’s the kind of thing the Japanese seem to do better than anyone else, whether this is because they have more creative imaginations or because they have different influences to draw on – ones that seem really far out to us westerners – I do not know.
Uzumaki features the novel premise of evil spirals taking over the populace of an entire town. The first sign that something is wrong is when the main character, a teenaged schoolgirl called Kirie, spots her boyfriend’s dad obsessively filming a snail. At first I thought the guy was just the president of the local chapter of the Japanese League of Snail Spotters, but alas, it turns out he’s going off his rocker. The poor man has become obsessed with spirals of all sorts and filming snails is just the start of it.
On the way home Kirie stops at a fruit stand where she is given what is, for a Japanese girl at least, a very large melon. It turns out that the gift is in honor of her dad having won some big prize for his pottery. Yes, spirals again (in the pottery, not the melon.) Soon dad is visited by the snail-watching weirdo who praises the making of spirals as the highest of all art forms, and soon dad is also going off the rails. Not long after, the snail watcher goes from watching spirals to eating spirals to swirling his eyes madly to actually becoming a spiral after crawling into the washing machine and setting the thing on spin! Exactly how that would happen is anyone’s guess, unless the Japanese don’t actually have bones, but it’s all part of the wonderfully surreal lunacy of the movie. Then things get even weirder, with spirals taking over people’s hair and teens turning into giant snails and crawling up the outside of their school. I guess it’s a good thing this is Japan not France, otherwise things might have taken an especially tasteless turn…
Set pieces and, to a lesser extent, atmosphere are the thing here, so who cares about actual story? Not me. I think there is some hint of a curse or something, but I don’t care. As for the characters, the girl is pretty much just a typical Japanese schoolgirl – or at least I assume she is, as I have never actually known any Japanese schoolgirls. Her mom is an everyday housewife who pays way too much attention to centipedes and ends up regretting it, and her boyfriend is a quiet sort of pretzel who dresses like a catholic priest for some reason – perhaps he does not like children and is trying to scare them away…
Yes, it’s the weird events that make this worth watching, I only wish there were more of the snail people on display, but you can’t have everything. As for my view on horror movies in general, I started writing this thing in early march and only now, more than two months later, am I finishing it up. Yep, probably safe to say my interest in the horror genre is well and truly dead.