Review: Evil Dead Trap (1988)

This week’s review comes out of left-field, off the back of a recommendation by Dan Martin from the excellent new Arrow Video Podcast. evildeadtrapIt’s Evil Dead Trap (1988), Toshiharu Ikeda’s weird, gory horror thriller. Not widely available here in the UK, it’s not a film I would have likely discovered on my own and knew nothing about, which always makes for interesting viewing.

Evil Dead Trap follows TV personality Nami (Miyuki Ono) and her late-night show where she appears to highlight tapes sent in by other viewers. When she receives an explicit snuff film apparently starring someone who looks very much like her, she pressures her boss to let her investigate, heading out to an abandoned factory complex in the middle of nowhere with a crew of expendable behind-the-scenes staff. They quickly start getting picked off in incredibly violent, incredibly graphic death scenes, and really, the sole saving grace of the film may be its gory special effects. That won’t be a draw for everyone, but if shockingly movie violence and makeup effects are you thing, that alone might be worth the price of admission. In the last act, everything goes completely off the rails, but I’ll leave that for any reader willing to watch it to discover.

The plot actually reminds me of the game Until Dawn with its collection of different horror tropes, moving rapidly between the apparently supernatural and torture porn more akin to a Saw. There are also moments that remind me of another game – quiet moments almost reminiscent of Resident Evil, where Nami stumbles upon other denizens of the factory complex and has strange, cryptic conversations before they disappear and she’s on her own again.

There are some interesting notes from behind the scenes of this production. Ikeda, the director, was coming off a long career in ‘roman porno’ (‘big budget’ feature films with a lot of nudity or softcore sex) for Nikkatsu, which in the ‘70s had moved almost exclusively into this genre, abandoning action for sexploitation. That actually goes a long way to explaining the weirdly explicit sex scenes in Evil Dead Trap, particularly the one featuring Hitomi Kobayashi. Kobayashi was an AV (Adult Video) idol whose fame led to her being hired by Nikkatsu starting in 1987 for its movies, and in a note attributed to Patrick Galloway, her distribution company Japan Home Video financed Evil Dead Trap as a star vehicle for her. Despite that, she only has a minor role, pretty much relegated to a handful of lines and one sex scene before she’s unceremoniously offed early on.

Regarding the title of ‘Evil Dead Trap’ and the emphasis on shock-horror and gory effects, it would be easy to assume this is a deliberate riff on Sami Raimi’s seminal 1981 The Evil Dead. Ikeda claimed not to have been influenced by it, but clearly someone involved in the titling and distribution of the film was. In Japanese, it’s known as 死霊の罠 (Shiryō no wana) which translates more or less literally as “Trap of the Ghost” or “Trap of the Spirit”. In film titles, however, Shiryō or ‘ghost’ often gets used for movies more about zombies and the undead, such as 死霊のえじき (Shiryō no ejiki) for Romero’s Day of the Dead. Even more importantly, though, it’s used for the Japanese titling of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, with 死霊のはらわた (Shiryō no harawata – roughly, “Guts of the Dead”). In other words, calling it Evil Dead Trap is no mistranslation intended to capitalise on Raimi’s films – that’s exactly what was happening in Japanese.

With only a poor quality YouTube copy widely available, it’s somewhat unfair to judge the picture quality, but it doesn’t make for easy viewing. Sweet Home, released only a year later and likewise surviving on YouTube, fares much better (and is frankly a more fun throwback horror). Still, it would be hypocritical of me to consign Evil Dead Trap to history just because it does not appeal to me – as I’ve written about other films, subjective judgements of quality shouldn’t be the metric by which films are chosen to be preserved. Everything should get a chance. And if Arrow or Shout Factory or a similar outfit can get a hold of this and give it a proper, Blu-Ray treatment, that would be all the better.

Evil Dead Trap / 死霊の罠

Director: Toshiharu Ikeda

Japanese Release Date: 14th May 1988

Version Watched: 100 min

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