Hiruko the Goblin - Shinya Tsukamoto splattered onto the consciousness of cult movie land in 1988 with his stylish and hyperkinetic body-horror picture, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Since then he has continued to explore the weirder extremes of cinema, both as director and as an actor in his own productions as well as those of a number of Japanese filmmakers including some characteristically oddball performances in a smattering of Miike Takashi's wealth of material. Hiruko was his second feature and first for a studio, a more traditional genre picture on the comedic rather than chilling end of the horror scale.
Reijiro Hieda is an archaeologist whose once promising career has faltered since unwisely sharing his somewhat unorthodox views on the existence of goblins. After another day digging up Japan's ancient past, he receives a letter asking for help from his old friend Takashi Yabe, a teacher who is investigating a mysterious mound on the grounds of his school. On arrival in town Reijiro finds that Takashi and schoolgirl Reiko have gone missing, so he heads to the school and teams up with Takashi's son Masao who has been searching for the missing pair himself.
They meet when Reijiro saves Masao from a goblin attack, after which things go from bad to worse as they deal with corpses, faces burning themselves into Masao's back, the crazed school caretaker and a head with spider's legs which sings and plays piano! They discover that Takashi unwittingly freed a goblin during his investigation, which now seeks human victims and the spell to unseal a stone room that has kept the Hiruko goblins away from mankind for centuries. Will Reijiro and Masao be able to stop the monsters in time?
Whilst more conventional than many of Tsukamoto's features, Hiruko is still pretty crazy for a low budget horror flick and this works in its favour as it tends toward schlock rather than shock, with creatures bearing a resemblance to Carpenter's "Thing" and plentiful decapitations and gore flying about. The cheap effects (model work and stop-motion - no CGI in them days) help rather than harm the film especially as the cast play it relatively straight and are 'normal' people as opposed to the buff model types which always happen to be the ones that get hunted down in the Hollywood schlockers churned out in the past couple of decades. Reijiro in particular is a great character, genuinely suffering due to the skeletons in his closet and terrified of the goblin fiends, he nevertheless sets himself the task of constructing loony homemade goblin detectors and weapons to try and deal with them.
Although the plot is the usual "the gateway to hell is under the school !" guff, there are moments that show Tsukamoto's edge, one being the sequences where the goblin tries to control people, showing them their idyllic setting and trying to use the trusted loved ones in it to get them to slit their own throats, all in a dreamy, summery haze in stark contrast to the dark and deserted school; or the camera technique Tsukamoto used in Tetsuo - attaching it to the actor as they speed along, here being used on victims dragged to their doom by the goblin. This invention helps to set Hiruko a notch or so above your average B-movie gore fest, and reflects the glee with which the director flings his bizarre creatures at the audience.
The picture is decent and while the blacks aren't all solid it's not bad for a 16 year-old film with a large proportion set in the dark. Sound is only offered in Dolby stereo; though it does the job especially considering it has an 80s synthy score very reminiscent of John Carpenter's earlier films. The only extras here are the trailer and some biography/filmography pages for Shinya Tsukamoto and the main cast.
If you like your horror tongue through cheek then this is for you, what's better than school kids in peril and horrible things with too many legs? It's not going to make anyone's favourites list and it doesn't match Shinya Tsukamoto's other films, but if you don't expect to be scared then you'll enjoy Hiruko the Goblin.