Back when I was yet another
PlayStation zombie, addicted and ever yearning
for further gameplay kicks, I remember coming
across a little game called Clock Tower in my voracious reading. Yet another in the huge
burst of survival horror games released in the
wake of Resident Evil's breakout popularity, Clock Tower had a gimmicky villain that
always loomed eerily in my imagination—Scissorman,
a murderous psycho who wields a gargantuan pair
of scissors as his killing weapon of choice. For
some reason it was always a bit scary to picture
that papercraft nightmare chasing me around—and
really, scissors have been a tool of terror ever
since moms everywhere decried running with them
and Boo Radley used one for random acts of violence.
Thus, when I saw a copy of 2005's The Man Behind
the Scissors or Hasami Otoko (or The
Scissor Man, as the English subtitles on the
film translate it), I wondered if this could be
the long-in-coming big-screen adaptation.* Alas, while the titular nutcase bears the same
name, The Man Behind the Scissors, based
on a novel, plays a little like an extra-bloody,
extra-bad Shyamalan movie—although the big,
scary twist in this one is practically shooting
off fireworks to get viewers to notice it early.
Story: Chika (Kumiko Aso, from Casshern and 2006's Suite
Dreams) has a problem. She lives with
a big, creepy man (prolific Etsushi Toyokawa,
2005's Yokai Daisenso) who has an even
creepier hobby—strangling pretty, intelligent
high school girls and then, as his calling card,
stabbing a specially-altered pair of scissors
into their necks, just above the collar bone.
Chika acts as his reluctant assistant—like
a shrieking Ygor to his deranged Dr. Frankenscissors,
running about and gathering information on his
next targets while protesting and squealing when
he moves in for the kill. The police are baffled
and clueless as more and more students on the
dean's list move onto the dead's list, but then,
when one of the scissor man's intended targets
becomes the victim of a copycat attack, Chika
and her wacky partner, perhaps peeved that someone
is horning into their turf, start hunting down
the clues to catch their fellow murderer, even
while the bumbling gumshoes are slowly sniffing
closer to the truth.
The Man Behind the Scissors'
plot, while intriguing and different in that it
actually follows the murderer from the start rather
than the heroes, nevertheless has one of the more
obvious big twists I have seen in a long time.
I didn't know anything about this movie going
in, and then fifteen minutes later I had figured
out the most significant "surprise"
of the film. The film is awkward in the way it
tries to hide the truth, but I am glad at least
that they didn't cheat—a discerning viewer
can follow the clues, and the red herrings mostly
make sense rather than being arbitrarily included
to throw off the scent.
Other than the disappointingly
obvious twist, the rest of the story is wildly
uneven, ratcheting between dead seriousness and
weird, dumb humor. In one scene, Chika is poisoning
herself and then tossing her cookies all over
the floor, and in the next the policemen are sitting
around drinking in their underwear or calling
each other names like a bunch of five year olds.
This does increase the amusement value of the
proceedings, but it is also just stoopid. Things
certainly don't get better when overeager cop
Isobe (played, badly, by Koji Higuchi) falls madly
in love with suspect Chika on first sight for
no apparent reason. Indeed, a number of characters
display inhuman levels of stupidity, but it's
not all their fault—at least once it was
a plot hole.
Before moving on, one should never
discuss The Man Behind the Scissors without
at least mentioning the ending. While it is against
my principles to reveal what happens, it must
be noted that this film holds one of the worst
endings of a thriller I have ever seen. No, everything
wasn't a dream—although you might wish it
was; at least then it would make more sense.
As one big plus amongst the bad,
the acting of the main characters is pretty good.
Etsushi Toyokawa as the scissor man simply looks
sinister. He scowls and lurks with professional
panache worthy of Bela Lugosi. Kumiko Aso's role
as Chika is very tricky, and Aso is only partially
successful; she doesn't quite have the range for
the character, but she isn't terrible. Although,
again, it's not all her fault—some of the
blame sauce should be spread on the Foley man,
who carefully edited some heavy breathing into
a particular scene so that it would mismatch with
her actions. Exceedingly popular Hiroshi
Abe, of Trick fame, also makes a memorable appearance as "Mr.
Shrink" Horinouchi, a psychiatrist who is
helping the police. It's obvious how Abe found
his field—his face is striking without being
ugly, and his screen presence pulls the yanks
the eyes of the viewer right to himself. However,
he does have a bit of a taste for the scenery,
and ends up chewing away before the end.
Minor characters, unfortunately,
are mostly bland to terrible. Other than lovesick
Isobe, the main victim girl, Yukiko, played by
Mizuho Sakata, impresses with her mediocrity,
and the actress playing her mother is even worse.
None of them distinguish themselves with unusual
or interesting acting chops.
The cinematography and directing
by Toshiharu Ikeda, is equally uninspiring. Except
for a few interesting shots, including one pan
across the dueling perceptions of two characters
and how they see Chika's apartment, much of what
we have is often awkward, redundant and sometimes
unintentionally funny. Ikeda seems particularly
fond of the pointless flashback shot, repeatedly
springing back to scenes of the schoolgirl corpses
or unneeded repeat shots of key evidence. Also,
occasionally the camera will close in on the face
of one of the characters in what is supposed to
be a dramatic exclamation point, but instead it
comes off as overdone and is more likely to elicit
smirks than awe.
Special effects—what there
are of them—are even worse, including an
amazingly awful sequence in which a man commits
suicide that had me rewinding out of disbelief
and amusement. I don't find suicide at all amusing,
and that this was actually intended to be serious
is remarkable—it is one of the more unintentionally
funny death scenes that I have witnessed. (I have
seen worse… Blood Freak and Shira:
Vampire Samurai come to mind, among others.)
Actually, all of the murders are slightly comical,
the film flashing to negative just before they die off screen. The blue screen of death
ain't got nothing on this. There is also a memorable
sequence in which a man's head is completely bloodied
before getting struck by the, um, rice cooker.
Ultimately, none of the effects sequences are
impressive; they have a sort of old-school seventies
or direct-to-TV vibe that had me thinking this
was a much older film than it is.
Music mostly consists of two themes
interlaced with rather unpleasant jazz sax improv
solos which seem present mostly to mask how little
was actually paid to score this thing. It's like
the producers ran out of money after two very
simple themes, so they brought in a sax player
and said, "play something kind of weird"
and left it at that. Of the themes, there is the
"eerie" scissor man theme, which is
a repetitive tick-tock metallic clanking, and
the fast-paced police theme, which is a repetitive,
percussive mash that highlights any and all scenes
in which the police discover or realize something
important. Then, just to make things interesting,
at the end of the movie the scissor man clanking
theme and the police beats theme are played together
so the viewer can feel creeped out and excited
at the same time. Or something.
The Man Behind the Scissors is a whole lot of bad; it's like Shyamalan took
a break to fly out to Japan and make his worst
movie ever. If only that were the case; Ikeda
doesn't seem to have even Shyamalan's more questionable
talents, although perhaps I just need to see his
more famous Evil Death Trap films. Yet
somehow, even through the mediocrity of the cinematography,
acting, music and plot, the film manages to be
interesting and enjoyable, although possibly not
for the intended reasons. Depending on your taste
for dumb movies, this film will either having
you cutting up or cutting out.
A Clock Tower movie was announced in 2006—possibly with
Hilary Duff attached as one of the characters.
Now that's scary.