The staff of Toho Kingdom makes some Toho film recommendations for the Halloween season. This covers creepy, atmospheric and horror movies produced or released by Toho that are perfect for the month of October. Recommendations run the gamut, dating from the 1950’s all the way to films released a few years ago. If you are looking for even more horror productions from Japan, also be sure to check the Horror Movie Listing.
Hi gang! For me, I do rather like a good horror flick or creepy movie, though I have to admit I have not seen a great many of the Japanese horror classics—I am still catching up! The following is just a list of some horror and monster flicks outside of the usual kaiju canon that I enjoyed and would like to recommend to Toho fans out looking to try out something new! Thus, with no further ado, here we go!
1. Invisible Man (1954)
As a fan of old monster films, and as someone who enjoyed the Universal Invisible Man franchise much more than I anticipated when I visited them recently, I was looking forward to seeing what an Invisible Man film would be like in the hands of eventual Godzilla Raids Again (1955) director Motoyoshi Oda (who had that same year directed Ghost Man, an exploitative detective film with a villain boasting a mask of bandages much more akin to traditional depictions of the Invisible Man!). I found the answer to be—quite entertaining! While perhaps the plot may be a bit predictable, but boy howdy does it have a memorable opening scene of an invisible-man suicide, and I later found myself quickly growing attached to the central clown character Nanjo and his relationship with a little blind girl. The eventual reveal of the identity of the invisible man was, in my opinion, quite well-done. As for scares, well, this movie is light on them, but lots of fans of old monster films don’t really watch them to be scared anyway, and this is also a great way to get into the surprisingly robust “invisible man” genre of Japanese cinema, which also includes at least FOUR MORE films from rival Daiei films, including TWO which are (invisible) samurai films.
2. Haunted School (1995)
Given the very low score my colleague Anthony Romero gave this film, it may be a surprise to see that I am here recommending the flick. And to be honest, I find the film to be a vigorously mixed bag. Nevertheless, as far as monster movies for younger viewers go, I found a lot to enjoy in this story of a bunch of kids who end up trapped in a ghost-infested old school. A lot of the ghost effects reminded me of Ghostbusters, including a sort of mascot-like furry guy who shows up multiple times to harass various victims, and I really enjoyed several scenes of major ghost mayhem in the school itself. For me, I also really got a big kick out of a huge cockroach-like beasty that menaces our heroes late in the story. While by no means a high quality movie, this one nevertheless really appealed to me, and for lovers of practical effects looking for mild thrills, I found it fun.
These gory sci-fi horror movies based on the influential Hitoshi Iwaaki manga and anime of the same name (and both of which I reviewed a few years ago) are in my opinion highly entertaining monster flicks with memorable and impressive effects and a likable lead performance by Shota Sometani. While the second film is arguably a pretty big step-down from the first, I found them both to be rather thoughtful, sometimes shocking, and very engaging monster-fests. The plot, in which alien worms from outer space attack earth by taking over the bodies of human beings and transforming them into flesh-munching monsters, shows a lot of influence from body-horror greats like The Thing (1982), and our hero—infected with an alien parasite in his hand, but not taken over entirely—has to struggle with his new identity, like in many half-monster stories such as Blade or Tokyo Ghoul. Gore hounds will appreciate the abundant flow of blood and gore, though the aforementioned infected hand (named Migi) looks pretty absurd in live action. Still, for creepy, slimy, monster-action thrills, this duology is a fine choice.
4. Vampire Doll (1970)
Sometimes I just get in the mood for a decent vampire flick—after all, I have written two as-yet-unpublished vampire novels. So I was kind of excited to check out Toho’s take on the old bloodsucking mythos, and while Vampire Doll does not feature traditional nosferatu as such, the menacing Yuko and her seemingly supernatural powers fit the bill. The story is a little bit convoluted, dealing with missing people, hypnotism, unrequited love, and creepy butlers, but all the dark shenanigans build up into a movie overflowing with classic horror atmosphere, and the local haunted mansion where much of the film takes place gives an appropriately creepy backdrop to an already spine-tingling story. I greatly enjoyed this film, far more than either of its spiritual sequels, and heartily recommend it to lovers of gothic monster mayhem.
5. Ring (1998) and The Ring (2002)
Ringu is probably the most influential film on this list, and if you are at all interested in the genre of J-horror, this now-classic movie was basically the film that kicked off a worldwide phenomenon of creeping long-haired soaked ghost women stalking folks and scaring moviegoers. The first film honestly didn’t scare me very much, but the story itself is suitably weird and pretty enthralling. The story is about a cursed video tape that, once watched, triggers a mysterious phone call and a death sentence—after one week, SOMETHING will kill you. (Yes, that something is the aforementioned ghost woman, and her eventual emergence has become one of THE iconic horror sequences in movie history.) The mystery behind the cursed tape (and more specifically the ghostly Sadako) adds a great deal of interest and suspense to the movie, especially as the main character, Reiko… well, let’s just say she finds some very deep motivating factors to discovering the truth behind the video. For me, the American remake was even scarier than the original, despite a silly CG horse dashing about on a boat at one point in the film. While Ringu may be an overly obvious choice for a list like this, seriously, if you haven’t seen it and you are interested in Japanese horror films, this is a good place to start.
Time to kick off my list of recommendations, and like Nicholas I don’t really associate the kaiju movies with Halloween. I think it’s because I’m such a Godzilla fan that the movies appeal to me year around so to speak, and they usually don’t dwell to much on the horror element but rather city destruction… save perhaps Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971). Anyway, here is a list of five recommendations for Halloween.
1. Ring (1998)
Well we have a repeat across the two lists here, and I’m starting with the movie that arguably defined the Japanese horror industry for decades. In addition, this is the only movie on this list that I would qualify as being truly scary. While I actually prefer the American remake, the original Ring had a stellar concept: a tape that doomed you after watching it. It was a simple premise, but introduced the deadly stakes early in the movie while it kept your interest through learning more about the mysterious elements surrounding the curse. The countdown aspect helped tremendously too, while the climax with Sadako is downright chilling. Like a lot of successful horror movies, this had a load of sequels and imitators after it, but none captured the same level of atmosphere and dread as the original Ring.
2. The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy
I’m going to cheat and recommend three in one stroke. This unconnected series of vampire films shifts from the more original Vampire Doll (1970), far and away the best of the three, to the stereotypical with Lake of Dracula (1971). All three deal with topics ripe for the Halloween season, though. From creepy, isolated mansions to your standard vampire fare. While quality might vary, I’ve found myself revisiting them all quite frequently. Faults aside, they have good special effects for the time, save the bat props that were also used in Space Amoeba (1970), and the latter two, while lacking in quality compared to the first, are vibrant with colorful sequences and good to okay pacing.
3. House (1977)
This psychedelic horror movie is slightly self-aware, crafting a bizarre movie that strikes just the right balance to offset the cruelty being played on the movie’s characters due to the tone it strikes. While it doesn’t always click with the viewer, the movie is well regarded for its experimental style. This results in some lacking special effects, as it feels like the movie was more focused on vision than realization. Regardless, the movie has stood the test of time because of these risks, as it comes across as a rather crazy horror movie that, at the minimum, features a number of creative deaths against the backdrop of a haunted house. For those looking for something darker and crueler, and with a stomach for strong gore, Sweet Home (1989) could be seen as in a similar vein.
4. H-Man (1958)
When director Ishiro Honda took on the mutant and crime genre at the same time he struck gold, creating a movie that is both lively and creepy. The flashback attack on boat by the liquid people is down right chilling as well, even today, and do a good job at portraying the threat and keeping the stakes high throughout the rest of the movie. Also, the 1950’s club setting, while contemporary at the time, feels a bit more unique in retrospect now and helps the film stand out. As a side note to Honda, I was also going to include Matango (1963) on this list, my favorite horror film. However, I just never saw it as a Halloween film due to the tropical setting, even though the atmospheric night sequences fit right in with this time of year.
5. One Missed Call (2004)
The early millennium was stuffed with “J-horror” pictures looking to capitalize on the success of Ring (1998). In fact, this took a fascinating turn where they eventually started to create movies with the hopes they would be picked up to be remade in the US… an odd turn, but enough of them were successful like Pulse (2001) and Dark Water (2002) that the Japanese industry doubled down on this strategy. One film to arise from this odd trend was One Missed Call, from Takashi Miike. The result is entertaining fluff, but enough to stand the test of time to make it recommended viewing. It’s got a creepy atmosphere at times, and doesn’t even try to hide that it’s swapping Ring’s VHS tape concept for a cellphone call… all the same, that death bringing ring tone is truly iconic after seeing the movie and this is one of the few horror movies of this period that I would be willing to watch again and again.
Hey everyone! How’s it going? Well, since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my list of Halloween recommendations! Unlike my peers however, I will include a few Kaiju flicks in mine, as there are a few that I find seasonally appropriate. Also given the nature of our site’s user base, I think mentioning these pieces would be appreciated. So without further ado, here’s my list in order of least recommended to most recommended
1. House (1977)
This will no doubt be sacrilegious to some, but I must confess that I don’t particularly care for this film. I found it lacking in substance, and the psychedelic aspect to more be a mask for poor filmmaking that didn’t particularly add anything to the film. Also, while I won’t be going into spoilers for any entries on this list, I will say that I found the ending too cliché, which knocks it down a few pegs for me. Nonetheless, I do think this film is worth a watch. It is simply dripping in memorable imagery, and it does feature a few sequences that are nothing short of bat… erm, “guano” crazy. The soundtrack isn’t half bad, and Godzilla fans familiar with “A Space Godzilla” will no doubt be interested to see what the would be filmmakers have also created. Also, this film does have a massive cult fanbase, so who knows. Maybe you’ll see something in it that I don’t.
2. Frankenstein vs Baragon (1965)
What’s Halloween without a Frankenstein movie? Even better, a Frankenstein KAIJU movie! Yep, Toho went all out for Mary Shelly’s classic tale of a man who plays god and faces the consequences, and took it to the next logical step of having the monster fight a giant dinosaur! While the premise may sound laughable, I actually really enjoy this film. It’s notable for several reasons, including the first appearance of Baragon, the second appearance of the Giant Octopus (sort of), and being the direct precursor to The War of the Gargantuas (1966). The film itself, while being squarely in the kaiju genre, does an excellent job staying true to its horror roots. Throughout the whole film, there’s this vaguely disturbing undertone… Particularly in regards to death and mutilation. There are some dead animals, questions of cutting off the monster’s limbs… and let’s just say Baragon wasn’t too friendly in his first romp. Frankenstein vs. Baragon is one ride that will have you on the edge of your seat to the end, and a definite must watch for any kaiju, OR Franky fans.
3. Varan (1958)
When Nicholas initially suggested I make my own list of recommendations, I was hesitant, as I wasn’t sure if I could come up with five like he did… but then I remembered Varan. I will fully admit that Varan isn’t the best made kaiju movie ever, but it’s always been something of a favorite of mine. You see, while Varan may not have the best acting or highest budget, it has something that almost makes up for it, and makes it perfect for the Halloween season: Atmosphere. Everything about this movie feels so memorable to me, from the chilling statues of Baradagi, to the foreboding exploration of the jungle, to the mysterious natives. It all oozes an atmosphere that makes you feel the location, the setting, and the danger. All of it scored by Akira Ifukube at his finest. I don’t care whether you like the movie or not, I think this soundtrack belongs in the maestro’s top five greatest! Atmosphere is one of the most difficult things to describe in cinema, so you’ll forgive me if that’s a little vague. Suffice to say, I think Varan is a film that makes you FEEL what’s on screen which is where its true strength lies.
4. “Haunted School” Series aka Gakkou no Kaidan
Alright… This one is a bit of a cheat. But if Nick can recommend the Western version of Ring and Anthony the The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy, I’d like to mention the “Haunted School” series, although in particular the Gakkou no Kaidan anime, which is based on the same book series as the film. The series is best known for its strange English localization, which opted to turn the series into a raunchy adult comedy. Legend has it that since the series performed poorly in Japan, the English localization team were told to do whatever they thought would make the series sell better. Due to this, I often see anime critics call it a “bad anime saved by the dub” which I feel is a bit unfair. I genuinely like the how the series portrays the monsters, which are always depicted as very real threats (even in the dub). Furthermore, all of the monsters have excellent designs that, along with the appealing set pieces, let the show keep a great creepy feeling. And just to cover my basis… I’ll also recommend the first Toho film.
5. Sweet Home (1989)
And here we have it. My all-time favorite horror movie, the criminally underrated Sweet Home! This film is probably best known for the video game tie in by Capcom, which was a massive influence on the Biohazard (or Resident Evil) franchise. What many people don’t realize however is that the film had a great influence on the iconic survival horror game as well! If you’re a huge fan of the original game like me, more than a few things might look familiar to you However, the film is great in its own right as well. We are given a tight plot, likable characters, appealing special effects, and great setting. Unfortunately, this film is pretty hard to come by. It has yet to receive any disc release, in any region and Japanese VHS tapes go for upwards of 300 dollars. Overall, Toho should just give a Blu-Ray or DVD release already! (Maybe Shout Factory could do something over here?) Regardless, if you see this one don’t hesitate! It’s a great film that is well worth your time.
This article was first published on October 27th, 2018.