Monday, October 31, 2016

Horror-ible, Part XXXV : Fragments of Horror

Halloween POST-A-DAY , October 31, 2016

True terror as only a master storyteller could put out!

NOTE: Junji Ito's stories are not for the squeamish. They contain elements of violence and gore. Do not read if you are easily upset by either of these.
You have been warned.


Because of Uzimaki, I know about Junji Ito. 

Uzimaki is a Japanese word that means spiral. It is the title of a movie based on a Horror manga of the same name by Junji Ito. I discovered it in 2003. The movie is unsettling at best and pure nightmare fuel at worst. It concerns a small Japanese fishing village in contemporary times being beset by a curse. Everyone and everything in the village becomes obsessed with spirals, some going to great lengths to become spirals themselves. It is odd and creepy and disturbing and EVERYTHING horror should be. The trailer is below. It's not for the squeamish.

I heard about Uzimaki from the Rotten Tomato boards and had to find it. I was on Netflix delivery service at the time, so that wasn't too difficult a task. I now own a copy because it is one of the best HPL-flavored horror movies I've ever seen.

It was so intriguing that I looked up the author of the manga to find out where I could obtain a copy. I never followed up on that because I came across one of his other concepts: Tomie.

My daughter loves horror movies too, and Tomie seemed right up our alley. Tomie is a franchise of several manga books and eight feature-length horror films. In Japan, Tomie would rival Freddy or Jason in popularity. The stories all concern a girl named Tomie who isn't quite what she appears to be. She's pretty, so pretty that men tend to fall in love with her on sight. So in love that they become jealous and enraged. Enraged enough to murder each other for Tomie's amusement.

And you can't kill Tomie. She heals from almost any wound, or regrows herself from cutup body parts. In one show, she took over someone else's body and made it her own because one of her organs was harvested when she died. In truth she isn't really a girl, she's more of an immortal demon succubus.

Knowing my daughter like I do, I rented one of the Tomie's from Netflix, along with some other Asian horror. She and I were on a kick back in 2003 of watching films like "A Tale of Two Sisters" and "The Ring". We found them enjoyable and I believe we watched two or three of the Tomie flicks before moving on to "The Pulse" and "Infection".

There is something wonderful about watching Asian horror movies. The cultural differences make up a lot of it. Horror is about being unsettled, but if something starts off incomprehensible then you aren't unsettled, just confused. Asian horror does this wonderful thing for an American audience that isn't aware of their customs (assuming you aren't Asian): it provides a familiar setting, but there are always things about it that are subtly different. Different enough for you to feel oddly out of place even in the scenes where everything is normal.

I'm a huge Asian horror fan, by the way.

A couple of years later I happened upon three volumes of Ito's manga in a bookshop. I quickly recognized what they were, saw one of them had a Tomie story and snatched them up. I gave them to my daughter as a present, but not before reading them myself.

The stories were just as out there as Uzimaki or Tomie and the art fit the mood perfectly. Manga isn't usually my bag, but I was drawn to these like a moth to a flame. The timing and style fit perfectly with the story. I believe my daughter loved them as well.

Imagine my surprise when one of my bundles threw out this odd book with its wrap-around cover. At first I was indifferent, not realizing it was Ito even though his name was clearly on the cover. This was a free give-away promotional book meant to entice readers into buying Ito's hardcover volume of the same name, which – had I the money – would already be sitting on my shelf and on my daughter's shelf.

Ito is amazing at the horror comic craft. Let me show you why I think that.

We begin with a young man going to his girlfriend's house, but we can tell already that something is amiss.
Is that…blood on his shirt? Why is he sweating like he is exerting himself? A woman blocks his path for a moment and he can't seem to move past her or lower his hands from that strange position around his head. He tells her to excuse him and then says "my head…"

When suddenly there's some excellent foreshadowing.

Remember, it is manga so right picture first, then the picture to the left. This story is called "Red Turtleneck" and it isn't one you will soon forget. All of this will make horrific sense very, very soon. The man makes it to his girlfriend Madoka's second story apartment.

He is acting all freaky, right? Madoka sees that right away and tells him to "go back to that woman."

Is that blood coming out of his nose and mouth? What the heck is going on here…

Above we flash back to a fight between Tomio and Madoka a few days ago.

Appears that Tomio was cheating with another woman…a woman we will learn about…in a flashback! Within! A Flashback!

Scary-creepy fortune-telling homewrecker! But yeah, Madoka leaves Tomio for this weird Gypsy lady. Which brings us around to the part right after that first flashback but before Tomio at the beginning of the book…trust me, when you read it, it makes sense. Here Madoka is in bed with Gypsy woman.

Remember: RIGHT to LEFT!

So this new woman in Tomio's life seems to really like his neck and head for some reason. And she's a kinky strange one. Just remember fellas, don't make this kind of a deal EVER!

So the new love of his life plucks a single strand of hair from her head and then loops it around his neck and...

He gets very upset with how much it hurts but she sooths him. 

When he says the line where her hair cut him will show she gives him this sweater and then wants to show him a surprise. Tomio asks "This 'something good,' what is it?" The answer is…(foreshadowing)

Which of course freaks him the hell out and he runs from the house until…

Yeah, you might wanna stop reading here if you are squeamish.

So here we are back at the beginning, with Tomio crying to his ex-girlfriend that he doesn't want to die. And you'd think that the worst was over right?

Well, you'd be wrong.

He has to explain himself to her and get her to believe what's happened to him.

It is so hard not to post the entire pages here. Let me explain that horror is all about timing and where Ito stands out is in his pacing of events. Horror is about the unexpected, be that jump scare or startling logical conclusion. Horror is about thinking about the bad thing that is about to happen BEFORE it happens and then feeling that sick dread when you are proven right. 
Watch this:

You're waiting for it to happen now. On edge. Primed.

And there's the payoff. Not immediate. You're given time to think about it. The pacing is perfect in every Ito story I've encountered. I'm shuddering as I write this. And it isn't over.

This is a normal reaction to this bizarre turn of events.

She quickly settles down and calls an ambulance. While she is doing that she instructs Tomio to sit on the floor. Which is a great idea…and a huge mistake.

Oh, dear god! I can't look…

*eeek! (faints) I know that's not really possible by the way but the macabre way it is presented allows me to just go with this idea that you could survive this. Maybe it's the gypsy's black magic keeping him alive. Who knows?

While they wait, Tomio is going further and further off the deep end and that is TOTALLY justified. Thankfully the ambulance arrives!

Oh Shit!

And she just glides right in.

The slowness of the pacing in this is what is so freaky. Her long looks at Tomio just creep me the heck out. Plus, again it gives our mind time to work out what will happen next. Even her staring at him is creepy.

And then we get this part, which we know what is coming as soon as we see that card.

And guess what? We aren't wrong.

That's what makes Ito so, so good! It is setup and then payoff, foreshadowing and follow-through. He lets your imagination work its magic and then does the thing you were dreading he would do.

Also we are now in this horrible nightmare land that we can't escape. We HAVE to see how this plays out. The witch is completely in control of the situation, torturing Tomio with no hope of reprisals. See what I mean here:

And she proves to be one sadistic bitch.

What. The. F? She just shoved a cockroach inside his neck. Now she laughs at his pain.

But Madoka isn't taking this lying down and she gives the witch a taste of her own medicine.

Whew! For a couple of moments there I thought she wasn't going to die. Madoka checks on Tomio and the seemingly impossible task of getting that roach out of his neck.

Thank goodness. Looks like the worst is over…

Or not…

Holy sweet jeebus!

Oh thank goodness. He got me with that one. I really thought Tomio was a goner. Looks like the demon kids were just a dream. As Madoka wakes Tomio, she makes a discovery.

And that is where the true horror sets in. Tomio will never be the same, he has been emotionally scarred for life.

Now that you've had a taste of Ito, it is likely you will fall into one of two camps: Never wanting to see any of his stuff again because it is just too horrifying OR frantically searching for MORE of it because it is so effective. For me, it is the latter, although I take him in small doses because they do pack quite an emotional punch. Like all good horror tales should.

Happy Halloween, folks. I hope you've enjoyed our post-a-day October. The Crapbox won't be slowing down just yet. We've got lots of Dr. Strange books to get through before the movie on Friday and then our Crapbox look back over Obama in comics before everyone heads to the polls on November 8th. We may go daily for just a bit longer. That's the treat I have for you this evening. Be safe and happy Halloween!