Friday, April 3, 2009
REVIEW: Wizard of Darkness
エコエコアザラク (Eko eko azaraku)
Running time: 80 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Based on Shinichi Koga's manga "Eko Eko Azarak" (also the name of a Wiccan chant), Shimako Sato's 1995 film "Wizard Of Darkness" has an odd mismatch of tones. It starts off in the vein of a TV show like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, although with slightly less production values. It gets a bit cheesier and even childlike during a scene when the heroine runs up to the camera, draws a pentagram in mid-air and stabs it in the middle using her finger (complete with 80s synth flourishes as sound effects!). The shift to an atmospheric horror film is not totally unexpected, but I'd have to say I was caught a bit off guard by the lesbian love scenes between teacher and student - including all those soft focus close-ups. When the blood and gore crop up later, all bets were off...
The premise of the film sounds interesting and you can see how they might be able to stretch it into a series of films, say like a trilogy (which is in fact exactly what they did): Misa is a young schoolgirl who moves from town to town using her black magic powers to try to help students who are targets of occult attacks and curses. Her current school is right smack dab in the middle of the locations of five recent killings. A pentagram is created by plotting them on a map and drawing lines between them in the order of their occurrences. The film leads off with that last of five killings and we see it spliced together with invocations by Satan worshippers. Apparently the groundwork has now been laid to summon Lucifer - all that remains is to sacrifice 13 young victims on the night of the full moon. That's where Misa's new school comes into play.
Once she has started at the school, Misa is suspicious of sudden pains class president Mizuki suffers and she tracks down what she believes was a black magic curse on her new friend. She proves to the rest of the class that she can invoke her own magic when she inflicts creepy groping teacher Mr. Numata with an illness, but it backfires when he gets involved in a car crash and the kids think she's evil (especially magic obsessed Mizuno). Mizuki sticks up for her though as does the smitten Shindo. They all end up being part of a group of children kept after school one day for an extra test. They soon discover they are trapped inside the school by a black magic boundary and also notice that the number '13' has mysteriously been written on the blackboard. When one of the gang is drowned by what appears to be an evil bathroom stall, the number on the board changes itself to '12'.
It's all in good fun if a bit B-grade. Things start slow with some of the ritual satanic back story, but the school scenes tend to be energetic as they stick mostly to kids either having over the top emotional outbursts or running down the hallway during screaming fits. Things pick up nicely once the kids are trapped and the number on the blackboard starts shrinking, but all those shifts in tone just aren't quite as enjoyable as they should be. Some good ideas, some fun moments, but not enough of either - I expect that it might be awhile before I track down the sequels.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.