Shochiku’s brief foray into the horror genre only produced four films. Luckily for us lovers a weirdo world cinema, these four features are vastly different. In The X From Outer Space they gave us one of Japan’s goofiest Kaiju Eiga, in Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell we’re treated to an icky alien menace and a bit of body horror, in Genocide the end of the world approaches on the wings of pissed off insects and in The Living Skeleton we are treated to supernatural revenge and a look at what would have happened if Mario Bava came to Japan.
A group of rotten pirates ransack the freighter Dragon King. Showing no mercy, they massacre the entire crew including the ship’s doctor and his new bride, Yoriko (the hauntingly beautiful Kikko Matsuoka). Three years pass and the murderous pirates have mostly done well for themselves. Yoriko’s twin sister, Saeko (Kikko again) is still haunted by the loss of her twin but is living a somewhat good life under the employ of the kindly young priest who took her in and the genuine affection of a young man who wishes to marry her. Sadly, this pleasant existence is about to come to an abrupt halt after Saeko and her boyfriend Mochizuki come across a bunch of submerged skeletons chained to the sea floor. When the phantom freighter appears soon after, Saeko rushes out to it along with Mochizuki on his speedboat. Harsh waters flip his boat and Saeko ends up aboard the freighter as Mochizuki fears her lost at sea. She comes across her sister, faints and ends up back at the church but something is a little off. The next day she vanishes and ends up a few hours away in a seedy city. Guess what comes next?
The dastardly bastards that murdered for the gold being transported on the freighter end up on the receiving end of some supernatural vengeance. Mochizuki and the priest figure out where Saeko has journeyed and attempt to put a halt in the comeuppance but they may be too late to save Saeko’s soul.
Beautifully scored and filmed, The Living Skeleton plays like the atmospheric Italian gothics from earlier in the decade. There’s some shocking violence to go along with the gloomy tragedy and the cheap special effects add to the charm. Rubber bats and toy boats can’t sink the eeriness of the whole ordeal. Add on the shocking reveal saved for the climax and a bit of mad scientist fun and you have yourself a simple yet charmingly odd flick. 8/10