Movie Review—Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
A member of the Online Film Critics Society, Peter writes for Twitch, the Financial Times, and Rue Morgue. A contributing editor at Metro magazine, and a columnist on blockbuster movies for Screen Education, he also blogs on pop culture at School Library Journal: http://blogs.slj.com/connect-the-pop/. Get too-frequent updates about comics, books, movies, and TV via Twitter: @Peter_GutierrezView all articles by Peter Gutiérrez
And, just to finish off the thought, I found it both funnier and more fun overall than either TGP or The Machine Girl; I enjoyed them, too, no doubt about it, but here we have a near-perfect cocktail of traditional horror iconography, the wild inventiveness of today’s neo-gore movement in Japan, and that country’s beloved pop cultural tropes more generally.
For the latter, we apparently have co-director Naoyuki Tomomatsu to thank: in the Q&A that accompanied the film’s premiere last night, he acknowledged that he was the one who faithfully adapted Shungiku Uchida’s manga and made sure that its more serious horror-in-high-school sensibility was maintained; at the same time Yoshihiro Nishimura confirmed that he basically added all the “weird, offensive stuff” not present in the source material.
And in the case of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl that happens to be an awful lot of stuff.
There’s a wrist-cutting club that functions much like a competitive cheerleading team, except a lot bloodier. There’s Midori, “the oversexed school nurse” who eventually adopts personae that are much, much more twisted and scary. The “ganguro” girl segments, though, are clearly the most offensive, there’s no way around it. Mocking the cults of Japanese teen girls who worship anything and everything African-American, the script portrays them as afro- and sports-obsessed caricatures of the most over-the-top sort.
All right, but what about the gore?
Well, right in the opening scene we get treated to a face getting pulled off—slowly. And things only get worse (or better) as they progress. So inventive and uninhibited do the images become that by a certain point I didn’t feel that I was even watching a “gore film” anymore, so divorced are the representations of the human body from any of their typical meanings. This is also true to an extent of Nishimura’s work as the director of TGP and effects supervisor on The Machine Girl. However, the difference here is that by wedding his viscera-palooza tendencies to recognizable horror archetypes, he manages to transform both in creative and oddly satisfying ways.
Yet none this speaks to the most inspired thing about the film. For me that involves what I thought would actually be one of its weaker elements, the character of Frankenstein Girl. The spotlight is clearly on Vampire Girl from the get-go, as we follow her deranged, at times psychedelic, courtship of the cutest boy in school, so I naturally feared that Frankenstein Girl would be more of an afterthought. But what the script cleverly does is turn the premise of stitched-together-body-parts into the basis for a mind-boggling superhero (or rather, supervillain) that puts me in mind of Inspector Gadget by way of Eli Roth. What we’re left with, then, on the screen is a kind of gore fantasia, as Nishimura and his team extrapolate on the aesthetic potential of human biology in ways that keep raising the stakes of lunacy right up until the final shot. More impressive still is the fact that the exciting Tak Sakaguchi-choreographed fight scenes are thrilling in their own right, with the gore elements only adding to the creativity on display rather than being the raison d'etre for such scenes in the first place.
So in the end the highest compliment that I can pay Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl—or any movie really—is to say that it truly needs to be seen to be believed. And even then, of course, it’s pretty unbelievable.
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