Evil Dead Trap Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: August 24, 2021
Audio: Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono
Run Time: 84:06
Director: Toshiharu Ikeda
A TV station employee takes a camera crew out to an abandoned factory to investigate a purported murder that was videotaped there, only to end up running for her life. Nami hosts a late-night home video program. She receives a videotape, which appears to contain an actual murder. She and her crew investigate the location where she meets a man looking for his brother, who warns her to stay away. As she gets closer to the truth, she and her friends are subjected to a brutal nightmare. (From Unearthed Films’ official synopsis)
Toshiharu Ikeda’s Evil Dead Trap (Japanese: Shiryō no wana, which translates roughly to Trap of The Dead Spirits, 1988) crawled from the depths of the ‘80s horror underground to become a minor cult gem. While not officially released stateside until Synapse Films’ DVD, it was a bootleg VHS favorite that, against all odds, ended up influencing, however slightly, the next decade of horror movies. Ikeda wears his own inspirations on his sleeve – post-Pinku Japanese extreme gore, North American slasher movies, late ’70s/early ‘80s Italian horror, and David Cronenberg movies – but he smashes everything together in gloomy and dingy manner that anticipates the definitive J-horror ‘look,’ as characterized by Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu a decade later.
Many have compared Evil Dead Trap to the work of Dario Argento, in particular his violent comeback giallo, Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975), his fever nightmare Suspiria (1977), and his weirdo supernatural giallo Phenomena (aka: Creepers, 1985). What’s interesting about these comparisons – which are valid in terms of themes, editing style, camera work, and more – is that Argento’s films are (or were) known for their abject beauty in the face of emotional ugliness, while Evil Dead Trap is remarkably well crafted to be an expression of ugliness from top to bottom. Every corner of the frame is caked in mildew, moisture, and filth that somehow makes the violence more painful and the threat more dangerous. Again, Ikeda built this look on the bones of raw, pure goresploitation movies, like the Guinea Pig series (more on that in a moment), and STV splatter-eros movies, like Kazuo ‘Gaira’ Komizu’s Entrails of a Virgin (Japanese: Shojo no harawata, 1986) and Entrails of a Beautiful Woman (Japanese: Bijo no harawata, 1986), but it’s remarkable how much this pseudo-slasher appears to have informed the look of mainstream hits, like Nakata’s Ringu (1998). Even more remarkable is how much Ikeda’s film resembles James Wan’s Saw (2004) – another incredibly popular and influential pseudo-slasher that features elaborate murder traps and a killer making threats from behind a cathode-ray tube television screen. As far as I know, Wan, nor sequel director Darren Lynn Bousman have ever mentioned Evil Dead Trap as an inspiration, but the similarities probably aren’t a coincidence.
In terms of Cronenberg homage, it’s interesting to note that the Canadian king of body-horror released his own film about traumatized twins, Dead Ringers, the same year as Evil Dead Trap, though it was based on a true story and contained no fantastical elements (assuming a twin-based horror movie did inspire Ikeda, it was more likely Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case ). However, the obvious connection is to 1983’s Videodrome (1983). Both revolve around a television personality in search of ratings who investigates snuff films and finds themself in an increasingly dangerous situation that blurs the lines between reality and recorded media. I’m guessing that Ikeda, or perhaps his producers, were also aware of the surprise underground notoriety of the Guinea Pig franchise. Consisting of six to nine entries of varying length, from various production companies, all of the Guinea Pig movies were essentially gruesome special effects reels, but the first two, Satoru Ogura’s Devil’s Experiment (1985) and Hideshi Hino’s Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985), were designed to look and act like snuff films, well enough to reportedly fool actor Charlie Sheen into contacting the FBI about Hino’s film.
Barring actual murder, Guinea Pig was as extreme as Japanese torture movies got, leaving room to explore graphic violence from a more creative angle. While plenty of the region’s horror remained formulaically boring in its outdated attempts to shock (see the aforementioned Entrails of a Virgin/Beautiful Woman), bio/cyberpunk movies – like Akihiro Kashima’s Biotherapy (1986), Takuro Fukuda’s Conton (1987), Shinya Tsukamoto’s seminal Tetsuo (aka: Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989), and even future Guinea Pig releases Mermaid in a Manhole (Hino, 1988) and Android of Notre Dame (Kazuhito Kuramoto, 1988) – propelled Japanese gore into weirdo body-horror territory. Evil Dead Trap splits the difference, harkening back to Pinku torture, but puts an eccentric twist on the ultraviolence. Highlights among (future Godzilla suit-maker) Shin'ichi Wakasa’s prosthetic wizardry include the gooey eye-stabbing that opens the film (Lucio Fulci’s films seem to have been as influential as Argento’s where gore is concerned, especially The New York Ripper [Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982]), impalements by two-meter metal spikes from the floor, a giant guillotine to the face, a knife through the back of the head, and the climatic creature attacks.
Ikeda’s pre-Evil Dead Trap exploitation credentials extend to mostly softcore porn, rather than horror, such as late-in-the-game Nikkatsu Roman Porno release Angel Guts: Red Porno (1981), and continued working in softcore into the early ‘00s. While jumping between low-budget theatrical and STV movies for the next couple of decades, he did make more horror films, Chigireta ai no satsujin (1993), which was retitled Evil Dead Trap 3: Broken Love Killer for its international release, despite having no connection to the first film. The official Evil Dead Trap sequel, Evil Dead Trap 2 (Japanese: Shiryô no wana 2: Hideki, 1992), was directed by Izô Hashimoto, a filmmaker mostly known for anime screenplays (including work on adapting Akira  with creator Katsuhiro Ôtomo), who was just coming off of an STV horror film called Lucky Sky Diamond (Japanese: Rakkî sukai daiamondo, 1990), which was released in some territories as a Guinea Pig sequel.
As mentioned above, Evil Dead Trap wasn’t officially released in North America until Synapse’s 2000 DVD, after which it disappeared again. The only anamorphically enhanced option was the UK DVD from Artsmagic that is very out of print and censored. The first Blu-ray was released via Maxam in Japan last year (2020), followed by this English-language-friendly debut Blu-ray from Unearthed Films. This 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer was taken from a “brand new” 4K scan, I assume of the original film negative, though it isn’t specified in the advertising language. This is a case of a film having so much purposeful artifacting and grittiness that even a 4K scan can’t make it look pretty. With that in mind, I’ve done my best to evaluate what issues are designed by cinematographer Masaki Tamura and which are the result of compression or film condition. The fuzzy, diffused, and misty qualities are the main problem, because I know this was done on purpose. It gives the movie its dreamlike atmosphere and amplifies the everpresent dampness, but also softens edges and cakes up some of the grain (I’ll be honest, I assumed the bulk of Evil Dead Trap was shot on 16mm, but imdb.com has it listed as being 35mm). On the other hand, there isn’t any notable digital blocking, Unearthed Films resisted oversharpening things to bring out more detail, and the colors, though often grotesque (especially those urine yellow and mold green-drenched scenes towards the end of the film), are very consistent. The best comparison would be Arrow’s semi-recent post-millennial Japanese horror releases, especially Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (Japanese: Kairo, 2001), which also utilizes multimedia inserts.
Evil Dead Trap is presented in its original Japanese and a choice of uncompressed mono or stereo LPCM audio. The bulk of the film is dialogue and music-driven, but there are moments where the relatively incidental effects work is hyper-magnified for the sake of stylization. In fact, fans of horror anime from the era might recognize an effect or two. There isn’t a lot of difference between the stereo and mono tracks, other than the mono mix cramming a little too much into a single channel and creating minor distortion at high volume. The catchy soundtrack was composed by ZABADAK guitarist Tomohiko Kira and is one of the film’s highlights, despite the main theme being recycled perhaps a bit too much. The music has shades of Goblin (Claudio Simonetti, to be precise) and Fabio Frizzi, but it also reminds me of John Harrison’s music for George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). The stereo mix broadens the score’s aural scope a bit, though probably not as much as you’d assume.
Commentary with Director Toshiharu Ikeda and SPFX Manager Shinichi Wakasa – There are three full-length commentary tracks here, so, for the sake of time, I’ve sampled all three in order to get the general idea of their content. This first commentary is the same one that appears on the Synapse and German DVDs. This is a goof-off track through and through. Ikeda and Wakasa mostly describe the on-screen action and make tongue-in-cheek comments, but also prepared a bit of behind-the-scenes trivia to chat about to fill what ends up being a lot of blank space. A fun listen, but ultimately not very informative.
Commentary with filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake – The director of cult indie films Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf (2009), Gun Woman (2014), and Karate Kill (2016) offers an educated fan’s perspective, praising all aspects of the film and Ikeda’s career, while doing his best to contextualize Evil Dead Trap’s release and themes. His greatest contribution to the extras is his concise history of Japanese horror (especially extreme horror) of the era.
Commentary with critic James Mudge – The writer for EasternKicks.com and host of the EasternKicks podcast takes a critic’s perspective, giving further context (pointing to more of the non-Japanese inspirations than Mitsutake) and acknowledging the film’s complicated themes and gender politics. Having written my review before actually sampling the commentaries, I felt pretty vindicated listening to a more knowledgeable critic discuss some of the same influences (I had missed strong allusions to Argento’s Inferno  and Fulci’s City of the Living Dead [Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi, 1980], though).
Trappings of the Dead - Reflecting on a Japanese Cult Classic (19:18, HD) – Author, critic, and director of countless Blu-ray/DVD extras/featurettes/documentaries Calum Waddell further breaks down the films that likely inspired Ikeda, giving Evil Dead Trap the credit it deserves for mixing and matching elements of non-Japanese horror. He also recalls the rumor that Oliver Stone was a huge advocate of the film (he is quoted on the Synapse DVD), delves into the political meanings of some shots/scenes (including some books he’d like us to read for homework), and claims that Evil Dead Trap comes up quite often during his interviews with various modern Japanese horror filmmakers.
Trailers for Evil Dead Trap, Ryan Nicholson’s Hanger (2009), Herman Yau’s The Untold Story (1993), and Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film (2010)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images.