While SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE employs similar narrative structure and psychedelic inclinations as Nobuo Nakagawa’s earlier film, “Jigoku,” it nevertheless finds its own path. One can see Nakagawa’s imprint on both films, which demonstrates a consistency of cinematic personality but versatility of approach. Where “Jigoku” harried viewers with lavish phantasmagorias and Cenobite-worthy violence in its final reel, SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE takes its surreal turn via supernatural but psychological means. Roman Polanski’s film probings of psychological decay share analogs with SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE. Polanski, in such films as “Repulsion” and “The Tenant”, depicts mental breakdowns through increasingly distressing and creative camerawork and visual shocks plucked straight from the psyche – things that have no place in reality as we know it and whose intrusion into mundane reality portrays mental schism. Nakagawa follows a similar route. A major difference between Nakagawa and Polanski is that Polanski’s horror – at least in the films cited – is strictly from the depths of a cracked psyche, where Nakagawa’s horrors in SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE, while to a large degree psychological, have their causation in supernatural catalysts. Namely, ghosts. In the plentiful story that is content to move slowly toward its final third’s freak-out, Nakagawa uses a feudal scenario to satirize rigid social heirarchy. A feminist viewpoint is also embedded in the film, especially noteworthy considering traditional gender roles in this culture (Japan) and the fact that SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE dates to 1968. It’s true that the movie is slow, but there is real story, real substance and actual shit to think about while we rub our hands in anticipation of the promised revenge from beyond death’s doors. And SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE drops a tease or two along the way. When things begin to unravel for the cruel master and his rotten apple of a son – at first it’s just snakes and ghostly visions – the film begins to twist. Though there are real ghosts involved, their manifestations and activities seem only apparent – most of the time, anyway – to the intended victims. Though, of course, as insanity begins to take over both masters, older and younger – providing Nakagawa with some excellent opportunities to display vivid and imaginative scenes of madness witnessed only by the mind’s eyes of the focii of vengeance – their breakdown causes severe negative effects on those around them. That way, in the end, justice is dispensed across the board to all deserving. While this is subtler than “Jigoku”, the awe-inspiring final shot of SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE recalls the mind-bending visuals of “Jigoku,” where the horror was set in a Buddhist hell. There, too, by the way, Nakagawa demonstrates his willingness to tell more than a horror story, with “Jigoku” actually being a yakuza story that follows some of its characters into the afterlife when they are killed part-way through the film. But back to the film at hand: SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE is an intelligent ghost tale/psychological horror story that rewards patient watchers with cinematic satisfaction.
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