In horror films, it’s easy to run from the killer. Part of the excitement in watching a slasher film, for instance, is seeing the promiscuous teenagers successfully evade the maniac in a hockey mask, if only until the next scene. Now imagine if the killer you’re running from isn’t a six-foot walking Freudian nightmare, but an abstract concept. How can you escape from an idea?
The Hollywood horror genre during the late 1990s was getting pretty old. The gore cycle had run its course; people were tired of seeing stupid kids slaughtered by Freddy or Jason. Along comes Scream, and it becomes smart kids getting slaughtered, but even that didn’t last very long. Outside mainstream Hollywood horror, however, strange and disturbing things were happening.
In Japan, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu in 1998 helped to re-energise the lagging genre. Suddenly the focus shifted from gore and skin to terror and psychosis.
Following the pattern set by Ringu, Higuchinsky’s Uzumaki is at once an incredibly unique, disturbing, frightening horror film, ten years ahead of Hollywood horror.
An uzumaki is a spiral (simple enough). There are spirals everywhere: in the water, in the sky, on your fingerprints. It’s easy to miss them, but they’re everywhere.
Something weird’s going on in the town of Kurozu-cho. People are obsessed with spirals, almost mesmerised. A student falls to his death at the foot of a twisting spiral staircase. A man becomes transfixed by the shell of a snail. A girl develops a hypnotic fashion accessory. One by one the townspeople fall under the power of the uzumaki. The town of Kurozu-cho is cursed by the spiral.
Based on a trilogy of bizarre and frightening manga (Japanese comics) by Junji Ito, the film is a fascinating mix of classic atmosphere and modern editing. Higuchinsky (his first and last name, apparently), has a very expressive visual style that fits well with the disturbing content.
I was first introduced to Uzumaki by a friend of mine who’d bought the first book in the manga trilogy. She was so disturbed by it, she felt she couldn’t have it in her house. She gave it to me because it frightened her that much.
There are certain sequences in the film that still freak me out; in my eyes that’s the mark of a great horror movie.
Uzumaki: the spiral has you.
(Originally written in 2004.)Colin Le Sueur