End Call (Kiyoshi Yamamoto, 2008)
I watched End Call in fits and starts over the course of a weekend, since the rest of my family are not horror movie fans and I could only get back to it when I was alone. Having watched almost the entire film—I had seven minutes left—by Sunday afternoon, I had most of a review written in my head for it. And while I can’t say that watching those last seven minutes made me change anything I was planning on writing, I can at least now open the review by saying that I really, really liked those last seven minutes, and they made me wish I had liked the first eighty-seven much, much more than I did. I will also note that at least some of what I have to say below is dependent upon the subtitles, which may have been loose, or outright incorrect, and so some of this review may be inaccurate. I do not believe that if it is, that would affect my judgment; it’s a tertiary, but very interesting, concern.
Plot: Yamamoto (whose most famous outing, at least on this side of the pond, is probably The Doll Cemetery, a decent short that was included in the Hino Horror box some years ago) gives us a tale in which there exists an urban legend that you can call the devil. Personally. And you can request one task from him. The catch: while he will fulfill any request for you, during the time it takes for the request to be filled, the devil gains possession of your corporeal body, and can use it in any way he pleases (short, one assumes, of direct suicide).
It’s an intriguing concept, but it’s been done before. I’m not sure Yamamoto and whoever wrote (the screenwriter is uncredited on IMDB, so I assume it wasn’t Yamamoto) would be aware of that; the movie’s most obvious direct ancestor, 1988’s 976-EVIL, sank into well-deserved obscurity within months of its release. (Robert Englund would not direct another movie for two decades. The next, and as of this writing last, one was Killer Pad, which at least managed to be funny.) But if you’ve seen 976-EVIL, you will not be able to get it out of your head when watching this; as a result, it comes off as an unsubtle, and somewhat lame-brained, cross between 976-EVIL and Say My Name 3x, but without the comedy of the latter or attempted comedy of the former. Ultimately, that ends up being both its greatest weakness and its greatest strength. Those last seven minutes would not play nearly as well in a comedy. They are chock full of the atmosphere of the salad days of the Japanese New Horror movement. On the other hand, if the rest of the movie hadn’t taken itself as seriously as it did, it wouldn’t have been so leaden, the predictability would have been at least forgivable, and it could have taken the same digs at its source material (again, though I am not sure Yamamoto even knows of 976-EVIL‘s existence) that Say My Name 3x took at Candyman.
On the other hand, there is one thing about this movie that intrigued the heck out of me. The devil—as a living, breathing character, even when not pictured (he only ever appears in this film in the body of one of its actors)—is something very rarely seen in Japanese movies. The last time I can think of is Nakagawa’s Jigoku, from 1960. Now, this may be a mistranslation/corrupted translation on the part of the folks who did the subtitles; I didn’t consider that interpretation until reading another review (that also didn’t, so I have no idea why it occurred to me). In the same way, for example, Bleach mistranslates shinigami as “soul reapers”. Given that, maybe it isn’t as rare a thing as it seems, doesn’t have the Western religious overtones, and may not herald, depending on its success, a new direction for Japanese horror films. But it’s an interesting idea to ponder, given the movie’s seemingly western roots, and provides some food for thought when you need to be distracted during another scene that you already have plotted out in your head after seeing the first frame or two. I would love to see a couple of really good Japanese directors take the Satanic Panic movies of the seventies and eighties and riff on them through the filter of Japanese New Horror, the same way Eli Roth and co. are riffing on the Japanese gore movies of the eighties and early nineties. Imagine how much fun The Gate would be filtered through the lens of Jigoku. We don’t get that here, unfortunately, but maybe we can look back a decade or two from now and say that End Call, as unsatisfying as it is through most of its length, planted the seeds. **
YouTube is being a pain right now. Trailer forthcoming.