With a title like Evil Dead Trap, you wouldn't be blamed for assuming this film's a nod to Sam Raimi. Actually, the reigning influence and inspiration on this horror project is Dario Argento; if you're going to borrow, you might as well borrow from the classest of acts. And while Evil Dead Trap borrows and pays homage, it's ultimately an original, one of the best and most ferocious horror movies ever to come out of Japan. Not everyone will be able to stomach it, but those that can are in for an example of Japan's horror scene at its most wickedly gruesome.
Curiosity killed the reporters
Nami Tsuchiya (Miyuki Ono) hosts a late-night TV show where people send in home movies and found footage, and she follows up on their stories. Most of what she receives is fairly dull material, and her boss is making noises about how her ratings are starting to slump. One day a tape shows up in the mail, depicting someone driving to an abandoned military facility. Then the camera goes inside the building, and the tape turns into a snuff film of stupefying brutality. (The horribly realistic makeup effects were by Shinichi Wakasa, who later went on to become the maker of many of Godzilla's suits in the 90s and 2000s.)
Real or hoax? Nami figures the only way to find out is to retrace the path laid out in the video, and so she brings her production team — all female, plus one somewhat doltish dude roped in at the last minute — out to the site for a look-see. At first all they find are desolate hallways and rubble-filled rooms, maybe worth some photos but with no hints as to what's up. Then we realize something is out there, flashing across the grounds and through the hallways (this part is definitely a nod to Raimi's Evil Dead), and before long the team's being hunted down and dispatched in one vicious way after another.
Only Nami manages to remain unscathed, through a combination of luck and dogged survival instincts on her part. She also has one clue the others don't: the words of a taciturn young man, Daisuke (Yuji Honma), who makes veiled and later not-so-veiled hints that he knows the killer and has been tracking him to this place. Later, when Nami's the only one left alive, he reveals another secret: the killer's his younger brother, perhaps also with a derangement of the nervous system (as Daisuke has a condition that makes it impossible for him to feel pain). But the truth is even more outlandish, and Nami once again finds herself in a fight for her life, this time against an opponent that at first seems inhuman, but ... well, some secrets are worth finding out for yourself.
Borrowing from the best, for the best reasons
I've seen Evil Dead Trap a few times now, first when it was released to home video in the U.S. in 2000 by Synapse Films — at around the same time, appropriately enough, when many of Dario Argento's movies were also getting their first high-grade, uncensored releases as well. Even without having seen more than Suspiria and Tenebrae, it was clear how Evil Dead Trap patterned itself after those movies: the creepy pitterpat music, the garish polychrome lighting, the jolting cinematography (the killer's POV uses a fascinating stop-motion photography technique), and of course the over-the-top, baroque gore — e.g., when Nami finds one of her crewmembers trussed up and set to die from not one but two booby traps.
Trap came from the pen of prolific screenwriter, director, and manga-ka Takashi Ishii, whose notorious Angel Guts sex-and-violence films turned heads in the late Seventies. His single-location thriller Freeze Me had a female rape victim turning the tables on her assailants, and his wildly propulsive Gonin (a/k/a The Five) pitted an eyepatch-laden Takeshi Kitano against a gang of amateur thieves ripping off the yakuza. Trap has many of Ishii's hallmarks: a heroine named Nami, but mainly a predilection for women who get into horrible calamity and fight their way out by sheer tenacity. Much of his material I cannot honestly call feminist as it's too clearly rooted in the exploitive tradition of Women In Danger filmmaking, but even a pulp-mainstream, lady's-revenge version of such a thing is better than nothing.
If something is derivative from one or more things, it's only a problem if the finished product isn't really discernible from its sources. Trap does not feel like a clone, and I think that's because it knows how much of any one thing to borrow and what to do with it. The most blatantly Argento-esque moment is a three-fer: a woman finds maggots leaking from the ceiling (Suspiria) seconds before discovering a rotting corpse in a closet and getting (improbably) skewered to a chair. Likewise is the movie's fake-out motivation, which we are led to think is about an obsessive fan of Nami's work (see: Tenebrae), but turns out to be far more deranged. The whole package feels original, even when we zoom in on the individual pieces and can see clearly where they come from. Especially when wrapped up with that climax, one as bonkers as the rest of this movie deserves.