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  Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch, The Scales Of Justice
Year: 1968
Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Stars: Yuko Hamada, Sachiko Meguro, Yachie Matsui, Mayumi Takahashi, Sei Hiraizumi, Yoshiro Kithara, Kuniko Mayake, Osamu Marayama, Tadashi Date, Mariko Fukuhara, Saburo Ishiguro
Genre: Horror, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sayuri Nanjo (Yachie Matsui) is a little girl who for the past few years has been brought up in an orphanage by nuns, but now her birth parents have got back in contact again and wish her to return home. She is delighted, but that turns to wariness when she discovers her mother (Yuko Hamada) has amnesia and cannot remember the girl, believing her to be a different child altogether. Her father (Yoshiro Kitahara) is an expert on snakes and venomous animals, and keeps a collection in the basement, but what they don't tell Sayuri is that a maid has died there under mysterious circumstances very recently...

There is a subset of children's films that either by accident or design have a terrifying effect on the younglings, and Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch fell into that category. While it was based on a comic book for girls, sort of like Misty would print in Britain in the nineteen-seventies, the Japanese were ahead of them and produced many horror yarns for kids, and erstwhile Gamera director Noriaki Yuasa was hired to bring this to the screen. Those Gamera movies had their share of freaky moments, but were a walk in the park compared with what he had in mind for the children of Japan in this messed up little item.

Not that the Far East has a monopoly on scary kids movies, it was the West which spawned the likes of The Singing Ringing Tree, Return to Oz and Babe: Pig in the City, after all, and there are plenty of entertainments for the younger age groups that have that effect, sometimes for reasons that can surprise adults who see nothing too terrifying in their visuals or concepts. This example, on the other hand, was so plainly setting out to create nightmares that you may find yourself questioning the sense of the motives of the filmmakers: OK, some children love to be scared, but there's a difference between a pleasurable frisson and the terrors on offer here.

Not that they did make much sense. The film tries to posit its crazier scenes as bad dreams Sayuri is suffering, where her beloved doll comes to life to rescue her - and dies! The snake girl haunts those dreams, a scaly, fanged monster who looks like her hitherto unknown sister Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi), a supposed elder daughter Sayuri never had an inkling of before, so much so that she feeds into all sorts of impostor fantasies a small mind may entertain. But Tamami is pretty sinister, fair enough, she has a strange, waxy countenance for an unfortunate explanation, but she also has snake scales on her body, and when Sayuri shakes her hand, she thinks to herself, "What cold hands she has!" Her sister has her own thoughts on that handshake, too.

As we hear her in voiceover: "What soft hands she has! They must be delicious!" Huh?! Anyway, that's the Snake Girl, with a line in animal abuse to boot, but it just gets madder as the Silver-Haired Witch shows up as well, a porridge-faced, fanged horror that cackles and seems bent on mayhem with our harassed heroine as the target. Now, as you might have anticipated all is not as it seems here, and there is a scheme going on, but just as in Tod Browning's Mark of the Vampire where the arrangers of the plot manage feats that don't adhere to any reality even after a mundane explanation has been offered, this was not about to let any opportunity to go nuts pass them by. And not only that, but once their explanation arises, it is far from mundane, and sees the witch battering Sayuri's hands bloody as she tries to get her to fall from a great height. Much of this borders on camp to modern eyes, but there's no getting away from the relish they went about it, absurd but wild. Music by Shunsuke Kikuchi.

[Available on Arrow. Click here to join the Arrow Player website - there's a free trial available.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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