100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
100 Monsters is another fairly random selection for this year’s challenge. I knew I wanted at least one Japanese entry on my list, and the Japanese horror I’ve seen from the 1960s has been weird and occasionally disturbing. While 100 Monsters turns out not to be in the slightest bit frightening, it’s definitely unusual.
I suspect viewers who know their Japanese folklore will get a lot more out of 100 Monsters than I did. From the Yōkai spirits that appear throughout to the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai ceremony that shapes the story, this is a film steeped in myths and legends. In fact, 100 Monsters is the first of a trilogy of films (Spook Warfare and Along With Ghosts), sometimes known collectively as the “Yōkai Monsters” series.
A venal landowner has hit upon a scheme to fill his coffers. Working with a local magistrate, he plans to seize shrines to obscure deities and convert them into brothels. You might be hard-pressed to come up with a scheme more likely to invite supernatural retribution, but this never occurs to him.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, the landowner uses the leverage of an outstanding debt take an adjoining tenement away from its owner, threatening to throw its tenants out on the street. This earns him a great many enemies.
In order to gain support from local dignitaries, the landowner hosts a ceremony in which everyone tells ghost stories, numbering 100 in total. Not being the most patient sort, however, the landowner neglects the final banishing ritual, leaving the metaphysical door open to mischievous spirits.
Before the inevitable arrival of these entities, we are treated to plenty of skulduggery, a few ghost stories, and some strange comic relief involving the landowner’s childlike adult son and his new friend, the umbrella spirit.
This framing ritual provides less of a narrative structure than I’d first guessed. It seemed that we’d see a spooky Decameron style tale, with everyone telling their own Yōkai stories. Instead, we get maybe two (more like one and a half) of these, with the ceremony being more of an event within the main story.
The tales we do see follow the classic fairy tale structure of “Don’t do this thing or a curse will befall you.” “I will do the thing. Oh no. I have been cursed.” This ultimately extends to the overarching story. At times, 100 Monsters almost feels like an EC Comics version of Kwaidan.
There is a running theme throughout 100 Monsters of people brought to ruin by delusions. Often the monsters they see are illusory, or at least coy in how they choose to manifest. This leads to chaos, confusion and a pleasing amount of murder.
While 100 Monsters hardly has a blockbuster budget, it is still filled with Edo-era pageantry. There are colourful costumes, dances and ceremonies aplenty. At times it feels more like a historical melodrama than a horror film.
The story is both simple and somehow overcomplicated. It has a lot more to say about real estate scams than, say, monsters. For most of the runtime, I worried that the title had promised a lot more monsters than the film was able to deliver. Happily, they more than make up for this in the last 10 minutes.
While many of the monsters are little more than cute puppets, some are more unsettling. The sheer range and weirdness of their appearances, especially when they arrive in numbers, is effective. They cavort like playful children and titter most unpleasantly. Their final parade through the town feels like Japan’s answer to “Tam o’ Shanter”.
If you’re looking for blood or scares, 100 Monsters may not be the film for you. Its meandering narrative might leave you scratching your head at times, wondering why a horror film seems more concerned about local politics than, well, horror. But if you’re patient, there is plenty of weirdness peppered throughout. And if you want monsters, well, it has 100 of them.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!