Thankfully, Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell is as fun as it sounds. The debut film from Japanese director Shinichi Fukazawa is an adoring love-letter to the age of V/H/S and the morals cheap direct-to-video entertainment. In it Shinji (Fukazawa himself as a disappointingly scrawny body-builder) visits the old abode of his recently diseased father with his ex-girlfriend and a psychic. Its not long before a vengeful spirit makes escape impossible and a violent death highly probable.
At just an hour’s runtime, Fukazawa doesn’t beat around the bush. After ten minutes of set-up he spends the rest of the time subjecting his hero to all the grotty gunge-infested gore you could expect from a love-letter to the era of the video nasty, specifically Sam Raimi’s highly influential Evil Dead films. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell is shot, edited, and paced like an old banned film; the set is claustrophobic as Hell and feels so authentic its hard not to think the film’s been hiding in some dusty basement for thirty years. It’s a survival horror film just as indebted to Japan’s own low-end horror classics (77’s Hausu, 88’s Evil Dead Trap, and the gory classics of Chih Hung Kuei seem top of the pile) as it is to the American produce which popularized this kind of shameless gloopy fun. And oh boy is it gloopy.
As you’d expect with a hark-back like this, the effects are thankfully practical and a little bit silly. Buckets of gunge pour from manically laughing corpses and the cool gore moments come thick and fast. More than anything Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell is a showcase of practical effects potential, pulling off multiple moments of savvy fresh-faced nasty. The effect is a packed hour of wow-inducing low-budget thrills which throws so much at the viewer it s hard not to enjoy. The same applies to the scares which come mostly from some really unsettling ghostly superimpositions; scares which would seem lame or preposterous in any other film, but fit in perfectly with the purposefully dated vibe of the film. But that’s not to say it can’t get under your skin, there’s an intimacy to Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell which allows it to get under your skin in a very short space of time.
Its just a shame Shinichi’s debut is so indebted to The Evil Dead. Wearing the same costume as Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a fine nod, but it goes too far. Especially when you consider the artwork for the film was done by Graham Humphreys who, famously did the poster work for Evil Dead. And once Shinichi has said ‘groovy’ it feels almost immature in its emphatic pointing. With fewer Evil Dead references it could have been a far more unique venture, less of a Japanese rip-off and more a V/H/S-inspired film in its own right, but it’s a small gripe.
All in all this is a showcase of talents, from Fukazawa’s budget-wary thrills and genre-awareness, to the quality and volume of the effects. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell is an extended short film, or a feature film missing reels, either way it feels like the kind of thing that used to hide on the top-shelf of your local video store, which is no easy feat. Well worth checking out.
Dir. Shinichi Fukazawa
Cast: Shinichi Fukasawa, Masaaki Kai, Asako Nosaka