You know what you're going to get when you watch a Japanese film titled Lust of the Dead or in full, Zombie Rape: Lust of the Dead; well at least I hope you do. Amateur effects, sets and acting, an inconsistent story that unravels into farce, and enough low budget and totally inappropriate sleaze that it leaves you walking away wanting to wash your eyes out with bleach. And yet; somehow, there's always the chance that the crass and vulgar will make you laugh, the absurd and ridiculous will entertain and the fan service will either titillate or be shrugged off as harmless. It's a tall ask though, as the for every Zombie Ass: Toilet of theDead or Troma flick that's at its brazen best, there are scores of titles that fall so low that merely uttering their names leaves one feeling unclean.
As probably imagined, I really want to throw Lust of the Dead with its rape agenda, its dangerously age inappropriate nudity and its penchant for the systematic objectification of all women, firmly in the latter pile; and for a good hour I was definitely planning on doing just that. Then somehow, it managed the impossible. Somehow despite the good hour of obsessive breast focus and panty flash and the umpteenth gratuitously shot brutal rape or gang-rape, all I believe totally justified by director and co-screen writer Naoyuki Tomomatsu's ludicrous testosterone fuelled zombie origin narrative, it managed to demonstrate that tiniest spark of self-awareness; like it could actually, maybe, be more than it was.
Don't get me wrong. It didn't try too hard and by elevate itself I'm talking a 3 not a 1. I mean listening to Kanae (Asami Sugiuri) shouting 'Women are not sex slaves for men!' while battling the hordes of horny undead all managing to pull at her kimono until her breasts were free for audience to ogle and the extras to grope, even if she does manage the last word by blasting them all to kingdom come, is, if as a last minute attempt to redress the balance, woefully missing the point. Yet it could be argued it is at least trying, and the five minutes or so of high octane OneChanbara-esque fighting preceding it was head and shoulders better than the sporadic and quite lame scuffles that had come before.
It's normally at this part of the review I start delving into the pertinent zombie origin story, though here I don't know quite where to begin. The Ozone hole, GM crops, space radiation, the Shinto Japanese myth cycle are all cited along with some stuff about bacteria, the origins of oxygen based life and the need for constant evolution. What we do know though, is, dokyun men (think high testosterone, sports, naturally rapey) have all turned into insatiable sex mad zombies driven solely to strip, grope and rape women. I say dokyun men, as the seemingly only alternative is otaku or stay-at-home manga / anime loner men who say they are happy to remain sexless though as we find out the slightest provocation and these guys too turn. So it's kind of all men and as stressed in one of the laboured TV cut-in debate interludes maybe what's wrong with rape anyway as it would begin to redress not just an imagined gender imbalance but all societal, wealth, nature and power imbalances as well; so why differentiate one man from another, we're all as bad or all as entitled...
Lust for the Dead is soft porn pretending to be a zombie film pretending to be soft porn; not only just managing to stay the wrong side of appropriate throughout but on occasion really stepping over by playing that creepy, last seen in Attack Girls Swim vs The Undead, scene that suggests that the those on the receiving end of a right good rape might in some way be grateful for the sexual stimulation. Yet, for all I've just said, it did just enough in its final few throes to stop me from totally hating both it and myself for buying it. Once the North Korea death nuke hits, the zombies suddenly become more interesting in the sense they're really probably quite dead now, even finally looking the part. Also the surviving female companions appear to have found some sudden depth, maybe on screen for more than having their blouse hang open, or to have a clumsy lesbian make-out with a new best friend.
The cityscape they find themselves in too, suddenly has a beautiful yet eerie post-apocalyptic vibe, giving the film an expansiveness not felt in the first hour or so that had them stuck in the same four walls nostalgically flashing back to pre-zombie sexual inappropriateness. I'll whisper this final bit, but the final scene had almost a Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2) feel; also it would be hard not to mention David Cronenberg's Shivers which too played with the idea of non-dead sexually charged men and women who are so driven their higher self begins to deteriorate though in that instance in with entirely different style, substance, skill and subtlety.
Overall, Lust of the Dead is distasteful misogynistic fantasy; playing with rape and sexpolitation in a really creepy way that not only feels uncomfortable while thinking about the characters but spills over into thinking about the young actresses who had to work with the myriad of older Japanese men who seemed more than comfortable simulating gang-rape, and squeezing and jiggling their breasts at every opportunity. It's a film that some will really enjoy, as gore, zombies, fun and boobies can make a good mix, yet for me, despite thinking it was poking both genders, it's just not enough and I'm left feeling like I need a brain bleach, though I better hold off as there's parts 2, 3 and heaven help us, 4 too - 3/10.