Stacy DVD Review
Written by Eric "The Hitman" Strauss
DVD released by Synapse Films
Directed by Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Written by Kenji Otsuki (novel)
2001, Region 1 (NTSC), 80 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on July 22nd, 2003
The Japanese schoolgirl-zombie film Stacy is the third DVD in Synapse Films' "Asian Cult Cinema Collection," following the bloody, incomprehensible Organ and violent, entertaining Evil Dead Trap. And like its predecessors from Don May Jr.'s company, this is a film that defies simple explanation.
As the introductory narrative helpfully explains, Stacy takes place at the beginning of the 21st century, when teenage girls around the world have suddenly been dying — after a brief bout of giddiness called "Near Death Happiness" — and rising as flesh-eating zombies. And those zombies can only be destroyed by being cut into 165 pieces.
However, under the law, the only people who can kill a Stacy are her lover, her family, or the officially-sanctioned "Romero Repeat Kill Troops" (the first of many horror movie in-jokes and homages).
The plot of Stacy, which is based on a three-part novel by Kenji Otsuki, follows two relatively unrelated stories. One is the tale of a puppeteer who is chosen by a girl to be her "repeat killer," as those who destroy the zombies are known. The other storyline follows members of a Romero unit as it deals with new recruits (including the puppeteer's friend), a scientist studying the Stacy phenomenon and even an illegal band of repeat-killer girls who worship Drew Barrymore and are trying to make enough money to be repeat-killed themselves by the Japanese equivalent of Justin Timberlake.
Horror movie fans will find plenty of other funny entertainment nods, including one of the "Drew Illegal Repeat Kill Troops" who is dressed like Chun Li from Street Fighter II, and a mass-marketed chain saw called "Bruce Campbell's Right Hand 2" (misspelled "Blues Campbell" on the blade) and marketed by a girl in a bunny suit.
Though references like those are 100 percent tongue-in-cheek, Stacy has a very apparent serious side, in the form of the puppeteer, who gradually falls for the near-death-happy girl who chooses him, seemingly at random, to be the one to give her a final rest. This strange, doomed romance drags in places, but provides the ultimate (if head-scratchingly odd) ending, as the puppeteer finishes the story he and his friend had begun at the start of the film.
It is the Romero subplot that provides most of the blood and realistic-looking guts, on the other hand, as troops shoot and hack girls to bits, only to find themselves in — fittingly enough — a Day of the Dead situation when a suicidal soldier turns the scientist's horde of zombies loose in their base, providing an action-packed second half that will redeem the film in action lovers' eyes.
The zombies themselves may disappoint those looking for Zombie-like grue; they are eye-rolling, tongue-lolling girls jittering like Flyboy from Dawn of the Dead trying out for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. On the other hand, they are all wearing schoolgirl uniforms of some sort.
The acting was strong throughout, particularly in terms of facial expressions; unfortunately, the Japanese credits were not translated in their entirety, making it unclear who played which character. And director Naoyuki Tomomatsu gives the film a disquieting feeling of subtle symbolism, mystery and emotion that makes it more than just an action-oriented zombie film.
Grade: C+. Strange, and not for everyone, it nonetheless has enough appeal that most horror fans should find something to enjoy.
Video and Audio:
Synapse should be commended for the job it did on the visual presentation. The anamorphic widescreen picture is extremely sharp and well-done, with only the barest hint of softness — and that appears to be the nature of the source material rather than a flaw in the DVD.
This is a tough film for a DVD to handle: There are many scenes that are quite dark, and others that are very bright; there are many military blacks and greens, and also an abundance of bright red blood and other bold colors. But Synapse gets the job done with admirable consistency of quality.
This is a film that could have had a much worse image and still claimed the cult-film prerogative ("It's the best it's ever looked..."). Instead, Stacy is a very welcome surprise.
Grade: A+. Kudos to Don May Jr. and his folks at Synapse for putting in the effort.
The Japanese Dolby 2.0 track does the job just fine, though the highest-pitched and loudest sounds occasionally feel just a touch harsh. There is no distortion and music and effects are generally in proportion with voices, and there is even some nice (if faux) bass rumble to the track.
The "newly translated" English subtitles are near-perfect in terms of grammar and spelling, another mark of Synapse's effort.
One strange scene: The Right Hand commercial features one character speaking English. The English can be heard faintly underneath some louder Japanese dubbing, which is then, of course, translated into English for the subtitles.
Grade: B+. Perfectly acceptable, if unspectacular.
There are only two extras: a 2-minute trailer and a short liner essay by Patrick Macias, author of "TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion."
The trailer, because it contains the introductory narrative, gives a surprisingly coherent and accurate picture of the film's storyline.
The essay tries to shed some light on the director, Naoyuki Tomomatsu, and the mindset that created some of the weird and tragic nature of the film. However, that light is not exactly flattering to Tomomatsu, who made adult films when he wasn't stalking a starlet ex-lover.
These cult films often suffer from a dearth of extra material (Evil Dead Trap's commentary may have been bizarre, but it was something), and it is in this department that Synapse needs to use the stock explanation. That's too bad, really; this is a film crying out for some explanatory material.
Grade: C-. Very little here, though the essay is a plus.
Stacy is a schizophrenic film, alternately touching and comical; alternately bloody and beautiful; alternately entertaining and unwieldy; one part love story and one part zombie gore flick. But it should appeal to fans of the somewhat eccentric (to a Western way of thought) Japanese horror genre, as well as lovers of zombie movies. And those who like a thought-provoking story underneath their gore may also find it worth a look.
It should be noted that, as an introduction to Asian cult cinema, Synapse's releases thus far show the often-disturbing difference between the Eastern and Western horror movie. Unfortunately, they lack the level of explanation in the form of supplemental features that would truly give a Western audience a feel for just what makes an Asian cult film popular.
Nonetheless, Synapse deserves applause for its commitment to making these films available; and in the case of this release, making "the best it's ever looked" a badge of honor rather than a nice way of saying "eh."
Overall grade: B-. Tough to grade the film; but the DVD gets an "A" where it counts: A/V.
(Reviewed on a Panasonic 27" TV with a Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player and Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers.)
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