Gakidama – The Demon Within (1988)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com/.

Those of us who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s will remember the Gremlins franchise fondly. It combined cute creatures (in the form of the mogwai Gizmo) with wanton destruction and low-level scares – everything a budding genre fan could want! Surely the Japanese, who brought us the Pokemon and Gamera series, came up with something just as innocent and child friendly…

Gakidama – The Demon Within is what you would get if you decided to remake Gremlins, but handed over the writing and direction to David Cronenberg. It is a piece of weirdness that could only come from Japan There are still mischievous little creatures, but they are about as cute as a den of rattlesnakes. The film follows a reporter specializing in paranormal phenomena who goes into the woods to get a picture of a will o’ the wisp, referred to in Japanese as a gakidama. All the while, he is followed by a mysterious man in black. After devouring a slab of beef and turning into a caterpillar, the will o’ the wisp manages to get inside the reporter’s body, giving him a massive appetite.

Unfortunately for our protagonist, which goes in must come out, resulting in him barfing up a grotesque fanged demon who looks nothing like a mogwai. The man in black comes in to catch the brute, but he unfortunately lets it escape. As the film progresses, we learn that vomiting up a gakidama gives you an insatiable craving to eat one. While the reporter and the man in black engage in these culinary pursuits, the reporter’s wife learns that the creature has a drive to be reborn again and again through human bodies, in a scene that removes any doubt about whether this film is intended for children.

Gakidama is an extremely good horror short. While clocking in at only fifty-four minutes, it is brimming with twisted concepts and gory scenes. The special effects are top-notch, having come from Tsubaraya Productions, the people who brought you Ultraman, in a rare adult-oriented outing. The scene where the reporter “gives birth” to the gakidama through his mouth is especially memorable. Meanwhile, the gakidama puppet is convincing in a way that the CGI effects of today simply cannot match.

The short also benefits from a superbly creepy atmosphere. The early scene in the woods is distinctly unnerving with its use of darkness, fog, and silhouettes. The film as a whole has a dark aesthetic, with the reporter’s house often being poorly lit, leaving all too many places for the creature to hide.

Being less than an hour long, Gakidama does not offer much in the way of character development and features some notable plot holes, not the least being how the man in black tracks down those who are about to give birth to the little monsters. The creature’s life cycle is also somewhat difficult to figure out. Still, it is a grisly little outing worth tracking down.

Gakidama can be found on YouTube.

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