AKA: Body of the Prey
Director: Norman Thomson
Cast: James Craig, James Yagi, Atsuko Rome, Lawrence O’Neill, Al Ricketts, John Stanley
Running Time: 94 min.
By Ian Whittle
Well, this is a head-scratcher. An Ed Wood written 50s monster movie script, Venus Fly-Trap, produced in 60s Japan as Body of the Prey by a former Orson Welles associate…with funds and possibly a monster suit likely supplied by Toei, who denies all acknowledge! The Japanese title translates as The Devil’s Garden, but due to a mis-translation became known as Double Garden! And by the time the film finally saw the light of day in the mid-80s, courtesy of Regal Home Video (a furniture company subsidiary), the lack of any opening credits on their source wasn’t a hindrance. They simply took the credits from The Revenge of Dr. X, a re-issue version of 60s Filipino gore-shocker Mad Doctor of Blood Island. So apologies to any John Ashley or Angelique Pettyjohn fans…they ain’t in the movie!
James Craig (formally the star of classics such as The Devil and Daniel Webster, so a very long way from grace here) plays perennially cheesed-off NASA rocket scientist Dr. Bragan. Following one set-back too many, the raging Bragan receives a suggestion from his long-suffering assistant (James Yagi, formally one of the stars of the atrocious new American scenes inserted into King Kong vs. Godzilla, so this is probably a step-up) to take a vacation in Japan. Bragan travels to Japan, but not before stopping out at a Floridan garage to buy a Venus fly-trap (as you do), said garage being blatantly in front of Mount Fuji! Once in Japan for real, he meets up with his assistant’s attractive cousin Noriko (Atsuko Rome, who doesn’t seem to have worked again!) who takes him to her home…an abandoned hotel in the shadow of a volcano, staffed by one cackling hunchback!
In the best mad scientist tradition, it turns out that Dr. Bragan is not only a rocket scientist but also a botanist, and he decides to use his vacation to start tampering in God’s domain…to prove than mankind descended from the plants! Gene-splicing the American Venus Fly-trap with a Japanese carnivorous aquatic plant, the resultant creature (thanks to some good old lightning) is a humanoid plant monster, complete with a tail and claw-hands that look suspiciously like customised boxing gloves!
Ed Wood never met a purple phrase he didn’t like, and his fingerprints are all over the dialogue, most of which seems to be derived from half remembered bits of Universal Frankenstein movies (frequent allusions to lightning being the father of the monster). Adding to the hilarity is James Craig’s tendency to growl out his lines with a frustration that borders on apoplexy – a sample gem being ” How in the hell can anybody be so utterly stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?” Craig’s feral performance suggests that Norman Thomson is no Ed Wood…as we all learnt from Tim Burton’s bio-pic, the best advise you can give any actor is “No, you’re not that upset! You want to keep moving. You’ve got to go through that door!”
The Japanese nature of the production certainly lends visual novelty beyond what a American production of the same vintage would have done. The locations are stunning, as are the topless Ama diving girls (who I assume weren’t in the original script!), and even eccentricities like the baroque hunchback feel more disturbing and exaggerated than one would expect to find in your garden-variety 60s monster movie. The monster wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Ultraman…if it turns out the suit was recycled from a Tokusatu production, I would not be surprised!
Quite why such a bonkers production was kept hidden from the public is one of life’s mysteries…I mean, yes, it’s terrible but as we all know, that is no hindrance to getting a prompt theatrical release. And there is still time for Tim Burton to do a sequel to Ed Wood, showing the increasingly alcohol bloated director wheeping into his Angora sweater as some hack ruins his masterpiece about a killer Venus Fly-tap monster with tangents about diving girls, whilst the lead actor gets more and more upset…
Ian Whittle’s Rating: 3/10