Director Shimako Sato puts a dazzling Eastern spin on American teen horror pics in the viscerally sensational “Wizard of Darkness.” The high-octane, modestly produced occult thriller is top-notch genre fare that should see some good niche theatrical biz and brisk cable and cassette sales.
Though based on a popular Japanese comic book, the picture is very much in the tradition of dozens of U.S. high school demonics such as “Carrie” and “Halloween” and their myriad clones. It unquestionably is one of the more successful recent efforts to combine horror, the occult and youthful sexual mores in a highly entertaining package.
Misa (Kimika Yoshino) has recently transferred to a Tokyo high school where odd occurrences have prompted one student to spread the word that someone is involved in an evil satanic plot. Of course, this is met with skepticism and ridicule by classmates.
But Misa is receptive to the speculation. And Mizuno (Miho Kanno), the resident expert on magic and mysticism, begins to wonder whether the new student isn’t behind the strange phenomena. Word already has circulated that she possesses mystical powers responsible for a teacher’s injury and rumors abound that death has followed in every place she’s been enrolled.
The film goes into high gear when 13 students, including Misa and Mizuno, are kept after school for a makeup examination. When their teacher disappears, it soon becomes apparent they’re trapped. The windows won’t open, the phone lines have gone dead and an interior electrical storm ensues. And naturally, one by one the 13 — not coincidentally the number necessary for some earlier explained satanic sacrifice — start to drop off as a result of grisly “accidents.”
Though obviously plowing a familiar celluloid field, director/co-writer Sato demonstrates not only a visual flair for the genre, but a wicked sense of humor that deftly counterbalances the per force conventions of this type of story. The script sets up a series of expectations and, without betraying or vamping the genre, pushes the tale into unexpected directions right up to its last gasp.
Tech credits and an appropriately dizzying score by Ali Project provide a classy sheen to “Wizard of Darkness.” Sato, in her second feature effort after the 1992 “Tale of a Vampire,” quickly has emerged as one of the most exciting distaff talents to emerge in Japan and a force to reckon with in future outings.