DEMON SPIES (1974) – The Dungeon Review!
Demon Spies is based on the Manga created by Kazuo Koike. Unfortunately I am unable to comment on how faithful the film is to its source material. Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub had successfully been adapted for film so I guess they figured to cash in on that success. I was pretty psyched for this one and its impressive 6.9 IMDB rating. As is my modus operandi, I borrowed Demon Spies from the library; one of the few places left to find older films. Freaking support your local library already! WARNING>>>MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
A group of children are recruited to train with a secret society of spies. The children are forced to wear masks and use alias to hide their identities from one another. They train for years in the most brutal conditions and several of the youngsters die during the process. If you are unlucky enough to lose your mask while fighting or training you are executed instantly. Pretty freaking severe! I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of Japanese kids begging their parents to send them to demon spy camp for the summer! After ten years of training a mere five apprentices remain; one female and four males. Now that they are young adults the small group are taught the art of seduction. The quintet watch a demonstration performed by a man with a really phallicy looking mask getting jiggy with a woman in a plain featureless white mask. Than the lone female among the demons is centered out and asked to strip. Apparently the way to learn the art of seduction is to be raped by a dude in a phallicy mask and your peers, all while an audience looks on. Our anonymous young woman has finally had enough of this shit and makes a run for it. One of her peers chases after her and they engage in a fight which results in both parties becoming unmasked. Tied up and ready to be executed; the other three spies unmask in solidarity. The head master commends the group and announces them most righteous spies (well, more or less). As a graduation gift they get to kill their masters. And just wait until you see the head master’s grand finale! It really must be seen to be believed!
This first segment of Demon Spies is pretty nuts! Nudity, rape, violence, gore and they kill a few children for good measure. I had to wonder where this film was going to take me after that lively and exploitative start. The film changes gears at this point. The five Demon Spies are charged with their first assignment; to find and destroy a stash of weapons overseen by a gentleman nicknamed “the demon hunter”. The balance of the film revolves around the demon’s first gig.
Demon Spies never really lives up to its strong start. The biggest disappointment is not really getting a chance to see the spies do their thing. After ten years of brutal training I was hoping for an action-packed, gory battle with a lot of martial arts and swordplay. The best examples of their skills are observed while they are still at demon camp. There is only one brief scene after the story changes course and an energetic but brief finale. The quintet of spies is not exactly the most charismatic lot. They are not unlikable, just sort of, forgettable. Not even the bad guy is terribly memorable.
What kind of freaking organization is this Demon Spies anyway? There were a bunch of kids in the opening scene; twenty maybe? Obviously the training should be intense but when 15 of your students die, perhaps you need to rethink things a little. Evidently you do not see 15 kids die; they just give you a few samplings. Not to mention, only five apprentices make it to adulthood and you are going to execute two of them? Brilliant! It took 10 freaking years to train this bunch, shouldn’t they be training new kids constantly? Seems to me, demon spy is the kind of job someone could get killed while doing???!!! And finally why in the hell do they kill their masters? What was the benefit of that? Maybe this whole demon spy thing is a pilot project.
Demon Spies does a few things very well. The lively credit sequence featuring drummers spliced with the children training is fabulous! The entire camp section is an exploitative extravaganza. The story moves along at a decent pace and there isn’t too much downtime or needless dialog. The film has a campy comic book feel and while the gore is not exactly flawless it is still messy fun. In the end, Demon Spies has as many bad points as good and should probably be receiving no more than a borderline pass from me. But it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, so I gave Demon Spies an additional bump cause like I said, it did entertain me despite its many and varied issues. Recommended with warning.
Dungeon Rating: 3/5
Directed By: Takashi Tsuboshima
Starring: Keiko Aramaki, Hiroshi Ayukawa, Jun Fujimaki, Shôzô Fukuyama, Hiroto Kimura, Shin Kishida, Masaomi Kondo, Ryunosuke Minegishi, Yutaka Mizutani, Shûichirô Moriyama