This frightful 1968 film opens with mysterious and spooky music playing as the camera grazes stormy ocean waves and the bodies of a mass shooting in the credit sequence of The Living Skeleton or Kyûketsu dokuro-sen.
And that’s one thing that stood out to me while watching this movie, the music.
“…a ghost ship appears in the mist offshore, beckoning Saeko, with an echoey, spaghetti-western dirge for harmonica and electric guitar, to a rendezvous with her now wraithlike twin…” – Chuck Stephens
We are now living in a time in cinema when many directors seem to follow a trend, for the music featured in their movies to not be noticeable. There’s this idea of sound blending in seemlessly, and not distracting from the cinematography, acting or story. But what if these films are missing out? Having the right shots paired with the right music can bring drama and tension to a scene that wouldn’t otherwise exist. The unlikely music/film pairing in the case of this film certainly worked out for the better, giving me goose bumps as our main character, Saeko, slowly descended down the length a dim and dank freighter to ol’ west standoff music. It evoked the feeling, to me at least, that the phantom ship itself was the antagonist of the story. In the film, we explore Saeko’s haunted past in a small seaside town fraught death and grief, the memory of the freighter massacre haunting those left alive. The music simply gave this chilling story an added layer of delectable fright. [click here for a great video on this topic by Every Frame a Painting on YouTube]
“A chillingly simple film filled with horrible screams, echoing footsteps, foghorns in the moonlight, and an entire church belfry’s worth of rubber bats…” – Chuck Stephens
Another thing that I noticed was that there are some scenes in The Living Skeleton were I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some influence on work of David Lynch. (left: The Living Skeleton top right: Eraserhead bottom right: Twin Peaks ep. 22 Double Play)
These Lynchian feels kept me unsettled and drew out my anticipation through out the film, a nice contrast to the shock value cash grabs littering the box office these days. And personally, I prefer the slow burn scares that make me feel like something ominous is lurking just off screen at all times, movies where I ask, “What lies in the shadows?”.