Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda
Reviewed by Jeremy Silman
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 4.5
I had heard that Versus had some good action sequences so, with no more information than that, I ordered the thing and promptly forgot all about it. When it finally arrived (after a wait of about 2 months) I fired it up in my DVD player, expecting some run-of-the-mill martial arts swordplay at best.
Having seen it, I can confidently say that there is nothing run-of-the-mill about this movie! I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when, in a beautifully filmed scene that started out the festivities, a samurai warrior battled a gang/group/flock/herd of zombies. Zombies? I looked at the box to make sure I had inserted the right DVD. Yes, it was the right movie, but I realized it was time to adjust my mindset and prepare for some serious fun.
What followed turned out to be a mutant cross-fertilization between the frenetic gunplay of The Killer (John Woo), the bravado of Takashi Miike’s The City Of Lost Souls, a dash of Six String Samurai, serious zombie threat as seen in Night Of The Living Dead, and a final dollop of Evil Dead II.
Here we see body parts everywhere, blood pouring/spurting from every possible orifice, decapitations galore, dialogue that’s 70% horrific screaming, holes blown in torsos that are big enough to run a train through, and over the top non-stop action so frenzied that at times we’re left numb.
Apparently Mr. Kitamura recognized this "numb threat” and decided (a brilliant decision, by the way) that the best solution would be humor and the occasionally well-placed insane character. Thus every time the eviscerations became routine (It’s amazing how quickly the human mind can adapt to horrific images!) and my attention began to waver, a new, unforgettably berserk character (i.e., a pair of out of place cops, an imbecile who never stops screeching, and a suited, knife wielding, tongue wagging lunatic that has to be seen to be believed – played by Kenji Matsuda) would appear and rip me out of my reverie.
The whole movie takes place in "portal 444,” a forest that is just one of 666 possible dimensional shift locations. After the aforementioned samurai vs. zombie scene, things percolate into a slow build as we are introduced (in gangster fashion) to most of the movie’s characters. The action starts to pick up, then it becomes impressive, and then it gets even more frenetic until we’re left gasping for breath. In much the same way as Evil Dead II managed to do, Versus drags us into a demented rabbit hole of madness and never takes a rest.
For those that feel the gore-to-gag ratio might prove more than they can handle, the scenes are so quick and so outrageous that you won’t take any of it seriously. Versus is a stylish zombie/gangster/samurai/horror film that is destined to become a true cult favorite. The actors clearly had fun with their roles and pushed their characters to the limit with unrelenting zeal. We can only hope that director Kitamura, who does some amazing things with camera angles, is given a larger budget for his next film so our minds can, once again, be mercilessly blasted to pulp.