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Review © Mandi Apple, 2004.

Directed by Jôji Iida, 1990, 96 min. starring Akira Emoto, Pappara Kawai, Goro Kishitani, Shigeru Muroi, Sanplaza Nakano, and Yasuko Tomita.

Sadly, Jôji Iida, director of Battle Heater (aka Battle Heater: Kotatsu), has up until this point been one of Snowblood Apple’s least favourite directors to date, having been responsible for two (in)famous flops, Another Heaven and Rasen (both of which could have been decent, given the great plot of Rasen (written by Koji Suzuki) and the interesting and left-field concept behind Another Heaven, were it not for the piss-poor visuals and badly interpreted material).

However, believe it or not, with the advent of Artsmagic's release of Battle Heater, this is all about to change, I promise you. It would seem that with this movie, Iida has found his directorial niche, and it doesn't lie in either the medical chills of Rasen, nor the featherweight gore'n'guts pseudo-psychology of Another Heaven. Rather than visual flair, Iida has been gifted with... comic timing. Yes, dear friends, it's true: this unassuming little horror-comedy is probably the best thing Iida has ever made... because it is genuinely funny. Real laugh-out loud moments abound from start to finish.

I’ll be absolutely honest with you: right from the outset I really didn't want to watch Battle Heater, given my previous track record with Iida and how much I’ve disliked his other films. However, this time, I'm very glad to have had my prejudices proven completely wrong. For once, I'd like to shake Jôji Iida by the hand (rather than by the neck) and tell him that all is forgiven, and that we won't take the mick out of his oeuvre any more (well, not until he makes another terrible flick, anyway). Yep – in my opinion, it’s really that good. ;-)

There’s a whole host of ker-azy characters featured: for example, an old couple who are tired of life and rig up a wonderfully Heath Robinson-esque suicide scenario; Bloody Savie (no, I have no idea what that's supposed to mean either), the world's least convincing punk band ever (and I do mean ever - visualise, if you will, a kind of Rod, Jane and Freddy take on Guitar Wolf); a duo of hapless murderers lugging around a corpse they don't know how to get rid of; Hama, a repairman so risibly incompetent he manages to blow up every TV he's ever supposed to fix, and who prays to "The Lord of Electricity" to not break quite so many items; and as for the so-called half-dismembered 'corpse' in the apartment about Furuchi's, I've never seen a dead person move quite so much, either ;-) - not to mention, of course, the central hero, Furuchi (Pappara Kawai), the clichéd wuss who unknowingly unleashes the curse of the Battle Heater upon the earth and who becomes embroiled in trying to save his girlfriend, not only from the unwelcome advances of the punk band's dopey lead singer (Goro Kishitani), but also from being chomped by a crazed piece of demonic heating equipment ;-)

The story is engagingly funny and dunderheaded: it may well have been informed by Stephen King’s 1978 short story The Mangler (a tale which originally appeared in his short-story collection Night Shift, but which has also been fairly recently made into a full-length movie, directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame); although in this case, the central focus of the plot is not a huge monolithic industrial laundry-press which turns into a remorseless killer, but the infinitely less scary and infinitely more funny transmogrification of a tiny little Kotatsu heater (of the kind which is shaped like a small table and which the Japanese put a blanket over to keep their knees warm in the winter), which also turns into a remorseless killer... just, maybe, er, not quite such a scary one... ;-D

As you might expect if you've already seen any of Iida's former outings, the visuals are still predictably crappy and flat, with no change to his (lack of) style – if anything, they're actually worse here. But it's no huge loss. This isn't the kind of film that requires poetic imagery and a haunting soundtrack, which is just as well, because it ain't got one. ;-) The music, it must be said, is utterly hideous and seems to have been nicked from an old 60's Carry On movie – it's tacky beyond belief. And the monster imagery looks like a cross between Audrey, the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, and Power Rangers – a mecha Venus flytrap on legs that glows in the dark and makes deep growly munching noises. It's every bit as silly as it sounds, and again, in this case that's not necessarily a bad thing.

As for the special effects, they're frankly anything but special – but again, that actually works to the movie's advantage. Take, for example, the yellow van which appears in the film's first five minutes as the focus of a horrible accident: you don't need to watch the scene twice to work out that it's actually a Tonka toy on strings, filmed from the side in close-up ;-D (Actually, on second thought, it's probably a Bandai toy, since it was their production company responsible for this film!)

And that's a great example of what makes this movie such a success, as far as I'm concerned: Battle Heater self-deprecatingly knows the limits of its strengths and uses its weaknesses to its own advantage. It is, by definition, taking the piss of itself for being so rubbish, and that is thoroughly endearing. It's no work of art, and neither does it want to be. Where Another Heaven lost Brownie points for taking itself way too seriously, Battle Heater wouldn't even dare try, so it goes right to the other end of the scale.


The main storyline isn't very complicated – in fact, even if you've never seen the movie, you could probably write it yourself given a few choice elements ;-)

Furuchi (Pappara Kawai) and Hama (Akira Emoto) are partners in a repair business, collecting electrical junk to fix up and resell. However, Furuchi isn't very good at finding stuff, and Hama is even less good at repairing it. One day Furuchi finds a Kotatsu heater, which he decides would be a great fixture in his apartment as he needs a heater for his room. Unfortunately, as Furuchi and Hama are driving home after finding the heater, Hama rolls the van and 'kills' Furuchi, but manages to resuscitate his colleague with a novel use of a stun gun. But the resulting electrical blast is not merely enough to shock Furuchi back to life, it also gives life, Frankenstein's-monster-style, to the Kotatsu heater, which, when no-one's looking, begins to act rather oddly...

This strange event is compounded by an even stranger event – the joint suicide of the apartment block's owners, utilising such a ferocious electrical shock that the sheer force of the energy supercharges the possessed heater, giving it even more power to transform itself into something nasty.

As the movie progresses, it becomes obvious that once the machine's terrible transformation from harmless bottom-warmer into slavering robot killer is complete, only one thing can stop it from killing people – a little silver seal, which would normally release the heat, but which in this case keeps the diabolical forces well and truly locked into the motor.

Naturally, being the pair of hopeless cases Furuchi and Hama are, they've lost the seal, Furuchi having given it to his ladyfriend – and so begins a frantic chase to get it back, continually foiled by Furuchi's arch-nemesis, the lead singer of a crappy punk band who wants to steal Furuchi's girlfriend and mess up his life. Will the pair of them find the seal in time, before something awful happens? (Well, what do you think?! ;-D)

Of course, this movie isn't going to appeal to everyone. There are plenty of po-faced "professional" critics who are too snobby and humourless to see the funny side of a film like this; and it'll undoubtedly disappoint anyone who was hoping for the usual buckets o' blood and gore-and-innards approach – despite a few killings, I can't recall having seen a single drop of blood spilled during the entire movie! The comic element might not be enough for some, but we here at Snowblood Apple appreciate a good laugh, and this movie does the business quite admirably.

As far as the (admittedly limited) genre goes, this film stands right up there with the best comic-horror titles we've seen. Like Bio-Zombie and even (to a certain extent) He Never Dies (aka Za Ginipiggu: Senritsu! Shinainai no otoko), Battle Heater is, in every way possible, a movie whose intentions are to make you giggle rather than gag. The acting is on the money – there are pretty much no stand-out superstar names here, but the comic performances are very tight and well-executed.

My one problem with the story would be that it's a bit incoherent in places. There's not much in the way of explanation given for some of the sub-plots, for example, the side-story involving the murderers living in the apartment above Furuchi's isn't really ever explained satisfactorily, which does then appear to be completely irrelevant and makes the story a little cluttered and non-cohesive at times.

Battle Heater is no Citizen Kane, but it is a great Saturday evening popcorn flick – a lunatic cross between Carry On Screaming, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, The Mangler and The Little Shop of Horrors, it's hilarious, cartoony, daft as a brush, endearingly silly and delightfully awful - all at the same time. Kudos to Iida for stepping right into the left-field and making such a mad little movie. If you loved Bio-Zombie, as we did, don't hesitate – go and buy Battle Heater and enjoy it for what it is – a funny, wacky, charming comedy.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Chills – 0/10
Laughs – 8/10
Violence – well, there's a huge man-eating heater. What more do you need to say?/10
Sex – one flash of the heroine's bottom in smiley-face knickers/10
Music – that's what mute buttons were invented for ;-)
Actual Tagline – Putting the Kill into Kilowatts
Snowblood Apple Alternative Tagline – I'd Rather Be Cold Than Dead, Ta Very Much
Would You Move Into This Apartment Block? – well, I guess the rent's probably pretty cheap, thanks to the murderous occupants, fried owners and giant man-eating heaters. Oh, and a piss-poor punk band upstairs

***Highly Recommended!***

Discuss this movie here at the Snowblood Apple Forums!

This film is released by Artsmagic

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Joji Iida
Akira Emoto
Pappara Kawai


http://www.artsmagic.co.uk/- Battle Heater is available direct from Artsmagic, who very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review
http://www.metamovie.de/film/battleheater.html - Metamovie, as ever, bang on the money, with some choice images
http://www.terroraustralis.net/reviews/dvd/battleheater.html - another positive review, with DVD technical details and ratings
http://www.rumourmachine.com/Reviews/Battle_Heater.htm - another great review at The Rumour Machine
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t0/48.html - full cast details at Fjmovie

this review (c) Mandi Apple Collingridge, 2004. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003, 2004 M. Apple Collingridge, A. Collingridge, Larry D Burns. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.