Set in 19th Century Japan, an Old Man begs his evil, greedy landlord for more time to be able to pay off his farm debts. But the Old Man ignores him, and soon the Old Man dies in despair. His wife and daughter, Yasuke (Ko Nishimura) and Asa (Sachiko Kuwahara), are forced to work off their debt. But it’s not as easy as one might think, as they’re forced to suffer from not just hard work, but the sexual advances of their masters, the torture of the jealous wife, and of course, rape. Soon, Yasuke is murdered and Asa kills herself, after being raped multiple times by the landlord’s son. And while the men think they’ve gotten away with it, they soon realize that they are cursed, and are visited by the vengeful spirits of the family they have killed, including Yasuke, the title’s snake woman.
This film was directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, one of the unsung heroes of the Japanese cinema, and is known mostly for his horror films, such as Ghost Story Of Yotsuya and the legendary Jigoku (Hell). This movie has a lot of similar themes to Jigoku: the different class system, the hypocrisy of land-owners, and of course, horrific imagery through makeup and lighting effects. And they are truly incredible and very frightening. The appearances of the ghosts, blue and with their sad faces, are nightmare-inducing, and only the ghosts in Kwaidan are more frightening than these. The Snake Woman effect is simple, yet very effective. The fear of snakes runs rampant throughout the film, but also a respect for them, as if they had religious implications. The last sequence features a séance that takes a horrific twist, and the last image of the ghosts walking in the fog-covered landscape, entering a new dimension, will remind one of Lucio Fulci’s 1984 film, The Beyond. But this one came almost twenty years earlier, and it’s just as good. A classic.