Bargains are both the glory and bane of my existence. I know it’s a clever ploy. As soon as I see that sign which says “50% Off Sale” or something to that effect, I check out what’s being sold and probably buy twice or thrice as much what I’d buy if it wasn’t on sale. I have a particular weakness to bargains on books and movies, which makes used bookstores that also sell DVDs my kryptonite. I end up spending more than I ought to and add to my already bloated collections of books and movies, all of which I feel I must read or watch. Nevertheless, I’ve come across some great books and movies that were on sale and because they were cheaper, I took a chance on them and ended up getting something wonderful. (Cheap like Dead Sonnets? It’s only $0.99. Oh, hush; you’ve plugged that book enough.) I didn’t know Yusef Komunyakaa would be my favorite poet until I happened across his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Neon Vernacular. Of course, there are also those magical times where you find something on sale that you would have gladly paid full price for and then some. I can’t remember how I first came across Infection. I’m pretty sure I rented it at the video store; remember those? I loved the film so much that I bought it as soon as I saw it at Half-Price Books. It’s remained a beloved part of my collection ever since.
Infection is a strange movie, as many Japanese movies are, but the movie starts normally enough in an underfunded, understaffed hospital that is on the verge of being shut down. The staff is tired and they’re running out of supplies, but as one doctor says, they might be able to get the patients safely to other hospitals if they can make it through the night. However, a couple of serious complications arise. First, several doctors and nurses accidentally kill a burn victim when one of the doctors calls for potassium chlorate instead of potassium chloride. To prevent an investigation that would cost them their jobs and prevent them from finding new ones, they decide to hide the body and put it under heat lamps to speed up the decay of the chemicals; yes, the science can be pretty flimsy. Second, paramedics bring an infected patient, in spite of the fact that the hospital doesn’t have the means to quarantine the patient and treat him properly. The man has some highly contagious disease that causes people do go crazy as their brain deteriorates and their body’s insides liquefy into green goo. The film gets increasingly more bizarre and frightening to the conclusion where we learn that the infection may or may not be entirely in the heads of its victims; the ending leaves it ambiguous as to whether the rapid liquefaction and death were figments of the imagination or real.
When I first described this movie to a friend, I said it was about an infection that makes people go crazy and melt into green goo; now where do I remember green goo from? Naturally, she thought it was amusing. That sounds like the premise for a cheesy 60s or 70s B movie, but it’s treated completely seriously here and it turns out to be fairly creepy. The film combines elements of psychological and visceral horror. The film plays with our notions of what is real or not real, particularly at the end of the film, but also has lots of gooey liquefaction, which is gross and awesome if you’re into that kind of thing. I do realize that some of my readers would be painfully disappointed by the ambiguous, ‘all in their head’ ending, and others will dislike liquefying organs and such; a few will absolutely loathe the film because it has both. I absolutely adore the whole thing. Like The Ring, it’s slow-paced and atmospheric. The characters are all fairly intense because they’re struggling under the pressure of trying to take care of their patients at a hospital that’s increasingly unable to provide adequate care; it makes sense that their sanity would start slipping. My favorite thing about the movie, however, is that the infected guy who’s decaying and whose musculature has entirely liquefied, crawls into the air ducts. The idea that some infected, melting guy is crawling through the ventilation system, spreading an airborne contagion that causes mental and physical deterioration, is enough to give me the willies, which I consider a good thing.