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Alright, time for a change of pace.

I’ve been doing series for a while now. But obscure anime isn’t limited to one-episode series. There’s also little-known movies, especially among the current generation of otaku who I notice limit themselves mostly to Miyazaki and the 90s or later…if even that. For this one, we’re going all the way back to 1985. We’re also doing a change of pace: a horror.

I’m not a big horror fan. Good quality horror is hard to find and, when you do, it “internalizes” the experience for the viewer as all good movies should do. The only tradeoff of that is that it makes you invested in the characters and feel crummy when they get killed, especially if the movie has drawn you in so much you can see yourself in a similar tragic and/or nightmarish situations. Most modern “slashers” only offer “teenage pantomimes” for victims, which is why so much modern horror has degenerated into the term “torture porn”: things that make you sick to your stomach. Well, if you want to be sick to your stomach, clean a public bathroom. If you want to enjoy a good horror, go for the classics like “Alien” or “John Carpenter’s The Thing”…

…Or better yet…do both with this one.

“Lily C.A.T.”

This one is so old it dates back to the younger years of “Sci-Fi Channel’s Festival of Anime”, much like my earlier-reviewed “Record of Lodoss War”. For my generation, which is getting older in the otaku world, either this was our gateway drug or badly translated episodes of “Sailor Moon” was. This stuff, however, was not so much for the faint of heart, especially this one. As I said, it’s a horror. Specifically it’s a sci-fi/horror. And unlike the same era’s “Vampire Hunter D”, which was plenty gory with some monster elements, it didn’t have an external “story” going with it. This one was just straight horror.

Now, let’s get the elephant out of the room regarding this anime.

Is it a “knock-off”?

That depends…do you think “The Flintstones” was a knockoff of “The Honeymooners”? If you answered no, then you obviously don’t know how to recognize the most obvious knockoffs in history. If you answered yes…then yes, this is a knock-off.

In fact, it’s probably the most blatant knockoff you can think of. The movie is nothing more than key elements of the plotline and atmosphere of “Alien” and “The Thing” spliced together with a bit of “2001: A Space Odyssey” spiced in for good measure. Almost everything that happens in the movie is ripped off of one of those three. The ship’s interior itself is literally the same interior as the Nostromo in “Alien”…right down to a central computer accessed the exact same way and called “Mother”. The creature in the film shares a great deal in common with the hostile alien life form in “The Thing”, including in the transformation sequences. Even accesses by the main AI of the film invoke the “one glowing eye” bit that was done in 2001.

Is that a bad thing? Not at all. People assume knockoff means the same as “rip-off”, which it doesn’t at all. A “ripoff” is something you find on the SyFy Channel. A ripoff is when you walk past a Redbox and you see, a month before “Frozen” comes out, “The Snow Queen” is in the box, or a month before “Transformers” comes out you see “Transmorphers” in the box. Ripoffs are vain, often sad, attempts to replicate good things, but only copy the style and none of the substance. “The Mummy” remake, for example, drew from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in many ways, but never had any of the “feel” of it because it was a ripoff.

“Knock-offs”, on the other hand, may not be the original but they’d still be something you’d enjoy. It’s like going to the store for Coca-Cola and ending up picking Sam’s Cola. Sure, it’s not exactly Coca-Cola, but it has much of the same flavor and feel and you could serve it at almost any party and everyone would be fine with it. Knock-offs manage to copy not only the style but also the substance. “The Flintstones” was literally nothing more than Ralph and Alice Kramden thrown into animal hides in a house made of stone in the prehistoric era. But was it good? Of course it was. Because it didn’t just imitate the source material, it built on it and extended it. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is nothing more than a shameless knock-off of “Star Trek” in many ways and yet most people would say it’s superior to the original. So no…knockoffs are by no means bad. In fact, they’re often good so long as they give you the exact same feelings. And “Lily C.A.T.” nails that…giving you the best of both “Alien” and “The Thing”.

I can’t go into too much of the plot without spoiling it. Normally I wouldn’t care, but this is one of the few reviews I’ve done where I think it’s actually worth going out and buying/renting this one if you can. Essentially, a company in the future (Alien) sends out teams to recon planets for terraforming and/or resource exploitation. Since space travel takes forever and the fastest ships can go is half the speed of light, that means people are put in suspended animation for long periods of time (Alien again)…in this case 20 years. It also means this company hires ships to actually handle transport of the crew; ships that have crews that are accustomed to being “living fossils”. One such ship is transporting a crew to a Class M world for reconnaissance.

On coming out of their sleep 20 years later, the crew gets two surprises. One is that a message was sent them only 10 days after they left that they have two crew members on board who forged their passes to get on and are likely criminals looking to escape statute of limitations on their crime, and that there’s evidence they tampered with the ship while they were all asleep…in other words, “strangers among us” (The Thing). The next bad part is that the ship automatically recovered a meteorite with bacterial life on it while they were asleep and attempted to claim it, but ended up accidentally getting it into the ship’s atmospheric supply. In very short order, they find out this bacteria is not only lethal but converts the remains of its victims into its own body parts (The Thing…possibly Dead Space, but, if so, years before Dead Space came up with it). Furthermore, since it’s in the atmospheric system, all of them have been breathing it in…which means any one of them could spontaneously be killed and turn into the thing, and they might all be “dead men walking”. (The Thing) Soon the crew is forced to deal with the horror of this thing slowly eating both them and the ship alive as well as the fact that someone on the ship has taken control of the computer and has left them with no escape…

Since this movie is only 67 minutes long, it doesn’t waste a lot of time “building suspense” like its source material does. The proverbial “sh’t hits the fan” pretty quickly and escalates from there. The thing stalking the crew members off screen leaving only small, innocuous noises provides for atmospheric terror. But in addition to that, when the movie starts to hint that the victims of the monster not only have their bodies fused to it but, possibly, somewhere inside of it they’re still conscious is a whole new level of grotesque fear. It doesn’t help that Yoshitaki Amano, best known for his work on “Final Fantasy” and “Vampire Hunter D”, applied his art style to the characters and the monster design, which is already characteristically “chimeric” and “bizarre” to help put your stomachs at ease. The sense of isolation, loneliness, and being hunted is all there as well, especially as the crew quickly gets smaller and smaller… It gets into a touch of philosophy as well, such as the morality of having “robot employees” who could put “protocol” over the lives of the people it’s supposed to protect, and even wondering if the victims of the creature, if they are still “aware”, still see themselves as human or as new life forms that hate the species they once were…

And probably in the film’s most “frightening” nod, the ending is ripped more or less straight from “The Thing”: two survivors left looking at each other and wondering if either one of them will become a monster after the credits roll…

Does it have its flaws? Of course. What doesn’t? Two of the victims die pretty much due to being just plain stupid like in most horror films…going to investigate blatantly dangerous situations alone. And the pace is almost too fast. But all in all, it’s still a pretty great film.

The supreme irony is that this movie came out four full years before another “Alien” knock-off in the USA, “Leviathan”. That movie starred people like Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, and Daniel Stern and was underwater instead of in space but dealt with almost the exact same kind of monster with many aspects and even scenes similar to “Lily C.A.T.” Heck, one of the characters in “Lily C.A.T.” even looks identical to Daniel Stern. One could make a strong case that this is a situation where a movie knocked off a movie which knocked off another movie. Trying wrapping your brain around that… (Thinks of the “Street Fighter: The Movie – The Video Game”…)

There’s one bad side…this DVD is extremely rare. I searched in three different Anime conventions before I found it, and as far as I can tell it’s so obscure this is the only way you can see it with a Japanese-in-English-subtitles. You can catch the English dub on Youtube, though, and it’s not that bad considering it’s from the 80s.

Rating: 4 out of 5

In space, no one can hear that man is the warmest place to go on the ultimate trip. (…Some of you will get that joke.)

What You Should Do With This DVD Set: Watch it with friends when you’re getting tired of re-seeing “staple horror classics”, and make it the official movie you have to watch on the first day of winter when we perfect space-travel-incorporating-cryogenic-sleep. (…Some of you will get THAT joke.)