Avenging Angels: The Living Skeleton (1968) and The Bride Wore Black (1968)

In the spirit of the (Halloween) season, I recently watched a 1968 horror movie called The Living Skeleton, directed by Hiroshi Matsuno. A young woman named Saeko (Kikko Matsuoka) sets out to avenge her twin sister’s rape and murder by killing the five men responsible, one by one. It brought to mind another movie released the same year: François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black. There, a woman named Julie (Jeanne Moreau), whose husband was shot on their wedding day, sets out to avenge his murder — by killing the five men responsible, one by one.

Saeko in confession
Saeko in confession

(SPOILERS AHEAD) If that’s not similar enough, both Saeko and Julie confess their crimes to Catholic priests after killing three of the five men. Saeko, unlike Julie, appears to be wracked with guilt over what she’s done, yet they both insist that they have to carry out their vengeance to its end, in spite of the priests’ arguments against it.

Julie in confession

Although Truffaut’s film was based on a 1940 Cornell Woolrich novel of the same (English) name, the confession scene was invented for the screen version, as Carole Le Berre explains in François Truffaut at Work:

After seeing a rough cut, Truffaut felt something was missing […] How could he make the viewer understand what was happening with his heroine? How could he escape from the mechanical series of murders? Bernard Revon proposed that he insert a scene taken in a confessional. ‘This isn’t a mission — it’s a job, a job I have to finish,’ she says with childish stubbornness when the priest tries to dissuade her. […] Filmed two months after the end of principal photography, this brief confession, like the flashback [to her husband’s murder] in the Morane episode, clarifies an inner state that is hard for us to grasp.

The confession in The Living Skeleton serves much the same purpose. Up until that point, it’s not entirely clear if it’s Saeko or her sister’s ghost committing the murders, so her explanation that she’s acting on her sister’s behalf — almost as if she’s possessed — is illuminating. “My sister is alive within me,” she says. “Her wounded heart beats within my chest, torn and bleeding. It’s driving me to wreak vengeance on those beasts.”

It seems unlikely that anyone involved with The Living Skeleton drew inspiration from Truffaut’s film; according to IMDb, The Bride Wore Black was released in Japan on October 9, 1968, exactly one month before The Living Skeleton. Still, I think the resemblance between the two films is noteworthy. At the very least, it’s interesting to see how a basic premise can be taken in radically different directions.

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