A freighter called the “Dragon King” is high jacked by a small band of pirates. The ship has a cargo of gold and the pirates want it. They chain the crew together at the ankles and hold them at gun point. Also on board are the newlywed ship’s doctor, Nishizato (Ko Nishimura), and his wife Yoriko (Kikko Matuoka). The bandits, after having raped the wife, kill everyone on board and abandon the ship while taking the gold and splitting it. On their way out they toss the chained and mostly dead sailors overboard.

Three years later the pirates have scattered and are living off the proceeds from selling the stolen gold. In a small seaside village Yoriko’s twin sister Saeko (Kikko Matuoka) is living under the protection of a parish priest, Father Akashi (Masumi Okada). Saeko’s boyfriend Mochizuki (Yasunori Irikawa) is a local fisherman. One day Saeko and Mochizuki go out scuba diving. They find a group of submerged skeletons all chained together at the ankles.

Saeko begins thinking about her missing sister. That night there is a rainstorm. She sees a freighter in the distance. Saeko goes out to the freighter. On the ship she finds the ships log. She reads where the Captain is leery of some men aboard ship. In particular he believes that Suetsugu (Nobuo Kaneko), Tsuji (Asao Koike), Ono (Toshihiko Yamamoto) Ejiri (Asao Uchida) and another man are after the gold bullion the ship is carrying. She then sees bats flying around and hears strange noises. Then the ghost of her sister Yoriko appears. Saeko is found unconscious and brought back to the church. The next day she disappears.

One by one the pirates begin seeing what they believe is the ghost of Yoriko. The spirit is usually in the company of bats and the ship the “Dragon King” draped in fog out on the water in the distance. One by one the pirates begin to die.

“The Living Skeleton” was released in 1968 and was directed by Hiroki Matsuno. It is a Japanese horror movie.

The Japanese come up with some of the creepiest horror movies. Case in point, “The Living Skeleton”. Granted there are no living skeletons in the movie but there are skeletons, and bats and ghosts and crazy people and some really shocking death scenes. Add to that some implied nastiness such as cannibalism and necrophilia and you have yourself one strange and ghastly movie.

A lot of the special horror effects were good. The black and white cinematography in particular. The nasty death scenes were spectacular. The skeletons and the ghost effects were OK. Other effects like the bats on strings and some of the boat in the ocean scenes were juvenile. Japanese effects artists have always had problems with toy boats in bathtubs not looking like toy boats in bathtubs. Still there was a lot of fog and eerie atmosphere aplenty.

The movie also manages to touch on several horror subgenres. In addition to the ghosts there was the revenge aspect, an actual mad scientist, and a couple twists and turns at the end. If you can’t decide what kind of horror movie to watch, this one will pretty much check all the boxes. Even though the movie is a little inconsistent, it is fun to watch, in a horrific way I mean.