Well it is nearing the end of October, which usually means I hunt down a horror film with which to spend that particular evening. Now, regular readers will obviously realise that I don’t really need a particular date in the calendar to make a date with a Horror film, but this year a number of films have landed on my doormat, which fulfil the requirement – so, with luck, I should manage to give us a short little series of reviews, and by complete co-incidence, they are all from Korea.
There are a few things that people who know me well would say that are shoo-ins to make me smile unconditionally. Asian Girls in Glasses. Banoffee Pie. A Tottenham Hotspur win. But within the bound of this blog? It has to be a Portmanteau Horror Movie. Now this one I have been looking forward to for quite some time, and the added bonus is that I also have the more recent sequel to hand. It also is helmed by a bunch of Directors that have a fair bit of experience in Horror films. So, let us have a little look at this first film, and see if my smile is at least justified!
“Horror Stories” gets a big extra star right from the start… as it has a linking story. A Schoolgirl (Kim Ji-won) has been kidnapped by the mute Yoo Yeon-seok. Via writing he informs her that he needs to hear scary stories, which will make him fall asleep, otherwise he needs to taste blood! Yes, this is the old “1001 Arabian Nights” idea, and whilst no particularly original, it gives the stories some kind of link, and actually explains something that has bothered a few reviewers.
Our first tale is “Don’t Answer The Door”, in which two young children are waiting at home for their mother, but fall prey to the home invasion of a Delivery Guy. Maybe.
I say maybe, because this really is a strange one. It opens magnificently, with the children being dropped home from their English Lesson by a potentially creepy Teacher, which includes a simply fabulous staging of a song version of “The Sun and the Moon”, which leads us to believe maybe we have a modern retelling of that Korean Folk Tale. As it turns out, we don’t, but the next 20 minutes are a perfectly reasonable Children in Peril jump/scare fest. Until it goes really strange, turns into a polemic on the injustices of those who have and those who have not. I am used to Korean films genre changing, but this one is so bizarre, even it’s attempts to tie back in with the rest of the film seem as if they were done by someone else who had only half heard about the previous 20 minutes of the story. In terms of pleasure, the opening sequence makes this a reasonable segment, but something seriously went awry.
Next up is “Endless Flight” where serial Killer Jin Tae-hyun is captured and put on a special flight to Seoul to be interrogated. He of course escapes and we have a battle between him and Air-Stewardess.
You could say this was rather unoriginal, but I actually rather liked it. Once I got past the huge plot holes and implausibility of the whole set up, this one has sufficient excitement and blood spraying to please. Our woman-in-peril is perky enough to fight back, and for me the concept worked perfectly in the time limited confines. Far from anything special, this one was a decent and competent segment.
My favourite of the four follows, “Secret Recipe”. Here a couple of sisters (Nam Bo-ra and Jeong Eun-chae) fight to marry a handsome and youthful Doctor. Their Mother has a favourite of course, and a course of Plastic Surgery and conniving make sure the preferred sister gets her man. But then, he might not be the charming perfect Son-in-law after all.
Whilst this segment is a little clunky in both execution and some of the storytelling, it is by far the most visually arresting in the film. It is a spin on the “Bluebeard” fairy-tale (a picture of which is still the scariest part of my childhood memories), with a dose of “Dumplings”. I can’t say that spoils anything too much, as the characters speak in metaphors that are so obvious, you would have to have a complete meltdown not to understand what is going on. This is the one which I felt would have worked as a larger movie, as it obviously had much more to explore about sibling rivalry, relationships and even the Plastic Surgery obsession in Korea. But despite these huge flaws, this episode still managed to give me more enjoyment than the rest of the film, and managed to be funny, scary and stomach-turning. I’m calling a win here.
Finally we have “Ambulance in the Death Zone”, which is probably the most straightforward and recognisable, being a Zombie Apocalypse film. An Ambulance picks up a Mother and unconscious Child in the middle of an infected area, and the on-board Doctor and Nurse fight when it becomes clear that the Daughter may have been bitten. The Mother will stop at little to protect her child though.
I did like this segment, although there was nothing new here. It is fast paced and exciting, and does offer up the gore a film of this type needs. The problem with it is that not only does it get a little repetitive, but it really isn’t anything terribly original. The downbeat ending is par for the course and everything turns out exactly as you expect. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the whole piece, and technically it is great. It just lacks that original touch that sometimes you need from a short.
Overall? I actually liked this movie. Some have complained that most of the stories don’t seem to have a resolution, and that all rely on false dream scares (something happens, our protagonist then wakes up). I actually think this is by design… the whole idea is that our Scheherazade character is trying to tell stories to make her captor fall asleep. Therefore she has to make things up on the fly, and will stop when a particular story isn’t working. I actually found this to be fairly smart work. But, taking the shorts on their own merits? It does make each course fairly unsatisfying.
However, I didn’t hate any segment, and “Secret Recipe” combined with the “Sun and the Moon” song give this film a Recommended. It is far from required viewing, but I would think most horror fans would get something from one segment at least.