Horror Stories

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/11/13 23:08:10

"Enough pretty good stories to make the collection a good one."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You could get a lot of horror anthology action at Fantasia this year, between this Korean picture, Hong Kong's "Tales From the Dark", and (mostly) America's "V/H/S/2". One thing that I find interesting, looking at the three, is that curation can in some ways be as important as individual scary segments. "Tales" had a common author's works as source material, and "V/H/S/2" had a unifying feature that at least had room for variety. "Horror Stories" seemed to be four or five teams working separately and pasting things together, and while they come up with enjoyable segments, the end result wasn't quite the sum of its parts.

The unifying element for the story is a high school student (Kim Ji-won) who has been kidnapped by a young man (Yoo Yeon-seok) who explains to the chained girl that that he has a rare condition that he can manage while he wakes, but to sleep, he needs the scariest stories can come up with to chill his blood. Naturally, she's going to try to escape,although to do that she needs to get him to sleep. Writer/director Min Kyu-dong's premise is silly, sure, and Yoo isn't the most threatening villain, but it will hold for four stories, and Kim establishes herself as a protagonist who is quite easy to cheer for.

The first proper story is "Sun and Moon" (or "Don't Answer the Door"), written and directed by Jung Bum-sik. In this one, grade-schoolers Sunny (Kim Hyun-soo) and Moon (No Kang-min) are driven home to an empty apartment by their English teacher (No Hyeon-hee). Their mother (Ra Mi-ran) calls to tell them to expect a package but not let anyone in. It's a nifty set-up, and Director Jung does good work in making everyone outside (and potentially) inside the apartment seem like a threat to the kids, even to the grown-ups in the audience. It can be hard to do a slow-burn thriller within the relatively constrained time of a short, and that leads to a bit of an awkward climax as Jung tries to tie everything together, but up until that point, it works.

The next, "Endless Flight" (or "Fear Plane"), has a premise that's been around the block a few times: Serial killer Park Doo-ho (Jin Tae-hyun) is being transferred on a passenger plane, with flight attendant So-jung (Choi Yoon-young) the main conduit between his escort and the pilots. Things go wrong in the usual ways, with plenty of blood on tap. Writer/director Lim Dae-woong isn't messing around; this is the segment that brings the really nasty violence from a first kill that's more uncomfortably sexual than usual to enough blood that it's not clear how anyone can stand. Standard stuff, but it's a set-up that works at this length.

If that one's standard, "Secret Recipe" ("Kongji, Patzzi") is one that's maybe not uniquely Korean but works there better than almost anywhere else: The creepy plastic surgery story! In this one, Gong-ji (Jung Eun-chae) is engaged to marry handsome executive Min (Bae Soo-bin), only to have her envious step-sister Bak-ji (Nam Bo-ra) have surgery to more closely resemble her and with the intent of stealing her man. Filmmaker Hong Ji-young delivers melodrama that veers between pulpy and chilly before eventually throwing in something that even those who are cool with the cosmetic surgery will recoil at because why not, and the result can seem all over the place. It makes the ending seem a bit rushed, as even with a good build-up, Hong doesn't have a whole lot of time to let the audience marvel at just how twisted the story is.

The last tale is "Ambulance (in the Dead Zone)", realized by the brothers Kim Gok & Kim sun. It takes place in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, with an ambulance taking an unconscious girl to a safe zone. The thing is, the army doctor (Jo Han-cheol) thinks Hyun-soo has been bitten despite what her mother (Kim Ji-young) says; the nurse (Kim Ye-won) isn't sure. It's a great little idea - tight space that's constantly moving, built-in conflict between what the audience & characters want and what is probably the case, ticking clock, everything you need. The Kims do a fine job of tapping into this potential, eventually building the collection's best nail-biter.

There are certainly good moments throughout, whether in terms of being scary, gory, or what-the-heck?-inducing. One thing I found very problematic, though, was that every single segment seemed to include a "no, hang on, this is what really happened" moment, and while those can be great, the first was just so screwy as to make the whole thing unsatisfying, and by the end... Well, it's no longer shocking, is it? Someone, it seems, should have been told to play it straight.

"Horror Stories" has moments, though, and you only need one or two for a quality horror short, most of which deliver. That gets the job done, and each new story has a good enough hook that any disappointment one might feel is generally short-lived.

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