Horror Stories (2012)
Director(s): Kyu-dong Min, Bum-shik Jung, Dae-woong Lim, Ji-Yeong Hong, Gok Kim & Sun Kim
Starring: Ji-won Kim, Tae-woo Kim, Bo-ra Nam, Mi-ran Ra & Yeon-Seok Yoo
Released by: Artsploitation Films
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Anthology films have been around for decades dating back to 1945’s Dead of Night all the way to the highly successful Creepshow from 1982. As years progressed, the likelihood of witnessing a new anthology based film seemed near impossible as their popularity waned. Within the past few years, countless horror anthologies have emerged including Trick ‘r Treat, V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. In 2012, six of Korea’s top genre directors formed to create an anthology film like no other. One where the wraparound segment, mostly used for gimmicky-like interludes in other films, was as horrifying as the actual short tales. Horror Stories makes a bold challenge but does it live up to its intent? Let’s take a look…
Horror Stories collects six of South Korea’s top directors to tell four horrifying stories that are framed through a wraparound segment (directed by Kyu-dong Min of Memento Mori fame) that finds a high school girl abducted and forced by a psychopath to tell him the most frightening tales she knows. Her stories include Don’t Answer the Door, directed by Bum-shink Jung (Epitaph), which finds a young brother and sister home alone and under attack by an intruder. In Director Dae-woong Lim’s (Bloody Reunion) Endless Flight, a serial killer escapes police custody while onboard an otherwise empty flight. Secret Recipe, directed by Ji-Yeong Hong, tells a macabre fairy tale about two jealous stepsisters who take plastic surgery to the extreme. Finally, brothers Gok & Sun Kim (White: The Melody of the Curse) direct Ambulance on the Death Zone, a claustrophobic zombie tale detailing the standoff between a paramedic and a mother over the possibility of her daughter being infected.
Being a strong enthusiast of the horror anthology format, Horror Stories immediately peaked my interest. The outcome exceeded my expectations on every level and ultimately left me chilled to the bone. The no-nonsense wraparound segment set a frighting tone to the film from the first frame. The madness seen in the eyes of the serial killer keeping a high school girl captive leaves you disturbed knowing people of this ilk actually exist. The first and arguably most terrifying segment, Don’t Answer the Phone, made me jump more times then I care to remember. The end of the segment would make one assume the nightmare is over when in reality its just begun. Director Bum-shink Jung weaves a suspenseful tale that concludes with an ambitious commentary on Korean employment and economy. The grim ending truly makes one question whether the fairy tale we just witnessed or the real world reality is more horrifying. Endless Flight received immediate praise for taking terror back into the skies which brought fond memories back of an anthology favorite found in Twilight Zone: The Movie. While, the terror in this film is not found in the shape of a monstrous unearthly creature, its almost scarier because we are dealing with a flesh and blood serial killer. A scene that includes a door peephole and a hairpin will make even the bravest squeam. Director Ji-Yeong Hong’s Secret Recipe takes two jealous stepsisters and their obsession to wed a plastic surgeon obsessed with eternal youth to twisted heights. The emphasis on plastic surgery that was utilized so well in another 2012 effort, American Mary, is used more subtly to show how far people will go to obtain what they want. Nightmarish imagery and a dose of cannibalism makes this a bizarre and unforgettable inclusion. The final segment, Ambulance on the Death Zone, is quite possibly the most creative of the bunch and proves how effective a zombie tale can be within the constrains of one location and less than a handful of actors. The standoff between the mother and the paramedic makes the audience believe that the possibly infected daughter is truly infected and the mother doesn’t want to accept it. Interestingly enough, as the tales continues, the daughter isn’t seen succumbing to the zombie infection as quickly as we’d assume which keeps you guessing until the finale. The segment is incredibly effective in its delivery and sprays plenty of the red stuff which is always a plus for a zombie flick. Horror Stories is an incredible execution in suspense and terror with each segment succeeding in making you jump. The film is quoted on the back of its DVD release as being “one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies of the 21st century”, a gracious compliment indeed but slightly off. Horror Stories is not just one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies, it’s one the scariest anthologies ever!
Artsploitation Films presents Horror Stories in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film looks quite nice on DVD with skin tones appearing as natural as can be. Unfortunately, scenes of darker light (which there are many), have slightly crushed black levels that leaves pixelation to be found. Colors look decent with images of blood popping nicely. A serviceable transfer but one that could have looked a bit better.
Horror Stories is presented in its native Korean language in 2.0 Stereo. Sound quality is nice and robust with dialogue and subtle noises coming across without a hitch. English subtitles are also provided.
- Cast Interviews
- 12-page collectible booklet: This wonderful companion to the film has two essays entitled Omnibus Onslaught by Travis Crawford and The Terror of Modern Subjectivity: An Overview of Contemporary Korean Horror Cinema by Kyu Hyun Kim. In addition, A Fairy Tale of the Sun and Moon, an interview with Director Bum-shik Jung conducted by Travis Crawford is included.
- Reversible cover
Horror Stories was a masterful demonstration of four frightening tales all wrapped up in one supreme package. Every segment possessed immense style and packed enough scares to chill me to the bone. As we mature and age, it becomes difficult to truly “scare” someone who was raised on genre cinema but “Horror Stories” managed to do just that in spades. As Kyu Hyun Kim mentions, North American consumers may believe that Korean horror is simply just a variation of the J-wave of horror from Japan showcased in The Ring and Ju-On franchises. If you’re looking for long haired ghosts that are in desperate need of a chiropractor, look elsewhere because if Horror Stories is an indication of the best Korean horror then the future looks very bright. Artsploitation Films‘ presentation of the film is serviceable enough and the booklet included is a wonderful read that offers very scholarly approaches to the content. Artsploitation Films should be praised for bringing such a terrifying and rewarding film stateside and their future in distributing unique and unsettling films is one I anxiously look forward to. The strength of the film itself gets my highest recommendation as an anthology that deserves to be seen by anyone looking to be truly frightened.