Color, 2012, 109m.
Directed by Ji-Yeong Hong, Beom-sik Jeong, Gok Kim, Sun Kim, Dae-wung Lim, Kyu-Dong Min
Starring Ji-won Kim, Tae-woo Kim, Bo-ra Nam, Mi-ran Ra Artsploitation (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
While horror anthologies have been alive and well in countries ranging from America to Japan, it's no surprise that South Korea proves more than up to the task as well thanks to its recent terror renaissance. Case in point: Horror Stories, a quartet of terrifying tales wrapped in a framing device (reminiscent of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, or heck, 1001 Arabian Nights) in which a kidnapped teenage girl tells yarns to her psychopathic captor, who can only fall asleep if he's chilled to the bone.
So, in order to stay alive, our pubescent narrator starts off with a great little psycho stalker number called "Don't Answer the Door," with a couple of underage kids left at home for the night. Their mom instructs them to never open the door, not even for the package delivery she's expecting, but that's easier said than done when a creepy-faced lunatic seems to have his sights set on them. Complete with a memorable villain and solid atmosphere reminiscent of When a Stranger Calls and I Saw What You Did, this is a great way to start and an effective appetizer for our next course, "Endless Flight." Here we have another slasher story, but this time with a different twist: a serial killer being transported on a commercial plane manages to get loose and has a showdown against a final girl of a different kind, a resourceful airline stewardess.
That brings us to story number three and the most twisted of the bunch, "Secret Recipe," in which a jealous young woman resorts to cosmetic surgery to compete with her engaged sister, while their mother goads her on towards a nightmarish climax. Definitely inspired by David Cronenberg (and also akin to the more recent Excision, albeit far better), this is also the most visually striking and arty of the entries, though not the scariest. That honor probably goes to the fourth story, "Ambulance on the Death Zone," a bullet-paced apocalyptic zombie offering set almost entirely in and around a speeding ambulance containing a girl who may or may not be infected, with a worried mom, a paramedic, and a nurse trying to cope with the hell breaking out around them on all sides. It's a terrific capper for the film complete with some great practical blood gags and fun stunts, including a great bit with a stretcher lashed to the back of the vehicle.
In keeping with Artsploitation Films' track record to date, the DVD release looks quite good with a satisfying transfer featuring bold colors and a somewhat soft appearance (most likely due to the original materials in this case). It's a dark and moody film for the most part, but it looks quite nice as far as standard def goes. The Dolby 2.0 surround mix also gets the job done effectively with plenty of music stings, screaming, and wild sound effects throughout. As for extras, you get the original trailer, a nine minute reel of interviews with the cast and crew (sometimes a bit hard to follow but enjoyable nevertheless), bonus trailers (Hidden in the Woods, Toad Road, Vanishing Waves, and Wither), a cool reversible sleeve, and a very nicely designed liner notes booklet containing an essay by Travis Crawford about the film's connection to the rich heritage of horror anthologies, a piece by Kyu Hyun Kim about the recent explosion of Korean horror, and an interview with Bum-Shik Jung, director of the first segment (and the solid thriller Epitaph), who gives a surprisingly raw account of how he came to this project (and its sequel). Speaking of which, this will also be a treasure trove for Korean horror fans thanks to its well-chosen roster of other filmmakers, too, who were responsible for titles including Memento Mori and Bloody Reunion. A real treat and proof that the horror omnibus is alive, well, and as strong as ever.