You’ve seen The Ring. You call up friends at 2 in the morning and make that godawful noise from The Grudge. But how many of you delve deeper into the world of Asian horror? American remakes give us a great idea of what Asian horror’s about, but not too many people venture into watching the originals. Unless you’re me.
My obsession with Asian horror started in college. My friend Candyce and I decided to rent some Asian horror one night from the weird video store in town. After getting the wits scared out of us, I decided that I needed more. I found things in Asian horror that I don’t really get from horror stateside anymore.
Asian horror often has more mood elements and genuine scares than what Hollywood’s offering up as horror in recent years. Given that I’m not big on the whole slasher thing, or the torture porn thing, actual ghost stories were right up my alley.
That’s not to say all Asian horror is the same. It’s a pretty broad stroke to paint with, and it’s rather inaccurate–especially since a lot of more recent Asian horror has started to mirror American horror with regards to jump scares and more flimsy plots. But what I love overall about Asian horror is delving into the culture and seeing what scares people of different backgrounds. (Hint: It’s not all creepy long-haired girl ghosts, but they do pop up a lot.)
I, personally, really really like Korean horror the most. But I will try not to focus on that!
A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea)
It’s impossible for me to write about Asian horror and not talk about this movie. I’m completely in love with it. If you don’t love it, I will punch you in the nose. First off, it’s inspired by a Korean folk tale called Janghwa Hongreyon jeon, which is about…well…two sisters. Second–look at it. The set design is gorgeous. The colors! The house! The EVERYTHING IS PRETTY OMG.
This is more psychological than boo-gotcha horror, but it does have a few classic-ish scares. However, those pale in comparison to the rest of the movie. The trailer doesn’t do it justice, by any means. Please just watch it so that we can discuss.
Once upon a time, After Dark Films presented a film festival known as Horrorfest – 8 Films To Die For. The festival didn’t seem to do so well, though, as they scaled back considerably, and now I think only a handful of cities even bother. Alas, it was fun for a brief time. In any case, during the first year, I had the privilege to see this gem of a movie. (The other movies kind of sucked but oh well.) For once, I actually felt rather scared in a movie theatre rather than just being bemused.
It’s directed by Takashi Shimizu, of Ju-On and The Grudge fame. In the vaguest way possible, Reincarnation involves a film crew and a mass murder, and, uh, reincarnation. And then there’s the creepy doll
that always follows you so there’s that.
I will readily admit that 40% of my love for this movie stems from the fact that Ananda Everingham is foine. But ignoring those feelings–Shutter achieves what it sets out for fairly well, and that’s to creep people right the hell out. Tun, a professional photographer, starts seeing weird anomalies in his photos. Before long, his entire life gets consumed by a ghost that he’d really rather put behind him.
Ghost photography has been an interest of mine since I was a wee one. The notion that the dead can be captured on film is intriguing and terrifying for me. So this movie basically should have just called itself This Is For Ticara.
Strange Circus (Japan)
I will be perfectly honest with you–this movie is confusing as hell. It’s violent, it’s gory, it’s weirdly beautiful. Strange Circus is from Sion Sono, the director of Suicide Circle, so that should tell you already that there’s going to be plenty of strangeness ahead. and like Suicide Circle, there’s an odd shift in tone, only this time you don’t get a rather catchy song from what I can only describe as a Japanese Brian Slade.
This movie is difficult to explain, and even more difficult to watch. It might be too over-the-top in some of the subject matter. But it’s truly brilliant in its strangeness. This one isn’t a haunting type horror but rather a psychological one.
Wishing Stairs (Korea)
The Whispering Corridors trilogy* is not one of my favorites. The films feel uneven, and I, personally, don’t like Memento Mori or Whispering Corridors all that much. (Yes, I know they aren’t really a trilogy in the American sense; by uneven I mean plotwise.) I will commend them for really prominently dealing with lesbian romantic plots, but I was just kind of bored by both. The third film, though–Wishing Stairs–holds my heart. It’s the right amount of creepy and kind of silly.
Things at a ballet school are super competitive, and one girl wishes to get an edge in the competition. She decides to try going to the wishing stairs to get her wish granted. It totally works! Except you know how those things always turn out. One thing that irks is the fact that Haeju, one of the other girls, falls into the typical roll of goofy fat girl. C’mon, Korea, fat girls aren’t all weird and awkward. Stop doing that.
*Yeaaah it’s not a trilogy anymore. They’re up to 5, I think.
I said I wouldn’t make an entire list of Korean horror, and I didn’t. But that meant leaving out a lot of the movies I love dearly, and I just can’t let that stand. So hey, here’s a longer list of Asian horror that I love, mostly Korean ones.
Phone (Korea) – This is one of the more polished, Americanized horror flicks, but I still love it. It’ll change your view on Moonlight Sonata, for sure.
The Wig (Korea) – This movie is also known as Scary Hair. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say much anything else about it.
The Red Shoes (Korea) – Yes, the shoes are pink. No, it doesn’t detract from the plot.
Hansel and Gretel (Korea) – Remember what I said up there about color? That applies here.
Noroi: The Curse (Japan) – A documentary-style horror that’s pretty creepy. It’s also the source of one of the best words ever–kagutaba. I was using that online for a while until Kat stole it because she sucks.
Premonition (Japan) – Life is horrible. That is all.
PS – The more Americanized Asian horror? Often times done by Disney. Yep.
A guest blog! OMG! My good friend E. Young offered (read: I harassed her) to whip up a Halloween-themed post. And here it is! I hope y’all enjoy it.
Top Five Non-Dracula or Frankenstein Hammer Horror Films
You know what Hammer Horror is, don’t you? Oh…well maybe I should prime you:
Hammer Productions LTD was registered by William Hinds in 1934 in London, England. The company saw some success doing mostly costume dramas and period pieces, but when the British economy went south a few years later they declared bankruptcy. Long live Hammer Productions!
Hammer struggled for a while, and it wasn’t really until 1946 that they got up to their fighting weight again. By this time James Carreras and Hinds’ son Anthony were behind the company and still releasing films. For their own productions, they stripped costs by filming in country houses on no-string budgets. They were also rechristened Hammer Film Productions.
At this point they were still doing fairly conventional videos, so where’s the horror? Hammer wouldn’t start producing horror films until 1955 with The Quartermass Xperiment (the “X” is for “gimmick”), a sciencey-horror film based off an earlier BBC serial called…hang on, The Quartermass EXperminent (side note: TQE is actually pretty good & you should look for it, it’s a sort of Lost in Space meets the bleaker episodes of The Outer Limits).
Now, Xperiment could be best described as…very okay, and was a hit at the time, but not the Hammer horror we’re used to (or not, if you’ve never watched a Hammer film). Hammer would switch over to more classical fare with The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy, and hit more gothic flavor with Dracula. It was a massive success and Hammer dropped the sci-fi altogether and the rest is history!
…Until the company hit hard times again in the late 1990s to early 2000s. THEN they came back again with the great Let Me In and the…well, The Woman in Black.
Now you know. So what really distinguishes a Hammer horror film from the rest of the bunch?
Yes, Hammer did nothing if not market themselves to the fullest. X-rated movies? Check. Gimmicks? Check. Sex and violence? Check. They courted controversy and were not afraid of silly things like critical reception. Fortunately, their films are generally pretty good even if they walked the fine line between serious and camp (and, later when the company got in on the joke, they crossed it).
But on the other hand, earlier in their career Hammer really liked milking their popular films by turning them into franchise series, leading to a bunch of Dracula movies, each more bizarre than the last, and some pretty good if formulaic Frankenstein films. Which is why we’re not looking at those. Give them a break; they’ve been talked about to (un)death as it is.
Instead, let’s check out my top five non-Dracula or Frankenstein Hammer horror films. Should be easy to do. The criteria for this are A) Non Drac or Frank B) From the classic period (roughly 1955 to 1976) and C) Good for reasons other than campy goodness. Oh, this may be hard after all…
Let’s talk about what makes horror movies scary! This is a topic that I spend a lot of time thinking about. With horror novels, the fear comes from one (not so) simple place – your imagination. Regardless of what the author spells out for you, chances are, you’re terrified based on images you conjure up on your own. Stories that don’t describe the boogeyman specifically lead to readers injecting their own personal demons. In that sense, reading horror almost feels more personal than watching.
In movies, the director’s got a hell of a job trying to make scares happen. One of my favorite aspects of horror involves sound design and music direction. Music really sets the tone for the movie for me, and some of my favorite horror films have the best themes.
Ave Satani, composed by Jerry Goldsmith for The Omen, was nominated for an Oscar. (The movie’s original score actually WON the Oscar!) The title translates to “Hail Satan,” which is perfectly fitting for obvious reasons. This theme set the tone for so many horror films to come. Creepy Satanic Gregorian chants are now basically their own trope among demon/possession movies, but this is still the best. The slow build to the enthusiastic ending works incredibly well to follow the same tone of the film.
Another horror film to win an Oscar in the sound category (this time, for Best Sound)? The Exorcist! The mixing in The Exorcist is ridiculous, but let’s talk about the theme. The theme, by Mike Oldfield, wasn’t written specifically for the movie, which means Oldfield is just creepy on his own. I’ve never been scared by this film–probably because I didn’t watch it until I was a junior in high school because it was one of two horror films I was forbidden from seeing. The bells, though, messed with my head greatly. The theme has this weird tension to it and I think fits the film so perfectly that it’s hard to accept that this wasn’t written for the film.
This is one of a very small number of movies that still has the ability to creep me out. Carol-Anne’s Theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith (we meet again!). He was nominated for yet another Oscar for the music, but ultimately lost out to E.T. If The Omen‘s theme kicked off the Satanic chant craze, Poltergeist helped user in the trend of creepy kid choirs. Seriously, why would anyone want little kids singing to them? It’s always bad news. I dislike listening to this theme because it’s so unnerving to me.
A Tale of Two Sisters
This movie will likely come up a lot in posts throughout the month. I love every single aspect of it. The music, composed by Lee Byung-woo, is so deceptively calming that it’s kind of brilliant. The juxtaposition between such tranquil music and such terrifying visuals is amazingly effective. The theme is called “Cold Hands,” and that feels a bit misleading compared to the music, as well. Despite how calm the music seems, there’s a thread of sadness running through it.
Music can make or break any movie, but horror especially seems vulnerable to this. There are tons of other themes from movies that I love but don’t really feel like getting into. And yes, I know, Halloween is missing. But come on, who doesn’t already know that that score is flawless?
So…I’m kind of terrible at this. Not because I don’t want to update, mind you. I’m terrible because I think up posts in my head and never actually make them. It’s why I’m terrible at writing; the effort it takes to go from my brain to the computer is great, and I don’t have it in me all that often anymore.
I wandered away to do NaNoWriMo (I won) and then just got out of the habit of updating. In the meantime, I’ve:
- Gone to NYC for the holidays
- Met Anna and Mari in person for the first time (OH MY GOSH AMAZING aside from my stupid stomach being stupid)
- Harassed Massiel…again…but with no creepy Connecticut haunted roads this time!
- Managed to actually keep in touch with (part of) my family
- Moved into my very own apartment on my own!
- Bought a Kindle Fire, which is amazing and I love it
- Single-handedly pushed to bring back letter-writing (It hasn’t worked so well, sadly. Write me letters!)
And now, I’m back. I’ve got tons and tons and TONS of books to read and review. I’ve got a bunch of pictures from my trip to share. But for now, I just needed to say hi, and I’m still here.
PS – That image? Is a giant sloth. A SLOTH. Yeah. History is awesome.
Being scared is fun. Just look at all the adrenaline junkie activities we’ve come up with and it’s clear people enjoy that heart-racing, stomach-in-your-throat feeling. A good ghost story evokes those same feelings, but without the potential death from falling down a mountain or jumping out of a plane.
In October, the best place for ghost stories has to be Travel Channel. For as long as I can remember, whenever October rolled around, Travel Channel transformed from a station talking about old-ass restaurants in Spain to a one-stop horror shop filled with haunted tales of Scottish castles and antebellum plantations. I’ve maintained a mental list of all the haunted places I’m dying to go to (no pun intended) one day when I win the lottery and/or marry a multimillionaire.
My favorite–and apparently Travel Channel’s favorite, too, given the number of specials including this tale–has to be the story of Robert the doll. Formerly owned by a Key West painter named Robert Otto, Robert the doll currently lives in the Fort East Martello Museum. The doll’s evil, is the basic story. Allegedly, Otto received the doll from an African servant that couldn’t stand his family, so she cursed the doll. The doll supposedly talked to Otto and caused all sorts of mischief around the house.
Individuals who desire to visit Robert in the Fort East Martello Museum and wish to take a picture of him, according to legend, the person must ask the doll politely, and if he does not agree (by tipping his head to one side) and the individual takes a picture anyway, then the doll will curse the person and their family.
Fun fact: Child’s Play is loosely based on Robert!
Another of my faves has to be the story of the Myrtles Plantation. The land is, of course, an ancient Indian burial ground, so the grounds were already cursed. One of the servants named Chloe was caught eavesdropping on a conversation that her owner was having, and her ear was chopped off. To get back at the family, Chloe decided to poison the birthday cake of the children. She soft of accidentally killed them, however, and was killed herself.
The plantation’s open for visitation now, and it’s reportedly haunted by the dead family and Chloe.
And finally, there’s the
Overlook Hotel Stanley Hotel. This is the famed inspiration for the Stephen King classic The Shining, and the future site of my honeymoon once I find someone I feel like marrying. The Stanley is filled with ghosts, from haunted ballrooms to phantoms that have sticky fingers. If a hotel’s enough to rattle Stephen King’s nerves, then it’s definitely a place that I’d like to be.
Travel Channel details so many haunted places that I’d love to go that it’s impossible to list all my favorites. Just tune in and you’ll see!