Something wicked this way comes

  • Jacqueline McCartney
  • Wednesday, October 8, 2008 10:30pm
  • Life

I’m splitting this topic over two days so I don’t embarrass myself by gassing on and on in a single blog entry. But I don’t mind embarrassing myself over two days. I have no shame.

If you haven’t tapped into the horror movies from the East, you’re missing out on a rich resource. High-quality stuff from Japan (hence the term J-horror), South Korea, Hong Kong, etc., is becoming more available to American audiences, especially now that TV channels such as Sundance and IFC have gotten onboard.

Hollywood’s certainly taken note, and can’t produce odious remakes fast enough. I do like “The Ring,” although I’m not sure I like it better than the “Ringu” it was based on, but in general I say skip the American ruinmake and go for the original. (If you have an option, I suggest subtitles over dubbed.)

The pacing of a number of these films often seems sooo slooow to me (partially because I’m used to Western films, and sometimes just because of poor production decisions), but the payoffs are often worth it.

But one aspect in which Asian horror films are superior, and I wish Western filmmakers would take the cue, is they do creepy damn well. Whereas Western horror films heavily rely on the “jolt” — a fleeting flash of the monster, ghost, whathaveyou, designed to give you a quick scare — Eastern filmmakers tend to linger on the shot. The monster, ghost, whathaveyou is in your face and you have to deal with it. Far creepier.

And they’re often far smarter. Audiences are bright enough to, say, follow flashbacks and flashforwards. And we don’t have to have ever bloody thing spelled out for us, either.

But American or Asian directors, please take note:

The appearance of long, black hair is not scary. Not making myself clear? Let me put it this way: The appearance of long, black hair is not scary. I never want to see black hair snaking out of ceilings, floors, water wells, sink drains or from under blankets ever again. Stop it. Just stop it.

Here are some of the best I’ve seen so far, in no particular order. Tomorrow I’ll list some that aren’t great but at least watchable. And I’ll steer you away from a couple.

“The Host” (2007): Well, that’ll teach you to pour about 100 bottles of formaldehyde down a drain that feeds into a major river. This superb creature feature, also known as “Gwoemul,” from South Korea has plenty of gasp-and-hold-your-breath moments and several cleverly light ones, too. Good script, deft direction, wonderful characters and performances. Truly really scary? Only in a couple of spots. But believe me, you want to see this movie. (Watch the trailer over to the right.) Free Gang-du!

“Ringu” (1998): A haunted videotape that leads to the death of the viewer seven days after they watch it — I love it. Plenty of evil to go around, including an ending far nastier than the American remake, “The Ring.” Parts of the psychic subplot muddied “Ringu,” and I wish the appearance of the bodies were as gruesome as they were in “The Ring.” But “Ringu” (and its original cursed videotape) is the superior film.

“Ju-on: The Grudge” (2003): The third in the Japanese “Ju-on” series is the basis of “The Grudge.” This original is more sophisticated and the plotline is more multilayered. The ghost crawling on the floor is way creepy. Darned decent ghost/haunted house story.

“Audition” (1999): Ryo Ishibashi stars as a widower looking for love in all the really really wrong places, and his performance is a big plus. While the movie, aka “Odishon,” builds suspense to its intense and horrifying climax, I was reminded of Hitchcock. And the climax scenes will make you cringe. And forget “The Exorcist” — if there’s a movie scene that might actually make you throw up, it’s in “Audition.” (No, I didn’t upchuck. But I’m woman enough to admit I did gag.)

“The Eye” (2002): A good movie for Asian horror beginners because it has more Western-style elements you’re used to. I would have had more appreciation for this film if I hadn’t rewatched “The Sixth Sense” just days before. I kept thinking, “She sees dead people.” But this offering from the Pang brothers is well worth checking out.

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