Four horror stories are told by various Korean directors.
PUCHON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If Asian horror has a heart, that dark, pumping organ beats strong at South Korea’s Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. For the festival’s opening night this year, they opted for an omnibus simply called Horror Stories. Featuring entries from the directors of Momento Mori (1999), To Sir With Love (2006), Epitaph (2007), The Naked Kitchen (2009) and White (2011), this collection is that rare beast: a portmanteau film that maintains an even level of quality. Unfortunately, Horror Stories offers no masterpieces but it is at least consistent in its pleasures.
all segments have something valuable to offer
The framing device is a clever Scheherazade-type set-up. An alluring Korean schoolgirl (Kim Ji-won) is bound up in a decaying house. Removing her gag, her handsome, but grimy young captor (Yoo Yeon-seok) promises he will release her if she can tell him a scary story. His rational is that only when his blood runs cold can his psychotic mind find the relief of sleep.
The schoolgirl’s first attempt to lull her captor to sleep, 'Don’t Answer the Door’, is supposedly a tale from her youth when she and her young brother were terrorised by a malevolent delivery man. The tale sets the standard high with lots of sudden scares, copious amounts of blood and lots of very pointy objects. That writer/director Jung Bum-sik (Epitaph) manages to include a substantial sideswipe at South Korean industrial relations (rich kids vs. working class Joe) imbues the tale with extra sociological heft.
The second entry, 'Endless Flight’, is about a serial killer (Jin Tae-hyun) who is being flown back to Seoul on a Korean domestic flight reserved for him and his two police captors. Having drawn the short straw, stewardess Choi Yoon-young serves refreshments, while the two pilots are safe in their cockpit and her lazy, conniving counterpart works at the back of the plane. Lim Dae-woong enhances this strong premise with his ability to evoke a palpable sense of confinement.
The last entry 'Ambulance in Death Zone’ also emphasises confinement. In the back of an ambulance hurtling through a post-apocalyptic zombie zone, a doctor and nurse argue about whether they should – for their own safety – ditch their two possibly zombie-infected passengers: a hysterical woman and her comatose daughter. An uneducated driver who insists on offering his opinion adds both comedy relief and extra tension.
The third episode, 'Secret Recipe’, is the most confusing, but also the most visceral as it playfully explores sibling rivalry and a key South Korean obsession: plastic surgery. A young woman (Nam Bo-ra) has surgery to steal – with her mother’s encouragement – the rich handsome fiancée (Bae Soo-bin) of her more beautiful sister (Jung Eun-chae). While the story itself is somewhat nonsensical, Hong Ji-young perfectly arranges its contents to satisfy the horror fan’s palate. Operating on dream logic in this instance evokes deeper resonance than the contrived plausibility of the other sequences.
But, of course, which is best is a matter of taste and part of the fun of Horror Stories is arguing about which is the best segment, as they all have something valuable to offer.