Artsploitation Films: The 상식's of Death: Horror Stories (2012) Reviewed

Anthology horror films usually don't end up being that great, because stringing together a series of shorter stories from the horror genre tends to be a collection of trash that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. Take, for instance, The ABCs of Death franchise- a series of short, flat-out gross horror tales for the sake of it that offer little to no advancements for the genre, instead catering to a blood, gore, and feces fest crowd who just look for their next big shocker without any real value behind its terror. 

Leave it to South Korea to put its own spin on the horror anthology madness, creating its own franchise (aptly titled Horror Stories). The first film in the series weaves together four tales told by a kidnapped high schooler to her psychotic captor, to keep him entertained. 

The first of such tales, titled "Don't Answer the Door," was the most predictable and unfortunately stale of the four. A unique spin on an old Korean folktale titled The Sun and the Moon, a pair of siblings await their late mother to arrive home from driving children home from school, and have to fend off a suspicious deliveryman while they wait. I admire the kind of creativity put into wanting to place a spin on such an old, well-known tale, but it did little to deliver on the thrills and chills that such a horrific story could have given. Instead, this was where the anthology found itself more along the lines of The ABCs of Death, with jumpscares and flashing lights in the dark. Had I been convinced or even given a better reason to even care about any of these characters, there might have been a shred of weight put on their fight for life, but by the end I just didn't care what was happening, already bored by the vapid promise of tense horror that just never arrived.

The second tale was where things really started picking up. Titled "Endless Flight," the story takes a classic Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, and puts its own tense spin on it, casting its characters into a near-passengerless flight as a notorious serial killer is transported across the air. This, of course, would seem to be a terrible idea: with little to no security guarding him and only a flight attendant in the foreground, this definitely spells nothing but certain doom for everyone involved. Being a horror story, though, there's a bit of the supernatural thrown in here, as the criminal inexplicably faces an unknown specter that haunts his visions as he tries to escape custody. Each of these tales has kind of a campfire-story ending, leaving you in suspense as to what could have happened after it was all over, and this one certainly leaves the most powerful punch of the four with its gotcha denouement. It's a bit more action-packed, still adequately suspenseful and, barring the stupid ghost story thrown in for the sake of a deus ex machina, was decently entertaining enough to make me forget everything about the last story.

The third was the best of them all, however. A modern fairy tale, "Secret Recipe" is the kind of story where you can probably guess what its big twist is going to be, but you'l still be left jaw agape nonetheless when its big reveal comes around. Following two jealous sisters as they nag and pester each other over the hand in marriage of a wealthy older businessman who mysteriously retains perfect youthfulness, there's a handful of twists and turns that make you wonder which parts of the story are real in the tale's context and which were in these character's imaginations.

"Secret Recipe" is yet another take on a classic Korean folktale titled "Kongjwi and Patjwi," kind of a demented twist on Cinderella that definitely would not make it over here in the West. It's a better version more attuned to the horror crowd, and, honestly, one that I wouldn't mind seeing made into a feature-length film at some point. Horror fairy tale films have proven to be great successes: I firmly believe that this is one that deserves a greater and longer moment in the spotlight. There's a huge amount of potential that could come from a story like this being adapted to the big screen, and this vignette should be enough to ensure it gets a feature-length treatment.

The final story, titled "Ambulance on the Death Zone," was pretty typical zombie fare that tried to combine the horror trope with a mother's endearing love and hope for her daughter's survival. There's a great amount of tense dialogue among the four conscious passengers on a speeding ambulance, as they hurriedly attempt to escape an impending hoard of undead. It's a fascinating little bit from these series of stories that isn't as rooted in Korean folklore like the last one, but somehow finds its own decently strong footing in a tender and tense fight-or-flight survival story that keeps you guessing and wondering up until the very end.

It's not the greatest collection of terror tales ever assembled, but it's nowhere near the levels of awfulness that The ABCs of Death reaches either. At least the stories herein mostly find their inspiration from traditional fables and folktales. Surprisingly, it doesn't suffer from a lack of identity that the majority of horror anthologies do- with six different directors behind the camera of each part of the story, you would think that there might be some issues with the overall pacing and flow. While the first tale doesn't really do a lot to keep you motivated to continue watching, the stories only get better as the runtime paces forward, so you have to stick with it to really reap its overall benefits. Horror Stories is a collection that you'll probably forget in the span of a week, but you definitely might have at least a little bit of enjoyment while you watch it anyway.

-Wes Ball