One of the cultural stereotypes I grew up with was about how places like Asia and Russia were culturally behind the US by 5-10 years. You know, like in the mid-80's disco would still be all the rage with the Russkies. Look no further than Spinal Tap to see that when everyone else thought the band was played out and second billed to puppet shows, the band finds new life in Japan, a place where dead music careers could be resurrected.
But, throughout the 90's, Japan got its revenge and launched its own pop fads and technology trends that made Westerners scramble to catch up with the cool curve. Similarly, supernatural horror has been going strong for nearly a decade in Asia (mainly Japan and Korea), but only in recent years have The Ring, Grudge, and Dark Water remakes really taken hold in the US horror marketplace and caused a surge of Asian horror films to be imported by DVD companies.
Add 2000's Nightmare (aka. Horror Game Movie, or Scissors) to the list, another Korean take on the J-horror, ghost chick genre. The film opens in a morgue on a typically atmospheric night of pouring rain, howling wind, and thunder and lighting. A coroner tries to close the lids of a dead girl on the slab, but her eyes stay open. He is forced to sew her eyes shut, but as she is put back into the morgue drawer, we see her eyes suddenly pop the stitches and open again. Spooooky-spooooky.
After the intro/opening credits, we move two years into the future. A group of six former college friends shares a secret that is coming back to haunt them, as well as knock them off one by one. I didn't take down all of their names, which is okay, because going into detail would prove to be convoluted and a minefield for spoilers. Two got together, a high-powered lawyer and the tv personality/model, another is the kooky artist, another is a baseball prospect ruined by an injury, then there is Sun-ae (Jeong-yun Chio), who just returned from America where she's apparently spent the last two years self-committed into an asylum, and finally, our main protagonist and the most normal of the bunch, Hye-jin (Gyu-ri Kim).
Flashbacks reveal the group in college letting a new person, Eun-jin (Ji-won Ha), into their tight knit crew. Eun-jin is a shy girl with a guarded past. When she catches the eye of one of the boys, romantic jealousies ensue. Things get worse when her past is revealed and, eventually, she dies under mysterious circumstances. Now, two years later, she may have come back from the grave to exact her revenge.
Director Byeong-ki Ahn also directed Ouija Board and Phone, the latter being, in my opinion, a decent though expectedly derivative addition to the J-horror imitating genre. Nightmare offers some good grisly deaths and a few generally creepy visual sequences. Though, at it's core, it is emotionally flat which kills the thrills. I first saw the film around three years ago, and even then I grumbled, "Great, another black-haired girl phantom." So, imagine how tired it is now. A film like Ju-on at least presented a fairly fresh take on the girl-phantom iconography, but Nightmare just presents another, ho-hum, cookie cutter specter.
A storytelling point that doesn't quite jibe is a whole whodunit? angle. Now, since we see from the outset that it is clearly a ghost killing them off, this mystery is contained entirely within the characters world. We know it is a phantom killing them, they don't. Despite Hye-jin having a vision/nightmare of this homicidal spook, she and the rest of her friends have suspicions that the killer is one of the group who was tormented by their involvement in Eun-jin's demise. Add to that, you never particularly care for them and a convincing bond between the group members never materializes. So, this mystery subplot isn't handled well since it is really irrelevant to us, the audience, and it just slows the film down, keeping it from getting to the real mystery- what exactly happened to Eun-jin and who, if anyone, will survive her ghostly rampage?
The DVD: Media Blasters
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The photography has a purposefully diffused look, amping up the grain and softness as well as muting the colors, thus adding an eerier air to the film. Still, the grain levels may be a tad too high on this print which looks a bit too muddy. But, it is still a decent transfer, especially nice are the black levels which appear nice and deep despite this being a dark film with many low lit scenes. Looking around at screencaps of other releases, they all look pretty much the same, perhaps the films budget only allowed a certain level of detial and transfer clarity.
Sound: 5.1 Surround or 2.0 stereo English or Korean language audio with optional English subtitles. Fairly good sound mix. The film itself is pretty run of the mill, nice fx, clear dialogue, and a score that really overplays the drama and shocks. In the Sub Vs. Dub realm, I didnt really feel either did a good job, though certainly the original track is closer to the emotional level the film makers intended. There are variations between the two, like, sub: "I want you out of my life- forever." which on the dub becomes: "I despise you Kyung-ah."
Extras: Slipcase--- Theatrical trailer (plus more Tokyo Shock release trailers).— "Nightmare On Television (Promo)" and "Making Of A Nightmare" Featurettes. Totaling at around thirty minutes, both offer a behind the scenes look of general stuff, filming, promoting, and clips. Each takes a fly on the wall perspective without any talking head interviews or technical babble. And, both featurettes are subtitled.
Conclusion: A couple of decent scares and some grue don't save the film from it's convoluted and disappointing standard horror storytelling. Media Blasters does a good job with the overall presentation; you do get a decent transfer, some extras, and nice packaging. But, I do not think the film will get many spins on your DVD deck, so I have to lean toward a rental and only worth a purchase for Asian horror completests.