Horror anthology films are certainly a hot item right now, and generally that's been a good thing. Korean entry Horror Stories is somewhere in the middle of the pack quality wise, with two of its four segments being exemplary, and two only mediocre.
The film has a framing segment involving a young woman, Ji-won (Kim Ji-won) who's been kidnapped, and whose kidnapper (Yoo Yeon-seok) asks her to tell him scary stories to help him sleep, or he'll kill her, Arabian Nights style. Ji-won proceeds to tell the scariest stories she knows.
The plots are varied. There's a serial killer on an airplane, a couple of kids alone at home, a Cinderella style tale of jealous stepsisters, and a zombie story. Below are short descriptions of the segments, as provided with the DVD:
Don't Answer the Door
A little brother and sister home alone at night and under siege.
A serial killer escaping police custody in the middle of an otherwise empty flight.
A wildly macabre fairy tale about two jealous stepsisters who take plastic surgery to nightmarish extremes.
Ambulance on the Death Zone
A claustrophobic zombie shocker with a paramedic and a mother at a standoff over her possibly infected young daughter.
As I said, the segments are a mixed bag. The first one, with the two young kids home alone in their apartment waiting for mom to come home, is very good. It's full of creepy adults, unsettling imagery, and really good performances by the two youngsters. The labor dispute subplot delivers just enough realism to make it plausible, and the supernatural elements drive the scares home.
The final, zombie themed segment is excellent as well. Set mostly in an ambulance hurtling down an abandoned highway, the tone is suffocating and paranoid. Is the little girl infected with the zombie virus? Does the hospital have the necessary vaccine or is the paramedic just lying because he doesn't want to risk his own skin? The whole time is tense and thrilling, with a fun and exciting conclusion.
The middle two segments, however, are okay, but lackluster. The serial killer on an airplane segment is interesting, but light on the thrills (though there's lots of gore and arterial spray, if you like that kind of thing), and the battling stepsisters segment has some disturbing moments, but overall falls a little flat.
Taken as a whole, Horror Stories is definitely worth a viewing, especially for fans of Asian horror. It's fun, scary, and interesting, with high production values, and good performances, even in the segments whose stories aren't stellar. Recommended.
The video is 2.35:1 widescreen, and looks pretty good. Other than some occasional, light posterization, there are really no visual defects. The colors, while muted to fit the mood, are rich and deep. This is a good looking film.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, in Korean, with optional English subtitles. It sounds pretty good, with no hiss or other problem discernible, and the dialogue is always audible, though that's not a problem with the subtitles anyway. No alternate language track is included.
There are a few extras included. They are:
Interviews with actors from all the segments are included here, running to 8:44. They talk about their characters, working with the directors, and other matters. This is fairly interesting.
At 1:20, this trailer is compact, tense and effective.
Trailers are included for Artsploitation films Hidden in the Woods, Toad Road, Vanishing Waves and Wither.
A booklet is also included which features articles by Travis Crawford and Kyu Hyun Kim, and an interview with Don't Answer the Door segment director Bum-Shik Jung. This is very interesting and informative.
Horror Stories is riding the recent wave of anthology horror releases, and it does a pretty good job of delivering an enjoyable ride. The performances, effects and production values are all top notch. Two of the four segments are excellent, while the other two are mediocre, though not bad by any means. This is a solid entry, and fans of the genre should check it out.