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Scary True Stories

Directed by Norio Tsuruta

Written by Chaki Konaka

Starring A whole great lot of people

Not Rated

138 minutes

***

Norio Tsuruta and Chiaki Konaka get together to show us the true force of Japanese horror cinema with “Scary True Stories.”

“Scary True Stories” opens up the book on ten individual Japanese ghost stories, but that’s not the only thing we’ve got to contend with here. Read on.

Now, “Scary True Stories” starts out with a real roll of the dice. In the first three minutes, it announces in kanji (Japanese lettering for those of you what don’t habla) that “what you are about to see are recreations of ghost phenomena experienced by everyday people.” Any time someone winds up the “based on a true story” engine I’m instinctively paying attention, and I’ll be a lot of you are too.

Because the interesting thing about “based on a true story,” or “recreations of ghost phenomena,” as they put it, is that they are under no obligation to inform you how much of what you’re seeing is actually true.

It is therefore entirely possible that every last bit of what you’re seeing has taken place to someone, somewhere. The converse also exists—ONLY the last bit of what you’re seeing has taken place to someone, somewhere. This could be totally accurate. This could be an almost total fabrication. “Based on a true story” is a license to exaggerate.

Even better, we get a nice Dragnet-esque announcement that any real names, be they person or group, have been altered to protect privacy. Because you know somewhere there’s like fifty billion loons waiting to descend on these poor schmucks trying to get them to contact their dead relatives.

And I’ll tell you—some of this stuff is creepy and unsettling. There’s this picture at the thirty nine second mark that gives me chills just looking at it. In fact, the first four pictures are pathologically creepy, despite the distinct possibility that they’re total fakes. And their opening sequence, comprised of these pictures, is very similar to the opening sequence used in the old TV show “Tales from the Darkside.”

Since there’s a whole lot of ground to cover, and I’ve already covered quite a bit, I’m just going to give you a rundown on the stories themselves.

The Lonely Girl—it starts out kind of slow, slightly unsettling in a “bubbly Japanese schoolgirl” way, but MAN does it ever pick up! Just downright alarming toward the end. The ending’s a bit schmaltzy, but it’s not without its sense.

Spiritual Flight—this one starts out pretty cheesy, actually. Half of the sound effects sound like they were lifted from Pac-Man. And the ending’s even worse. There’s more cheese in “Spiritual Flight” than on a good pizza.

Mystery of the Red Earring—this one actually spends a good amount of time being unnerving, almost like the strange kid in your gym class who won’t stop talking about Yu-Gi-Oh crap or his crushes on various anime babes. Until we find out what all the fuss is about, and then it’s just plain FREAKY. Man, if that happened to me I’d probably need a change of shorts, and this chick’s just sitting there watching it and screaming a little bit.

The Gymnasium in Summer—it’s funny for its inclusion of a classic whiny “Guys…! Guys, I’m Not Going! I’m Not…Hey, Wait Up!” moment, it rapidly turns into a Sixth Sense knockoff, except it apparently came first.

Wow…M. Night Shyamalan, ripoff artist. Freaky when you think about it. “I See Dead People” actually came long before him, and the Japanese did it first! They beat him to the punch by something like ten years!

Part of the musical score also sounds remarkably similar to music from the 1990 theatrical rerelease of “Night of the Living Dead,” which came out a year prior to “Scary True Stories” original release.

Still, “The Gymnasium in Summer” has its share of frightful moments, and wins a special place for being one massive cinematic bitchslap on M. Night.

House of Restless Spirits—starts out plenty scary, continues on being scary, and even ends up pretty scary but with a very non-standard twist ending.

The Hospital at Midnight—watch for a really screwed up opening sequence, easily one of the strangest on the disk. In fact, it only gets weirder from the beginning forward. Which is the amazing part: it’s pretty much creepy start to finish. One of the best on the disk.

Be Gone Crone!!—A really creepy head shot gives way to the lamest swirling spotlight ghost effect in a long time. It’s also incredibly short—the shortest sequence in the movie. It’d be garbage if it weren’t so inconsequential to the work as a whole.

My Friend at the Stairwell—It’s really sad at first until someone apparently decided this was getting almost as schmaltzy as “Spiritual Flight,” so they ratcheted up the terror a couple million degrees. The contrast is where the fear really kicks in. But then it’s right back to the schmaltz by the end, so I’m really rather annoyed by “My Friend at the Stairwell.” Too much manipulation.

Paralysis—What. The. HELL. Was. THAT??? This beats everything. Seriously. In terms of sheer weird, sheer creepy, and sheer incongruity, “Paralysis” is pretty much the king of ‘em all, y’all. This movie, or a LOT of others I’ve seen, “Paralysis” is just one of the top shorts I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, the effects are pretty lousy, but it’s just so…so…BIZARRE that I can’t help but be unnerved by it.

The Black Hair in the Abandoned Building—This one starts out funny. Think about it; walk into an abandoned building with your boy/girl friend and your brother, and all of a sudden your brother shrieks “HOWDY!” into an empty hallway.

You’re laughing, aren’t you?

But, it’s also got its share of scary moments, including a pair of truly alarming pictures and a well-done shot of a ghost in a mirror.

The special features include storyboards and a couple of “Scary True Stories” trailers.

All in all, “Scary True Stories” is a pretty solid entry from the Japanese. And mostly, it lives up to its expectations. I can’t vouch for the true, but they are indeed mostly scary.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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