Dark Sky Films // 2004 // 270 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // March 6th, 2007
No prayer goes unanswered...and no nightmare goes unfulfilled.
Prayer Beads is a collection of short Japanese horror stories, each one running 30 minutes in length. They are assembled by Masahiro Okano, but were written and directed by a wide range of writers and directors. The following stories are included:
* "Prayer Beads"
A woman, mourning the loss of her husband, is aided by a pregnant woman to get her life back in order. As they become closer to each other, it becomes clear that neither of them has been completely honest with the other.
* "Vending Machine Woman"
A bickering couple on vacation find themselves in a distant cabin with no running water. They are warned not to go outside at night due to recent disappearances, but they don't heed these warnings, only to discover they are developing some very strange desires. Could it have anything to do with the drinks they buy at a strange vending machine in the woods?
* "It's Me"
A young man has a car accident and is held for ransom by a tough group of thugs. Of course, things aren't exactly as they seem...
A doctor suffering from crippling headaches goes on medication recommended by his psychotic friend. The headaches start to go away, but they are replaced by disturbing and frightening hallucinations.
* "Mushroom Hunting"
Three college students who met online go mushroom hunting. They are warned to stay away from the mountain by an old man, but they don't heed his warning. Could there truly be a witch living on the mountain?
A seal-like creature has appeared in a Japanese river, causing large crowds to cluster around. One of the witnesses is a young boy whom the villagers don't trust. Bad luck seems to follow him, which could be connected to the strange creature in some way.
A young woman named Yumika disappears, but echoes of her death are felt among her family members. Her arm is found by a river, but everyone seems surprisingly dispassionate about the discovery. We learn soon enough that the killer, whoever he is, messed with the wrong family.
* "Cat's Paw"
A young boy tries to escape his horrible reality through cartoons he finds through a mysterious email. They echo his own life, and promise to get revenge on the bullies that are putting him through so much trouble. Nothing comes without a cost, though.
A family sits down to dinner, and the tension between them is quite distinct. Between an abusive father and a rebellious daughter, it looks as though things are about to bubble over and explode.
Most of the horror series I've seen have been an hour long. An hour is long enough to introduce characters, develop suspense, throw a few good twists at us, and resolve things nicely. Prayer Beads is only 30 minutes long, though, which means each "bead" is about 25 minutes long between credits. That isn't enough time to tell a compelling story, and each segment suffers as a result. Many of the stories are too ambitious for such a short running time, leaving us little opportunity to care about the characters. Then, when they get themselves into dangerous, stupid situations, it doesn't matter. Most chapters feels like Reader's Digest condensed versions of real horror movies. Consider the "Mushroom Hunting" episode. The warning not to go up the mountain takes almost half the episode, which only leaves about 15 minutes for the meat of the story. As the series progresses, the episodes don't try to cover so much material.
I also have to pass on some negative words about the performances. Although there are a wide range of performances in each segment. There are a few fine performances here, especially a few that nail the campy, over-the-top horror feel that the show is aiming for. Many of the actors, however, don't even seem to understand their roles or the stories they are in the middle of. They stumble through their roles, awkwardly delivering lines and cheesy expressions of shock and horror. The stories themselves don't help much, often trying to cram about two additional twists in each 30 minute tale. What seems like a ghost story will shift into a murder thriller; while this keeps us on our toes, it also creates unnecessary confusion. There are a few exceptions to these problems. "Vending Machine Woman" is a campy blast, and "Eddie" is bolstered by some fine performances, making it both touching and creepy. "Apartment" is also truly impressive, with four perfect performances as the tension gradually builds to the breaking point.
Even the weaker episodes have some value. The series' creator is a special effects and CGI expert, and it shows. Many of the stories are quite gory, and effects are impressivly gooey. It's a pleasant throwback to old-school blood and guts, inventively designed and executed in a shocking way. True gore-hounds will want to check the series out for that alone, and they will probably also enjoy the tongue-in-cheek, parodic approach to horror storytelling. The later episodes are also considerably stronger as a whole, rewarding viewers with the patience to make it past the weak early entries.
The technical quality of the discs is not what it could be. The video transfer is in letterboxed widescreen, and doesn't really show off the source material. The colors are dull and washed out, and the image is fuzzy. The sound transfer -- a generic television stereo track -- does what it needs to do and nothing more. This is probably the best that can be done considering the origins and print quality, but it's still a disappointment. There's a trailer and still gallery under the special features banner, but neither of these sweeten the deal by much.
In the end, I find myself recommending Prayer Beads much more than I thought I would halfway through the series. It gradually evolves into a fun, campy, gory horror series that has quite a bit to offer fans of this brand of entertainment. While sophisticated horror fans will probably be let down by the performances and scripts, it's nice to have a collection of nine short horror films that toy with our definitions and expectations for the genre. A few even work as great examples of the genre. I'm still not sure why the series is called pbd, but it's well worth checking out.
Review content copyright © 2007 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 270 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Picture Gallery
* Official Site