Dark Sky Films // 1992 // 138 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 25th, 2006
Pre-Ringu supernatural wackiness from the Far East.
Touted as the inspiration for much of the popular "J-Horror" (Japanese horror) films that have been pumped out of the Land of the Rising Sun, this collection of early 90s suspense programming gives you lots of ghosts, atmospheric mood music, and plucky high school girls. But is it worth your hard-earned yen?
Scary True Stories was originally a popular Japanese television series, which now finds its way to your DVD player thanks to upsurge of interest in all things with the key words "horror" and "Japanese" in them. Dark Sky Films has assembled 10 of these tales, grouped into three separate programs ("Scary True Stories," "Scary True Stories: Night Two," and "All New Scary True Stories: Realm of Specters").
Each story is supposedly based on real events of a human-ghost encounter. Essentially, Scary True Stories is like the Japanese equivalent of Unsolved Mysteries except instead of Robert Stack you get a voiceover narrative from the supposed "witnesses" of the supernatural phenomena, and nothing's in English.
Ten stories. Three episodes. Nearly 140 minutes of things that go bump in the night. Let's take a look at what the precursor to modern-day J-horror has in store:
Scary True Stories (1991)
Screenplay by Chiaki Konaka and Norio Tsuruta
* "The Lonely Girl"
This story focuses on a young girl who, after swimming practice, is menaced by an unseen spirit, rumored to be the ghost of a departed student.
* "Spiritual Flight"
After suffering the tragic loss of her beloved grandmother a -- surprise! -- young girl is overcome with feelings of sadness. But one night she is taken on the aforementioned spiritual flight, on the wings of the spirit of her grandmother, where her anxieties are eventually put to rest -- along with the ghost of her nana.
* "Mystery of the Red Earring"
One day, a -- wait for it -- group of young girls walk through an outdoor temple and catch glimpse of a shiny red earring on the ground. Unfortunately, they learn from the priest that the earring used to belong to a woman who had recently died. Even more unfortunately, the girl who picked up the earring has a horrifying vision of that same woman, splayed out on her skylight, bloodied and dead.
Scary True Stories: Night Two 1991
Screenplay by Chiaki Konaka
* "The Gymnasium in Summer"
So we've got this group of young girls who happen to be friends, and one day, during the summertime, they decide to test each other's courage. To do this, they sneak into the school gymnasium to goof around. Of course, the gym is said to be haunted, and it doesn't take long for the girls to endure a true test of courage: when the ghosts shamble right up to their faces!
* "House of Restless Spirits"
A young family moves into a shabby-looking house. Soon everyone begins to feel like there is something seriously wrong with the domicile. The mother specifically starts to see strangers out of the corner of her eye. Desperate, they bring an exorcist, or the Japanese version of an exorcist, who immediately tells the family to high-tail it out the house, before someone dies.
* "The Hospital at Midnight"
Two young nurses (okay, yes, they're female) are doing their nightly rounds through the hospital. As they march down the darkened, eerie hallways with their flashlights, they tell each other about the strange things they've heard about. But when they see an elderly man walk past, hunched over and quiet, and realize that he was a patient who had died yesterday, they know they're in for a night of supernatural mayhem.
All New Scary True Stories: Realm of Specters 1992
Screenplay by Chiaki Konaka
* "Be Gone Crone!"
While talking to her friend about ghost stories, a young girl learns of an odd command that, when shouted, can force away any apparition. Doubtful at first, she is soon letting "Be gone crone!" fly when a crazy spirit attempts to break into her bedroom through the window.
* "My Friend at the Stairwell"
A shy schoolgirl is just trying to make friends in her new school. And she's not alone. When a classmate takes her to the "north stairs," she is shocked to see a deep stain on the stairs, which, of course, turns out to be blood. Even more shocking is the vision of a small boy, his face covered in blood, ambling toward her with a real creepy smile plastered over his face.
A single woman tucks herself in for the night, all tuckered out after a lengthy phone conversation with her good friend. As the time ticks by, she finds it hard to relax, tossing and turning. But when she does finally nod off, she is met with a horrific feeling -- or rather no feeling. As she lies in her bed, unable to move for some unknown reason, she is confronted with mysterious, bright, swirling lights, and some deformed midgets with big eyes clawing at her from under the bed. Yikes.
* "The Black Hair in the Abandoned Building"
Our set concludes with this straight-up haunted house tale. Three friends dare each other to check out a haunted mansion and fart around inside. When one of them finds an odd-looking wig, the supernatural #$%& immediately hits the fan. The friends are pursued through the house by an unseen spirit, and manage to get out just in time -- but are faced with something much worse once they escape.
Overall, I'd recommend this disc to horror fans, especially followers of the Japanese type of shockers. While I haven't really bombarded my eyeballs with tons of J-horror, stacking the stories on this disc against some of the stuff I have seen, shows lots of similarities: creepy visuals, jump scenes, effective music, and more young girls in school uniforms than you can shake a chopstick at.
While there are certainly some lame stories here -- "Spiritual Flight" is nothing more than a sequence of prolonged black-and-white aerial shots and "The Lonely Girl" is mainly just smoke and mirrors and a girl in swimsuit screaming her head off -- the majority of tales range from creepy to creepy-ass. The last batch of stories (Realm of Specters) especially. All four of these, including the abbreviated but no less disturbing "Be Gone Crone!" boast some righteous scares. My favorite moments: that crazy bloody kid from "My Friend at the Stairwell" and those horrifying midgets from "Paralysis."
Everything is in full-frame, and though it looks it age, the visuals are far from horrible. The 2.0 stereo sound is all Japanese, with well-translated English subtitles. Only a few disposable extras: storyboards from "The House of Restless Spirits" and a trailer.
I think this disc should appeal to both fans of Japanese horror and general aficionados of well-made ghost stories. Some of the gags misfire, but the majority of supernatural hijinks on display is solid.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated