Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Ramble: The INVASIAN Begins

Before I get started let me just say that I believe I have a pretty (un)healthy obsession with Asian horror films. As anyone who has noticed the path that Doomed Moviethon and Cinema Somnambulist has taken over the years, my focus has almost always been Italian horror and gialli. Running pretty much parallel to that has been Asian horror though I've always had trouble articulating what it is that makes this stuff so great. I was astounded while I was putting this little month long homage together by just how much I’ve already seen. What was even more astounding –no, mindboggling- to me was how much more I have yet to see. I have barely scratched the dang surface.

My love for Asian horror films began as generically as possible. It all started in 2002 with The Ring. And I’m not talking about the original either. I’m talking about Gore Verbinski’s version of Ringu. Mr. Pirates of the Caribbean himself and screenwriter Ehren Kruger were able to take a beautiful and frightening Japanese horror film and crank it up for American audiences. Some of the subtleties of the Japanese film were abandoned for us silly gaijin but the end result was worth it.

My girlfriend, LeEtta (now my wife), and I had just started dating and it was imperative that we go to the movies ALL THE TIME. Some couples get drunk together and some go boogie boarding, LeEtta and I went to the movies. Sure, we saw some terrible shit (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) but The Ring was one I did not want to miss. You see, I had no perspective on this film, other than ‘this looks interesting’. All I knew about the film was from the TV trailers. You watch a cursed videotape and then you die 7 days later. Sounded like a pretty awesome urban legend type of flick, so we went. I had no idea it was a remake until a few days after I saw the film.

The horror bug, having been dormant since the 90s, was just about to awaken within. So you see, I wasn’t hip to anything just yet. I wasn’t making my bimonthly trips to the bookstore for the newest issues of Rue Morgue, Videoscope, Shock Cinema, etc. just yet and I was only just beginning to check out some horror movie review sites (mostly for nostalgia’s sake). This is funny to me now. I had absolutely no idea that I would be focusing practically all of my energy on horror movies very soon. The idea for Doomed Moviethon was still a couple of years away.

So the wife- I mean, girlfriend- and I head to the theaters to check out The Ring. It was a packed house which is totally alien to me now. I never, ever go to the movies on a Friday or a Saturday night! Amateurs! So the movie starts and things start getting really scary really friggin’ fast. The moment that had me climbing out of my seat was the dang horse scene on the ferry. Jeez!

I recently revisited this remake for the first time in nearly 8 years and I’ll get into how it stacks up to the original as well as how I feel about it now later this month. Long story short (too late!), LeEtta and I were completely and utterly terrified while we clung to one another in the darkness of the theater. To add to the mayhem, pretty much everyone in the theater was screaming and freaking out. I don't care what anybody says, this is a scary ass movie. Verbinski took a great story, some haunting imagery, and altered what he needed to alter for American sensibilities. It worked.

But wait, wasn’t there something else? Oh yeah, I suppose horror anime did get to me first. The very first anime I ever purchased on VHS was the original Vampire Hunter D back in 1994. I had purchased Appleseed that day and after discovering how horrible it was, I begged the guy at the comic shop to let me exchange it for something else. He agreed and out of sheer desperation, I grabbed Vampire Hunter D. I've never regretted that purchase. Hans from Quiet Cool will be discussing this very film next week. I encountered many horror anime series as the years went by but never once did it ever cross my mind that there might be horror movies from Asia. In my defense, I was also not actively pursuing horror movies at this time. I was all like “Evil Dead and Hellraiser are enough for me!” Silly fool.

My first Asian horror film proper was the splatter/sex/sci-fi epic Wicked City. I had seen the anime years before but the live action version left me so gobsmacked that I didn’t even know what hit me. I thought it was just some fluke, some random Japanese freakout (yeah, I know, it’s a Hong Kong flick). I was kind of dumb back then and not nearly curious enough!

Fastforwarding back to 2002, my friend Nafa encouraged me to check out Kwaidan from the library and it was an amazing atmospheric masterpiece. Aaron of The Death Rattle is going to talk about that one later this month. I also managed to get my hands on a grubby copy of Kuroneko from the library as well. This chilling little tale is about a mother and daughter who are raped and murdered by a pack of travelling bandits. The two return from the grave to get their revenge on samurai who cross their path. Simply awesome.

While the waves of remakes (The Ring Two... ugh) were slowly starting to roll in, I was busting my hump to try and see as many Japanese horror films as possible. This was pretty frustrating and it was before Netflix; so in order to watch decent movies, I had to buy them unseen. Fun! In fact, this was just true for all fans of obscure movies for a long time. I hope all you young whippersnappers out there don’t get all spoiled and shit with the sheer brilliance of Netflix. Being able to get 90% of the awesome and weird crap that’s out there on Region 1 DVD sent to your mailbox is totally insane.

Things changed completely in such a serendipitous way that I can only call it a miracle. After work one evening, I decided to stop off a little videogame store (that used to be on over on 56th Street). They had a decent selection of games and even some anime for rent. On this particular day, I walked in and noticed that an entire section of the wall was dedicated to Asian freakin’ horror movies! I wish there had been a camera recording my reaction because I’m sure it was pretty amusing. There were titles I had never heard of before. And there were Chinese DVDs! Wait a second, other countries besides Japan make horror movies too!?!?

It was then I met Steve of Unearthed Films. He was working the counter and was very patiently explaining to some neighborhood kids how the store’s trade-in policy worked. I waited until he was done and then I exasperatedly erupted. I grilled him about how long had the store been carrying all these great titles, how long he’d been working there, etc. Thankfully, the poor guy didn’t throw me out of the store right then and there. Instead, we shot the shit about horror movies for a while and I rented some films. I think I rented Ebola Syndrome and The Cat (AKA Lao Mao) that time.

With that, I expanded my search to include Chinese horror films. Eventually, I would discover Korean, Thai, and Indonesian horror but first I got a taste of Category III (the Hong Kong equivalent to NC-17) films and the wild and dark territories that leads to. Ebola Syndrome was the first and is still one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever had the happy displeasure of viewing. Other titles like Dr. Lamb, The Untold Story, and Devil Fetus have graced my eyes with their sleaziness and splatteriness. Steve also introduced me to the disturbing Battle Royale and the Evil Dead Trap movies.

In just a few short years, I think that Asian horror became overexposed and (most annoyingly) over-remade here in the States. It was impossible for horror fans not to get burnt out. I know that I started feeling the draw of European and Italian horror even stronger after that awful Pulse remake. Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Grudge remake at first (weird I know but I just really wanted to like it for some reason) but it is nothing compared to the original. And like any genre, there’s going to be mediocre and outright terrible shit that gets big promotion and cool artwork to mislead any unsuspecting horror fan.

I think the craziest thing is that I know I could just dedicate this blog entirely to Asian horror and be done with it. Would I ever run out of films? Hell no! And just for the record, I am going to try very hard this month to just focus on places other than Japan and Hong Kong. It won’t be easy but I think I can manage to give those two monstrously prolific horror hotspots some competition this month.

So I don’t really know what my plans for this month are, really. I always just assume that the immersion process will do all the work. Of course, I could be setting the stage for a magnificent failure but who cares? It's just a blog, right? Anyway, I know I’m going to talk about Asian horror stuff; be it awesome, painfully mediocre, or just plain awful. Of course the best part: I’m going to watch a whole mess of films I’ve never seen before. I have a few amazing bloggers who have agreed to contribute so keep checking up on the old CinSom, I think you’ll have a good old time.


  1. Looking forward to the invasion! Love the overview of your Asian horror experiences. If I get the gumption and time I'd like to contribute something.

  2. Cool post, dude. I think my interest in Asian horror can be traced back to THE RING as well. It's been a love/hate relationship throughout the years, though. Anyway, looking forward to all the good shit you got in store this month!

  3. @Prof - Thanks and I would love to see a contribution from ya. YOU BETTA GET DA GUMPTION!

    @Aaron - My relationship with Asian horror has been a love/coma kind of a thing. There are some really challenging (to sit through) flicks out there.