Welcome to Scared in Segments, a monthly column devoted to horror anthologies big and small. If you don’t know what an anthology is, it’s a film that includes a collection of short stories or segments (self-contained or connected). As for anthology television, series can be episodic or seasonal, but the former will take precedence here. Now, in each edition of this column, you’ll get background info as well as insight on the monthly pick. If you’re ready for some short-form horror, pull up a seat as I’ve got a story for you…
The South Korean film industry gives the Western one a run for its money when it comes to horror. The output isn’t anywhere as prolific, but the nation offers high-quality, creepy cinema. As much as we like to think it’s still the 2000s, when East Asian horror is only Sadako knockoffs, that lower half of the Korean peninsula has thankfully diversified its contributions. It’s also kept up with the times, which is more evident than ever in the Horror Stories franchise.
Beginning in 2012, Lotte Entertainment launched a series of anthology films simply called Horror Stories. The first one premiered at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and has since been distributed in select international markets. The two sequels followed in 2013 and 2016 respectively. All three omnibuses have zero connection to one another other, but they all provide proof of South Korea’s predilection for uniquely told tales of fright.
THE FRAMING STORY — “THE BEGINNING“
Directed by Min Kyu-dong
Just like Tales from the Darkside, our host is someone being held against their will. Ji-won (Kim Ji-won) is a detained high school student trapped in a serial killer’s (Yoo Yeon-seok) lair. Similar to Debbie Harry’s plans for Matthew Lawrence’s pubescent character in the aforesaid film, Ji-won‘s captor is planning on eating her. In a bid to stay alive, the teenager agrees to tell her abductor scary stories so he can fall asleep. It’s not exactly the most organic or logical way to introduce the following segments, mind you.
In between every story, Ji-won inches closer to becoming the handsome killer’s next meal. She staves him off with every spooky yarn, but survival seems impossible.
STORY 1 — “DON’T ANSWER THE DOOR“
Directed by Jung Bum-sik
A pair of young siblings are dropped off at their apartment by their teacher. As they wait for their cautious mother to come home that night — she firstly informs them of a package she’s expecting to be delivered — they suddenly have to contend with a dangerous stranger who makes his way into the kids’ apartment. The frightened brother and sister evade their uninvited guest with no end in sight.
“Don’t Answer the Door” is a good way to get things started. By modernizing a famous Korean folktale called “The Sun and the Moon,” it taps into a neverending supply of stranger danger suspense and paranoia. There is a confusing epilogue that easily could have been truncated; it emphasizes how scares come in all shapes and forms, which is something viewers already know by this point.
STORY 2 — “ENDLESS FLIGHT“
Directed by Im Dae-woong
A jetliner’s skeleton crew is nervous because of their special passenger: a serial killer (Jin Tae-hyun) who is being escorted by the police. Unfortunately for everyone aboard, the assailant breaks free and murders everyone he can find. With nowhere to go at 30,000 feet in the air, one lone flight attendant (Choi Yoon-young)’s worst fear has come true.
“Endless Flight” is the most straightforward entry here. There is no distinct flavor or charm that makes Im’s segment stand out from the pack, and it has no conclusive ending. That being said, it’s an adequate, mildly tense seat-filler until the next and significantly better stories show up.
STORY 3 — “SECRET RECIPE“
Directed by Hong Ji-young
Sibling rivalry between Gong-ji (Jung Eun-chae) and her stepsister Baek-ji (Nam Bo-ra) takes on a new form when they compete over an eligible and rich bachelor named Min (Bae Soo-bin). Baek-ji‘s mother (Na Young-hee) is certainly of no help, either; she wants her biological daughter to end up with Min even though the surgeon is interested in her stepdaughter. No matter, Min‘s appetite for young, beautiful flesh will be satisfied, one way or another.
Based on the grisly Korean fable “Kongji and Patzzi,” the third story is a nasty case of just desserts. Just imagine a visceral reinterpretation of “Cinderella” told in a modern setting brimming with jealousy and obsession with cosmetic surgery. This is a bloody fairy tale loaded with nightmarish symbolism, gruesome comeuppances, and dark humor. Near everyone in “Secret Recipe” is loathsome through and through, but on-screen retribution has never tasted so good.
STORY 4 — “AMBULANCE ON THE DEATH ZONE”
Directed by Kim Gok & Kim Sun
A city in South Korea is under attack by rampaging zombies. One particular ambulance is racing around to help the survivors, but one patient and her desperate mother create conflict between a nurse (Kim Ye-won) and a doctor (Jo Han-cheol). The medical team has to decide whether or not to help the parent and child, or send them back into a world where hope no longer exists.
Four years before South Korea wowed the world with its zombie blockbuster Train to Busan, this little short proved the running dead aren’t exclusive to Western horror. “Ambulance on the Death Zone” is crawling with unbridled tension and gripping peril brewed smack-dab in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The anthology saved the best for last.
Anthologies are universally accepted to be inconsistent in quality, but, for the most part, Horror Stories bucks that notion. It’s true, some segments were better than others. There is a perceptible uptick in enjoyment as you go along. Be that as it may, the variety here — a home invasion parable, a cat-and-mouse thriller, a macabre fairy tale, an end-of-days shocker featuring zombies — in addition to first-rate production values are exactly what makes this treasure trove of terror a hidden weapon in contemporary East Asian horror.
Right now, Horror Stories is free to stream on AsianCrush. Discuss the film with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group! And be sure to find more horror-anthology recommendation to remain Scared in Segments HERE.