Horror-based anthology films don’t receive particularly favourable PR, though without a doubt there are several from earlier times that may be considered classics. Dead of Night (1945) is one such — a beautifully made, much-discussed supernatural portmanteau film that works both as individual stories and as a unified whole. The UK production studio Amicus (which set itself up in opposition to the highly successful Hammer Studios in the 1960s and ’70s) differentiated itself by actually concentrating on anthology films. Its achievements in this area were patchy, but it did give us such minor classics as Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From the Crypt (1972), and …And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), to name a few.
These days, despite the arrival of one of the best and most coherent anthology films ever — Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) — examples of the anthology approach in the horror genre have been less-than-steller. So it’s rather heartening to see someone taking onboard the popular J-Horror aesthetic and grafting it into the anthology film á la Twilight Zone.
Tales from the Dead (US-2008; dir. Jason Cuadrado) is also different because, though a US production filmed entirely in Los Angeles, it has a Japanese cast and is in the Japanese language. Director Cuadrado commented to Fangoria, “I was inspired by the wave of horror cinema that has been coming out of Asia over the last few years ..” He also refers to The Twilight Zone when discussing his film’s general atmospheric approach, rather than the in-your-face gore of more recent US horror films.
It features four stories that look at “… the quiet terror lurking inside the human soul, showing us that evil does not end when life departs. These original stories show us that life, and the inescapable agonies of the living, carry on into the next … well, life. Deception is as unavoidable as death, and so is payback….
Under the supervision of young Tamika, a medium who has heard enough ghost confessions to understand the venom and malice of human souls, we meet a range of characters whose ails begin in life and carry on in death.
- A family, newly reunited with their estranged son, faces the remnants of the bad marriage, and evil intentions, of their home’s previous owners.
- An old accountant, trying to set his “books” straight after a life of working for a criminal gang, takes his revenge on the man who wouldn’t let him.
- A businessman, hungering for success and material opulence, finds that time is the only truly scarce resource – and the only one genuinely valuable.
- Lastly, a surprise ending for Shoko, a lady of leisure, who has a deadly definition of divorce, and meets young Tamika on the wrong dark and foggy road.
Cuadrado’s approach sounds as though it may very well make for an innovative and fascinating genre experience, though it has limited the film’s appeal to US distributors and festival organisers, who see it as “not gory enough, not American enough or not Japanese enough … distributors often don’t know what to do with something this experimental.” However, Tales From the Dead is about to receive its premiere screening — on 25 July at the 2008 New York International Latino Film Festival.
Let’s hope this leads to much wider distribution. I for one am rather keen to see it.