“Our brains process both hatred and fear in the same place.”
Kazuo Umezz is one of Japan’s most popular manga (a.k.a. comics) writers and artists. His work is considered groundbreaking by many, especially in the horror genre, thanks to an approach that combines psychological thrills with the more visceral ones. On Japanese TV, Horror Theater adapts several of Umezz’s stories, featuring several famous and semi-famous filmmakers and actors.
In “Snake Girl,” a young girl spends her vacation in the countryside visiting a cousin she hardly knows, after witnessing a grisly act of violence at her school. The local villagers, a superstitious bunch, believe she’s an omen of bad fortune, and some snake sightings in the area would seem to prove them right. Then, in “The Wish,” a shy young boy with no friends decides to build a friend of his own, in the form of a grotesque homemade doll. While his mother worries about his new creation, this doll starts to have some strange effects on the boy.
In the first volume of Horror Theater, the horrors were more intellectual, with plots that played around with viewers’ perceptions. The two episodes on this volume, though, go for the throat with more traditional horror tales. Consider a creepy shaman’s shack filled with snakes or an emotionless wooden doll with nails for teeth. This is all creepy, twisted stuff, and horror buffs will no doubt dig it.
With a mostly young cast in both episodes, the acting tends to be hit or miss. Some of the kid actors come across as genuine, while others are stiff, giving off a “just reciting lines” feel. Captured on video, the look of the series is sometimes similar to a daytime soap opera, but the directors here know enough to tweak the lighting to make the dark scenes appropriately dark. Also, more location shooting benefits the visuals. Getting away from the creaky sets and making the most of the outdoors adds significant production value.
The DVD’s video is sharp, even if the video look is not. There are no flaws evident. The 2.0 stereo is unimpressive, but it does its job. In an interview, Umezz goes over the creation and ideas from the two stories, and two featurettes show footage from the production, and from the two episodes’ premieres. A few trailers round out the extras.
Horror Theater works better as a curiosity piece than as a full-blown spookfest. Recommended for fans of the genre looking for something off the beaten path. If your tastes run more mainstream, though, you might want to look elsewhere for your scares.