Scary True Stories (1 – Honto Ni Atta Kowai Hanashi; 2 – Honto ni atta kowai hanashi: Dai-ni-ya; 3 – Shin honto ni atta kowai hanashi: Yuugen-kai)
Director – Norio Tsuruta, Screenplay – Norio Tsuruta & Chiaki Konaka, 2 & 3 – Chiaki Konaka, Producers – Naokatsu Ito & Satoru Ogura, 2 & 3– Naokatsu Ito & Yasutada Uemura. Production Company – Asahi Sonorama
1 – Junko Asanuma, Hiromi Hisano, Kazushi Suzuki, Mai Moriguchi, Yumi Goto, Shinobu Ishikawa. 2 – Emi Terada, Yuki Haruhara, Sawako Nakajima, Arisa Ogasawara, Naoya Ban, Akane Aizawa. 3 – Hitomi Yamanaka, Shinobu Kosakai, Reiko Shiraishi, Akane Aizawa, Hisako Yamada, Hidetaro Eguchi, Ryushi Mizukami
(1) Scary True Stories: The Lonely Girl – After swimming class, a teenage girl is locked in the changing rooms where she is haunted by the spirit of a girl who died there. Spiritual Flight – As she sleeps, a young girl is drawn out of her body and taken on an astral journey. Mystery of the Red Earring – A teenage girl invites her friend over for the night to witness as a mysterious red earring that she picked up keeps moving whenever she tries to throw it away. (2) Scary True Stories: Night Two: The Gymnasium in Summer – Three girls venture into an abandoned gymnasium as a dare where they witness the appearance of several ghosts. House of Restless Spirits – A family move into a house where they are haunted by spirits. The Hospital at Midnight – A nurse who works a hospital night shift tells of the supernatural experiences that are common on the ward. (3) All New Scary True Stories: Realm of Specters: Be Gone Crone – A young girl finds the face of an old woman tapping at her window. My Friend at the Stairwell – On her way to class, a schoolgirl keeps seeing a phantom boy on a particular corner of the stairwell. Paralysis – A woman is paralysed by a nightmare. Black Hair in the Abandoned Building – Three friends enter an abandoned building but are haunted by women’s hair after they pick it up from a box.
Scary True Stories is the English-language dvd release of three one-hour movies that were made for Japanese television. Each film told several different tales, which it claimed were based on true stories. The first two movies aired together on consecutive nights and a third movie, Realm of Specters, was made as follow-up one year later. All three movies were complied into one feature for the US release. The Scary True Stories movies have been cited as the films that started off the 1990s/00s J-horror trend. Director Norio Tsuruta later went onto direct the J-horrors Ring 0: Birthdays (2000), Scarecrow (2001), Premonition (2004), Orochi (2008), King’s Game (2011), POV – A Cursed Film (2012) and Talk to the Dead (2013).
As is always the case with stories in an anthology, the episodes in Scary True Stories are often variable. Many are very slight – like The Lonely Girl where a teenage girl is locked in the gymnasium swimming changing rooms and all that happens is a hand appearing over a toilet cubicle; or Be Gone Crone where little more happens than a scary face appears at a window and the young girl says an incantation to banish it. There are however several episodes that do produce a number of good scares – the moment the bloody dead body slams against the skylight in Mystery of the Red Earring; or the group progressing through the haunted gymnasium in The Gymnasium in Summer with the woman in a red dress fading in and out.
The best of the episodes is The Hospital at Midnight, which evinces some fine atmosphere – like the scene where the two nurses stand in the hallway and a man passes them, before the other nurse informs the heroine that he died the previous night; a hand reaching out for the heroine as she falls and then pulling her through the hall; a body being invisibly dragged from one of the rooms. The other extremely good episode is Paralysis, which creates the genuine sense of a nightmare with a psychedelic trip accompanied by a bloody head on the end of the bed and hands appearing to hold the heroine down.
Other episodes seem on the verge of building atmosphere but never go far enough – House of Restless Spirits builds some uncanny ambience with the appearances of the man following the family in the street and the same girl reappearing but just when it seems about to build to a story the episode wimps out and reveals that the grave prophecy from the psychic refers to the family that moved into the house after the current one; while similarly My Friend at the Stairwell builds a slight story but falls prey to a sentimental ending; and Black Hair in the Abandoned Building has lots of creeping around the abandoned building but not much atmosphere or shock.
The various episodes feel more like a series of tabloid headlines than they ever do fully developed stories. Compare the stories here to something like the Amicus anthologies of the 1960s/70s, which took the time to build each brief piece into a full story. The photography throughout often seems grainy rather amateurish and the sound effects and music tinny, as though the entire production has been shot by student camera-people.
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