Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
September 1st, 2005

Ju-Rei: The Uncanny

Ju-Rei: The Uncanny
Directed by Koji Shiraishi
76 mins

The Japanese have had a longstanding capability for doing horror movies with minimal set changes, and I think I'm beginning to understand why. Japanese horror tends not to focus on story and plot, but rather in the inexplicable suddenly entering the normal world, and the consequences of that entrance. For instance, Japan's flagship title here in the United States, "The Ring," deals with a haunted videocassette that, one week after viewing, kills its viewers. By now you've probably seen it as the hollow-eyed ragged monstrosity that is Samara lunges out of a television set to kill whoever's in front of her. And this is pretty standard fare for the Japanese, who seem to have an utter mania for ghost stories. "The Ring," "Ju-On: The Grudge," "Shikoku," and plenty of others make ghosts to Japanese horror what the undead serial killer is to American horror.

"Ju-Rei: The Uncanny" is one more Japanese ghost story to add to the pantheon.

So what we have here is the story of that perennial favorite: Japanese schoolgirls. Put your eyes back in your heads, o hentai among us. These particular Japanese schoolgirls won't be having pillow fights, or whipped creme fights, or doing anything involving "experimenting." These particular Japanese schoolgirls are going to discover the truth behind a local urban legend. Each of them sees a hooded, black figure out on the streets, and shortly thereafter, several of them die under unusual circumstances.

Which leaves us with two important questions: who's our grim reaper wannabe in the black hoodie and how many survivors are we going to get out of this?

And since this is a Japanese film, it's gonna get real bizarre, real quick. Even the DVD menu is uncomfortable and disturbing--crank up your surround sound for twenty eight seconds of scrapes, moans, squeals and other things that'll make you just nuts with terror.

Check out the bizarrity at the five minute mark! If you've ever seen a death sequence like that, well, then you're way ahead of me, because that's totally new on me.

The incredible Japanese patience shows forth cleanly in "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny," allowing incredible amounts of suspense to build up and burst forth into scenes of fantastic scariness. They spent two whole minutes focused on a girl's face as she hid under a fleece blanket before letting her get killed. The kind of patience involved in such a maneuver allowed them to build into this truly nerve-wracking experience.

And then there are other such interesting bits as chapter titles that count backward (we start at ten and end at one), and the incredible bloodthirsty quality of the random ghoul that stalks both our heroines and their families for seemingly little or no actual reason. There is virtually no blood or gore in "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny," which makes it especially unusual for a decidedly scary picture like this one.

The one big problem with "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny" is that the temptation to just wail on the fast forward button and go past all the buildup scenes is just awful. There are entire minutes where you just stare at one thing. And this will bore some people like there's no tomorrow. Some people will find this unbelievably tense, and that the slight payoff of a ghost lunging at its next victim is or isn't worth it. It really depends on your taste. If you have the stomach to sit for minutes at a time, staring at just one thing, and not absolutely know that whatever we're staring at is probably going to die whenever we stop staring at it, you're going to just fall in love with "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny."

The ending, amazingly, actually happened back at the beginning. "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny" has been playing forward, but like life, can only truly be understood backward. Characters that die at the twenty minute mark are back, alive and well, at the fifty minute mark--the movie has been somehow playing in reverse. And the prologue, which you see at the end, is also terribly creepy.

The special features include a still gallery, production credits, English subtitles (which is good, as the movie itself has only Japanese audio), and a trailer for "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny".

All in all, "Ju-Rei: The Uncanny" is a movie that makes for some serious scares if you're willing to put up with a movie that actually makes more sense backwards than it does forwards, and is willing to spend entire minutes on suspenseful buildup.

Frankenstein Reborn

Directed by Leigh Scott
85 mins

Literary fiction is flying hot and fast out at The Asylum, as we're brought a second literary adaptation. Hot on the heels of David Latt's "H.G. Wells War of the Worlds" (the trailer for which can be seen on this DVD), comes Leigh Scott's "Frankenstein Reborn," an updated version of the original work by Mary Shelley.

So what we have here is the story of Victor, (as in Frankenstein. Duh.) a neurosurgeon who has become obsessed with the reanimation of dead flesh (like in "Frankenstein". Duh.). Victor murders his patient and resurrects the corpse.

A little different from "Frankenstein" this time around...the original Victor robbed graves for bits and pieces to sew together. THIS Victor just gathers them wholesale on the same body.

But much like the original, Something Goes Wrong with Victor's new creation, and it goes on a rampage. The Creature, as it's called, launches into a killing spree, dicing up anyone it can get its clammy, undead hands on.

Under normal circumstances, I'm often the first to point out lousy special effects work, but "Frankenstein Reborn" does not suffer from that particular malady as much as is normal. For instance, about two and a half minutes in, there's a very convincing dismemberment. I can't find the wires, as it's a relatively seamless operation, done quite well.

The differences between Mary Shelley's original "Frankenstein" and Leigh Scott's "Frankenstein Reborn" are mostly cosmetic. Instead of lightning reanimating the corpses, we get cutting-edge nanotechnology doing the job. Of course, they also throw in the lightning as an homage to the original, but it's a minor plot point at best.

Getting our first good look at the Creature, just short of the forty nine minute mark, is actually kind of disappointing. It looks oddly like the monster from Stuart Gordon's "Castle Freak."

But the decapitation at one hour and four minutes in is again, surprisingly realistic. The quality of the effects is considerably higher for "Frankenstein Reborn" than it is for many of its contemporaries.

In fact, that's a perfect way to describe most of "Frankenstein Reborn." it's a cut above most of its contemporaries. Sure, the plotline is a bit derivative--it's based on a hundred plus year old novel that spawned legions of movies. But the simple fact remains--the acting is solid, the script is solid, and the effects are DEFINITELY solid. When there are effects that I can't easily deride as fake, I take notice. Too much of direct to video involves special effects slopped together to try and improve a sagging script. In this case, it's a fair script augmented by good special effects.

The ending is packed with surprise twists that'll really leave you satisfied. It's an excellent ending overall, and the final thirty seconds will prove to hold one surprise you probably won't see coming.

The special features include audio options, feature commentary, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, and trailers for "H.G. Wells War of the Worlds", "Hide and Creep", "Legion of the Dead", "Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove" and "Frankenstein Reborn."

All in all, "Frankenstein Reborn" is literary adaptation at its very finest, and an excellent overall addition to The Asylum's lineup.