Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology (2008)
Bone House Asia | Buy at Amazon | Review by Crites

In the vein of BANGKOK HAUNTED and 3 EXTREME, VISITS compiles four short films from Malaysian directors to present a collection of Asian horror.

"It's the fourteenth day of the seventh month. In other words, Halloween for the Chinese." On a graveyard shift talk show, radio host Billy is presenting a selection of supernatural tales to celebrate this day upon which the hungry ghosts are released from Purgatory. (WARNING: Spoilers ahead.)

The first story, "1413," directed by Low Ngai Yuen, finds Mae Ling waking up in a hospital. Tormented by the mother of another victim and an unsettling apparition, the girl begins to relive the events leading to her hospitalization through the telling of her story to male school chum Juin Hong.

It seems that as a new student Mae Ling met schoolgirl Jia Chyi and the two became fast friends. So fast in fact that Jia Chyi doesn't feel the need to keep her boyfriend Juin Hong around any longer. But in the midst of their rooftop break-up, at which Mae Ling is present, Jia Chyi somehow manages to fall to her death.

As Mae Ling flashes back on the scene Juin Hong explains to her that it was an accident, but now it would be better if she just disappeared. Before this can happen however Juin Hong vanishes, replaced by a damaged Jia Chyi. As the reunited friends laugh and play together across the rooftop the camera finds Juin Hong's body in an alley many stories below, then returns to show Mae Ling dancing happily alone against the cityscape.

Although the DVD box describes this story as "a teenage suicide pact gone awry," this element is not clearly presented. Did Mae Ling jump off of the roof after her new friend fell, as is indicated in the opening scenes? Or what?

James Lee directs the second chapter, "Waiting for Them." Female office worker Sam is counseling her friend Anne by phone after Anne's break-up with her girlfriend. Of course with cell phones there isn't always a clear connection, and Sam loses touch with Anne, for what turns out to be several days. Meanwhile Sam's relationship with her boyfriend is becoming increasingly jagged. Driving home alone after dinner with him one night, Sam finds Anne wandering around in the darkness, looking somewhat the worse for wear. Sam takes her home, gives her the guest room, and suggests that they take a holiday together for a few days.

As Anne explores the closet however, she thinks she sees a pair of mottled legs hiding in the corner. Disconcerted she asks to sleep with Sam for the night, and the two do some bonding in which it comes out that Sam's boyfriend is married to another woman. Anne mentions the disembodied limbs in the closet, and the two women reluctantly go back to the guest room together to take a look. Standing in the closet Anne sees a ghostly woman wearing a red dress, but shuts the door before Sam sees her too. "I don't feel well. I'm going to sleep now," is all Anne says.

Around 4:15 in the morning Sam gets up and goes to the guest room alone, only to find her boyfriend asleep there. When she again wakes up for work Anne is already gone, and her boyfriend has made her breakfast. Coldly Sam tells him that Anne will be staying with her for a while, and he needn't come around for a few days.

Working late one night shortly after these events Sam picks up a call from Anne's phone, only to find that it's Anne's brother calling; Anne's body has been found in a hotel, a suicide. In a daze Sam makes her way home, where she finds a vision of Anne on her couch, sitting in the darkened living room in front of a flickering television screen. Anne explains that her overdose of sleeping pills was accidental, and all she could think of after her death was coming to see Sam one last time. With a final good word Anne vanishes, leaving Sam alone with the television program that has just come back into focus.

Packing a bag, Sam sets off on a solitary road trip... And that's it.

"Nodding Scoop," directed by Ng Tian Hann, concerns a ritual something like that of a Chinese Ouija board, in which a simple device is used to ask questions of the dead. In this case Jason, a student filmmaker, enlists the aid of a pair of young women to help him document the effects of this ancient legend in modern times.

Choosing his girlfriend's cramped apartment as a location, Jason sets up a makeshift altar of candles and the titular object, a basket from the handle of which hangs a large ladle, all dressed up in a shirt and wig. Alicia, his girlfriend, then begins her narration for the camera. "Welcome. I'd like to introduce you to a prediction ritual - 'Nodding Scoop'... Now we call upon our friends from the spiritual world to join us." Paper money is placed in the basket, and "Ah Na Ko, we call upon your spirit." The wig dips in response.

With the presence of the spirit confirmed, Alicia now begins asking questions. When asked how it died, the spirit indicates suicide. And now there's another figure in the room, sitting silent and unnoticed behind the group. The other girl, Yen, then asks some questions of her own, and it becomes clear that she believes Alicia stole her boyfriend Jason away from her. Bickering and joking leads to a growing sense of unease, and at last Alicia calls it quits and ends the ceremony.

Yen goes to the bathroom, but comes out in a half-faint and looking ill. As Jason goes out to hunt down a remedy ("some food and medicine") he is joined in the elevator by a tiny bleeding woman, the same entity that appeared during the ritual. Meanwhile in the apartment the girls are tormented by strange and ominous noises until, apparently in a trance, Yen suddenly attacks and attempts to strangle Alicia.

Having fled the creepy apparition in the elevator Jason returns to the dimly-lighted apartment where he finds Yen unconscious and Alicia, he presumes, cowering in a corner underneath a blanket. But when he pulls the blanket away he instead finds the strange pale woman, who immediately reaches for his throat. Jason beats her off, only to find that he's been hitting his girlfriend. Running outside, Jason starts a fire in the basket and begins burning the paper money. As he does so a thug walks up and asks him for a light.

The final tale, Ho Yuhang's "Anybody Home?" opens on a voyeuristic note as security cameras capture various angles of an apartment building and its residents. Not accidentally, the cameras and the building's birthmarked security guard seem most interested in the pretty female residents. One in particular, whom the guard takes such a special interest in that he installs a number of extra hidden cameras in her apartment.

Unfortunately for him, the object of his attentions is just not that interesting; as attractive as she is, she seems more sickly and lazy than anything else. Extremely sickly in fact, as aside from sleeping and eating she appears to spend most of her time stumbling about and vomiting as if she's contracted some particularly nasty strain of virus.

This doesn't dissuade the security guard however, as he follows her every movement with obsessive interest. When the girl rewards him with a plastic container of food in return for repairing her toilet the guard's fixation grows and he takes to hanging out in her apartment while she's away at work. In her bed, in her living room, in her bathroom. One day he decides to treat himself to a snack, but upon opening the refrigerator he is so repulsed by what he finds that he runs to the toilet and throws up. As he attempts to leave the apartment he is met by the girl, who cracks his skull with a hammer.

Dragging the man into the kitchen she finishes him off and, apparently, adds him to her larder. But during a blackout thereafter his spirit returns and attacks. While there is some flashback/implication about the woman's pregnancy, perhaps as a result of a previous affair with the guard, even with the subtitles I couldn't figure this one out. Did he dump her when she wanted a family and he didn't, causing her to go nuts and start eating people? Yet again I ask, or what?

Anyway, DJ Billy starts to wrap up the show before getting a ghostly call from, where else, BEYOND THE GRAVE...!

Grim and slightly eerie in parts, these anecdotes of wrongful death and restless spirits are strongly reminiscent of countless Japanese horror films in which silent black-haired entities lurk on the shadowy edges of vision and reality, just waiting to pounce upon the living and drag them into the underworld. But the hint of melancholic poetry found here doesn't necessarily lend itself to thrills and chills. Especially in light of the fact that the endings of all four tales aren't very dramatic or shocking, instead being something of a bewildering letdown in each case.

The special effects in these Chinese ghost stories is considerably more subtle (weaker, if you will) than those of other Asian horror movies, having only the slightest touches of blood and gore. And as the stylistic differences between directors are minimal, all emphasizing shadow and keeping both the pacing and violence low-key, there isn't a lot to really hold one's interest here. Plus, the running time is almost two hours long, and these could very easily have been reduced to 15-minute segments.

So, as much as I wanted to like this anthology, I just couldn't do it.

Presented in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles (optional).


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