It's no big secret that horror stories can -- and often do -- work well in small doses. Look at the creepiest episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt, and Tales from the Darkside and it becomes evident scary stuff generally works pretty well in small packages -- to say nothing of good old horror anthologies like Asylum, Creepshow, Trick 'r Treat, and V/H/S. We've been enjoying sort of a horror anthology renaissance in America over the last few years, but this stuff is nothing new to Korean filmmakers.
Which brings us to the point: the simply-named Horror Stories is nothing more than a Korean collection of four (mostly pretty cool) scary tales with a requisite "wrap-around" set-up about a psycho killer who holds a teenage girl hostage and demands to hear some bedtime stories. Fine, the "wrap-around" story isn't all that scintillating but at least it moves quickly and sets the stage for a quartet of creepy diversions that are both familiar and, at times, enjoyably unpredictable.
Story #1 is a convoluted but rather beautiful-looking mini-thriller about two kids left home alone while a maniacal killer lurks just outside their door. This tale gets a bit too elaborate for its own good but it's a nice change of pace in that, well, we don't generally see horror movies about small kids being menace by lunatics. It's creepy.
Story #2 is little more than a slasher flick set on an airplane, and it's actually pretty cool. It's about a prisoner who escapes from his police escorts and causes all sorts of bloody mayhem until he matches wits with one nice-gal flight attendant. Again, nothing here is shockingly unique or groundbreaking, but there's always something to be said for a new coat of paint thrown on a nifty old idea. Plus the psycho is one darkly amusing bastard.
Story #3 does delve into some pretty original territory. It's about two sisters who hate each other, a psycho mom who definitely plays favorites, and a super-wealthy bachelor who plans to marry someone. Anyone. And not for very nice reasons. This segment is as well-crafted and unexpectedly austere as the others, but it also benefits from simply being the most "unpredictable" of the four terror tales.
Story #4 is a slick, energetic, and enjoyably fast-paced concoction of the old (a horrific zombie outbreak) and the new (almost all of the action takes place in and around an ambulance). There's a lot of screaming and crying and desperate exchanges about who is infected and who isn't, but to its credit this mini-movie succeeds through sheer force of forward momentum. Again, nothing revolutionary, but a pretty serviceable combination of zombie tropes and well-realized action mayhem.
And then of course the "wrap-around" story offers a little closure. Again, it's hardly the most interesting material to be found in Horror Stories. What works best here -- indeed in most of the good anthologies -- is the variety, the efficiency, and the energy that is the trademark of most good "horror shorts." At its best moments, Horror Stories reminds us that "omnibus" horror cinema is alive and well both in the United States and abroad, and while some of its segments are certainly more compelling than others (the last two are my favorites), Horror Stories can take pride in the fact that none of its four stories is the "weak link."
Also there's already a sequel on the way.