Before I go on and on about carrots and the myriad ways in which I enjoy them or don't enjoy them, let me just say that the 2004 Malaysian film Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology pretty much proves my theory on the portmanteau flick- to me, this means that I'm right about everything all the time, and therefore no one can contradict my views, whether they be regarding carrots or Battlestar Galactica (best show ever) or what you should do with your hair (I say shave it all off).
Sorry, BSG just started up again and I've got the fever
The 15th night of the 7th month marks, essentially, Chinese Halloween. During this time, "hungry ghosts" are released and spirits walk the earth to mingle with the living. Hungry for what, you ask? No, they're not here for your Cool Ranch Doritos, my friends...they're hungry for your face! At least, that's the way the film played out in my imagination. In reality, the hungry ghosts of Visits are just...sort of...here, despite the fact that we're promised some truly scary stories in the framing narrative, which finds a radio DJ recounting stories to his listeners.
Two girls lie on the ground in a bloody pile. One of them dies, one of them ends up in the hospital with a concussion and amnesia. Was it a suicide pact? Why is the dead one hanging around the largely-empty hospital, showing off her scabby face? How does her boyfriend tie into all this? Flashbacks fill in all the predictable blanks, but unfortunately it all happens a bit too fast. There's no build to the story, and there's little tension- just a few jump scares. Honestly, 1413 had me dreading the hour-plus I still had to slog through in Visits; I'm happy to say that the stinker of the bunch was out of the way first.
WAITING FOR THEM
Sam receives a phone call from her childhood friend Anne, during which Anne imparts that she's recently broken up with her girlfriend and as a result her world has gone to hell. Her ex isn't returning her calls, how did things go wrong, she can't live with out her, blah blah usual breakup drama blah. Soon Sam can't get a hold of Anne- until she finds Anne wandering down a lonely road late one night. Anne has nowhere to go, so Sam takes her in. Anne sees clammy feet in Sam's closet and splits, and only later do we learn her fate.
Huh? Yeah, clammy feet peeing (typo but it stays) out from the back of a closet are about as spooktacular as Waiting For Them gets. It's much more a character study/drama with a few bizarre sequences (a moment that finds the two women brushing their teeth together was a highlight) (yes, brushing teeth was a highlight) than a straight-up horror story, ghost or otherwise. It's odd, then, that I enjoyed this segment- it's so quiet and still that you may wonder if there are actually actors or if the director has simply staged set pieces with mannequins. I liked getting my Murder She Wrote on, though, as I tried to figure out Anne's story. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
I know, that title, right? I was totally all "What the heck is a nodding scoop? Does it involve ice cream? 'Cause if it does, I'm totally nodding yes! HA HA HA!" Sadly, it does not involve ice cream. "Nodding scoop" is a device constructed from a ladle and a wig, and it's used as a sort of Ouija board when people attempt to communicate with the spirits. So, if you were like "Hey dead person, are you here?" and the dead person was, the scoop would, you know, nod. In this segment, which finds some college students filming themselves using the device as they perform a seance, the silliness of the contraption gave way to supreme creepiness. As can be expected, the students really do summon a spirit; the creepiness promptly goes out the window and the plot quickly devolves into nonsense. An extremely disappointing end to a very promising start.
Here we have a security guard who's obsessed with one of the female inhabitants of the apartment building in which he works. He plants tiny cameras in her apartment to spy on her, and his behavior continues to escalate until he's spending time in her home when she's not there. Soon he finds out that she's got a secret of her own.
Anybody Home? was my favorite story of the bunch, and it's certainly the standout of Visits. The segment is almost completely wordless as we view life through the various cameras of the apartment building- we see the girl coming home drunk at 2 am, stumbling to the elevators; we watch every boring facet of her life, from doing the dishes to going to the bathroom- we see what's arousing the security guard. We watch him in her apartment, invading her space and reacting violently to something he finds in her freezer. This moment marks a shift in the story's narrative- the stalker becomes the victim- and unfortunately it's also a change in narrative devices. The security camera conceit is dropped and the rest of Anybody Home? plays out in standard style, which is a complete detriment to the piece. Still, it's an unusual spin on fairly standard Asian Horror fare.
That seems to be the biggest problem with Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology- each segment treads overly familiar waters, waters that have been explored to much greater effect in other films. Each story here fell victim to the anthology format, in that they're essentially short films. Horror shorts need to pack a wallop, and if anything, Asian ghost stories are slow mood pieces. It's difficult to build ample tension and create an unsettling atmosphere in such a short amount of time. While none of these segments truly pays off in a completely satisfying way, there is some interesting material to be found for enthusiasts of the genre.