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This film was originally titled KAZUO UMEZU’S TERROR ZONE, but is best known in the US as, simply, HORROR.  It’s a stylish but somewhat under conceived hour long two-parter, with some NASTY gore toward the end. 

The Package 
     Kazuo Umezu is often called the “Stephen King of Japan,” and this 1993 film is based on two of his stories.  Part one, “Return to Darkness,” was actually made as a student film by director Hikari Hayakawa.  It’s a visually impressive black and white short marred by an excess of standard haunted house/ghost story business (as much as I love horror movies, I find such fare extremely tiresome).  Umezu was apparently so impressed with the film he offered to personally finance another short directed by Hayakawa, based on Umezu’s story “The Stolen Heart.”  Put together, the two films were released on video in Japan as KAZUO UMEZU’S TERROR ZONE, complete with a “Making of” featurette. 

The Story 
     In “Return To Darkness” a young woman travels to meet her new husband, the product of an arranged marriage, at his secluded rural home.  Her trip through the countryside is a decidedly ominous one, and her spirits aren’t helped by the fact that her hubbie turns out to be a major drip.  Worse, his house seems to be haunted; it contains a “monster room” where ghosts may or may not reside.  The woman finds herself becoming increasingly unnerved by a creepy painting on a wall, strange sounds and an errant reflection in a teapot.  Things come to a head when her new mate invites his ghostly ancestors to meet her; they turn out to be a band of unsmiling zombies who don’t look too friendly...but our heroine has a surprise up her sleeve.  The ghostly relatives are not the only supernatural beings present!
     “The Stolen Heart” starts with a wide-eyed group of schoolgirls telling scary stories.  One of them relates the apparently true tale of two teen girls who make a pact that if one of them should die the other will donate her heart.  Guess what?  One has a weak ticker, and a trip to a cliffside where her friend playfully tips her over a bluff shuts it down altogether.  Unwilling to fulfill her part of the bargain, the friend locks herself in her house and doesn’t answer the phone; her unfortunate mate, meanwhile, is declared dead and has her heart removed and her brains scooped out of her skull (while she’s still conscious!).  The surviving girl, heart intact, decides it’s safe to venture out of the house, and is in fact among the audience of the above-mentioned storytelling session.  The bad news is that the teller of the story is a reanimated corpse possessed by the dead girl, who’s come to collect the promised heart. 

The Direction 
     From the start, it’s clear Hikari Hayakawa is an impressive, if somewhat overly self-conscious, visual stylist.  His placement of characters and objects in a frame is ominous and disquieting.  Hayakawa’s talents are best displayed in the first segment, whose luminous black and white photography is infinitely preferable to the video stock of the more elaborate second part.  Speaking of the second part, this particular segment’s charms are mostly due to the outrageous gore FX of the final third, which come as something of a surprise considering that up to then both parts of the film emphasize atmosphere to the extent of everything else.
     The biggest problem is with the screenplay.  Kazuo Umezu may indeed be the Stephen King of Japan, and that’s most likely the problem: King’s works have never adapted particularly well to the screen and neither, based on this film, do Umezu’s.  These stories may read well (not that I’d know), but onscreen they come off as bland, clichéd and rather clumsy, particularly in part two, which introduces a slew of superfluous characters in an apparent attempt at jazzing up a story that’s already been told countless time before.

Vital Statistics 

Video Search of Miami

Director: Hikari Hayakawa
Screenplay: Kazuo Umezu
Cast: Ayako Sugiyama, Yumiko Takahasi

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