Halloween White Elephant: Shutter (2004)

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Jump scares may be cheap, and often times they only serve to cheapen the experience of a given film. It’s always a pleasant surprise when you come across an exception to that rule. In the case of Shutter, it was both a pleasant surprise and at times an absolutely fucking terrifying experience. What is actually a pretty straight-forward story is executed with amazing precision and gives the film a brilliant intensity. When combined with absolutely chilling makeup effects and a creepy score, all of that adds up to a great horror movie. It also is now responsible for my not wanting to take a picture of anything. Ever.


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Directed by Kevin Ko, 2009
Written by Sung In, Carolyn Lin

Taiwanese horror doesn’t have much brand identity.  In a way that makes it one of the more interesting Asian nations getting in on the International horror scene.  Korea, Japan and (most recently) Thailand all have emerged with their own symbolic staples both in front of and behind the camera, but Taiwan’s contributions don’t seem to have any unique cultural signifiers to them.  Sure, that’s just dumb Yankee outside talker, I’m sure there’s plenty for the Taiwanese to call their own that I’ll never be aware, but this filtered reflection of other nation’s horror is what interests me more than anything.

Take, for example, INVITATION ONLY, the latest ‘big’ horror movie to come out of Taiwan.  There are no pale women with long-black hair hiding in the shadows, no crazy ghosts waiting in the wings and no unbreakable family bonds.  INVITATION ONLY is about five strangers who are lured to a warehouse under the assumption they’re going to a VIP only party.  It’s a party alright, but our five are only there to be inevitably tortured for the amusement of rich people.  That’s right, it’s a HOSTEL rip off – there’s even a scene in which a cart full of body parts is used in an escape attempt – but director Kevin Ko is good at pulling off the heist.

Let’s talk about DEATH BELL.

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To us round eye Asia has taken on a schema of quirkiness.  Like a dear friend, merely invoking its name has become a justification of manners.  Example: “He threw up in your parent’s bed?  That’s so Cody!”  “THE GIRLS REBEL FORCE OF COMPETITIVE SWIMMERS ended with a girl shooting a laser beam out of her vagina?  That’s so Asia!”

Watching DEATH BELL I realized that while a point of origin may be a justification, it is no excuse.  I wanted to like this movie.  I wanted to like it bad.  A more up my alley premise will be hard to describe:

A private school empties out for the holiday save a small band of “elite” students who are forced to power study in order to impress a rival school they’ll be playing host to post-break.  First day of cramming and the school’s televised PA system begins transmitting footage of a girl trapped in a box.  A voice (that sounds eerily like a Korean Princess Leia when she wore that mask to rescue Han) comes over the loud speaker informing the teachers and student body that they have X many minutes to solve the equation written on the box in order to save the girl’s life.  The box begins filling with water.  All are too panicked to concentrate.  Girl drowns.  A new trap is set with a different student.

Trapped in an isolated, abandoned location?  Check.  Unknown murderer?  Check.  Problems to solve in order to save a life?  Check.  It’s like an Asian MINDHUNTERS with high schoolers.  And if you think for a second that MINDHUNTERS is not the motherfucking bomb, well, then you’ve never seen Renny Harlin’s masterwork.  Yeah, I just said Renny Harlin has a masterwork.  I make no apologies for that or his genius movie.  Not a single one.  MINDHUNTERS is cough syrup on the brain.  It’s kind of the best movie ever made.  Do something.

Back to DEATH BELL, I suppose.  The opening scene is of a girl running from ghosts and zombies in a graveyard/desert filled with school desks.  The shot immediately proceeding this sequence is not of the girl jolting upright from her pre-exam nightmare.  Oh, she wakes up alright, but it’s not the standard 90 degree instant sit-up.  No.  The immediate shot is a close up of her panties as they fill in red with menstruation.

Oh, Asia!

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