STUDIO: MPI Home Video
MSRP: $19.98

RUNNING TIME: 138 Minutes
Television spots

All directors have to start somewhere, and Norio Tsuruta (Ringu 0) started with a series of programs on Japanese television entitled Scary True Stories in 1991. The premise of the program is to present recreations of “true” encounters with the supernatural to frighten viewers.

It’s the Japanese equivalent of an anthology horror series and the techniques used throughout the show demonstrated the dawning of a style that is now referred to as J-Horror. The random loud noises, the crazy camera angles, the millions of “boo” scares – they’re all here. Now that J-Horror has made its mark on the world, of course it’s time to release these shows on DVD and claim that they started it all.

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The Show

This collection contains the first three Scary True Stories programs from 1991 and 1992. Each features three true tales of horror and a short intro. The intro for the first two programs is a selection of photographs that supposedly capture ghosts on camera. I had no idea ghosts looked like improperly developed film. After each program ends the narrator warns the viewer that they have now opened a window to the spirit world by viewing this program, a dark and sinister world where you can be attacked by plastic doll heads and loud noises.

The fact that the stories are supposed to be true certainly draws more interest to the program, but it also holds it back. Tsuruta tries his best to make the stories frightening, but when you have to show restraint to keep the stories at least somewhat faithful to the true story you can’t go all out and devote yourself to scaring viewers. Having a dream where you fly to a pet cemetery might be entertaining to the person having the dream but it’s quite boring when put on film.

While some of the stories may be true, none of them can be considered scary. There are episodes of the paranormal investigation show Sightings that managed to be scarier than this. The show isn’t helped by the low budget effects, which sometimes look like a guy off-camera was simply shining a flashlight against the wall to create the ghost. The creepier stories are all ones that don’t rely on effects such as House of Restless Spirits, where a silent man in a black suit haunts a small family.

As the series progresses its easy to see the techniques used by Tsuruta that would later be employed by films such as The Grudge. By the third program he’s got the style nailed down pat. There are scary blurry faces that appear in windows, demonic children appearing out of nowhere and loud noises that threaten to shatter eardrums. Watching this genesis of J-Horror is interesting, but that’s the only appeal of this series. The programs themselves are dry and boring. These programs are interesting for anyone who wants to do some research on the genre, but even then it may end up feeling more like homework than entertainment.

4.0 out of 10

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The Look

All three programs are presented in their original full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratios in which they aired on television. For a low-budget ‘90s television program the transfers are very good. There are no interlacing errors or artifacts to be found. There’s a blurry layer of fog over everything in several episodes, but that’s intentional. The transfer may be too good, since some of the more ridiculous effects look even sillier when you can see them in such high definition.

7.0 out of 10

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The Noise

Scary True Stories is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. Sound is one of the more important components in J-Horror and the track takes full advantage of it. All the dialogue is crisp and the haunting music is loud. Of course, it wouldn’t be J-Horror without loud noises coming out of absolutely no where, and this track only increase the fright one would feel when a soul-shatteringly loud cat screech occurs.

The audio on the first two programs is great, but the third program’s audio is much softer. Adequately hearing the dialogue on this program requires that the volume be turned up very loud. The problem with this is that while the dialogue is quiet, the music and sound effects are not. It’s very difficult to find a balance on this program that allows for you to hear the dialogue and not have your head explode once the music begins.

5.0 out of 10

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The Goodies

If this series is so influential in the genre, perhaps some interviews with genre directors could have been included so they could state what it was about this series that was so great. Instead of an interesting feature like that, this disc includes a few storyboards from one episode and the original TV spots used to promote the programs. The storyboards are a little interesting since they are for House of Restless Spirits, the best story of the program. The television spots are only worth checking out if you’d like to see how shows are promoted in Japan.

2.0 out of 10

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The Artwork

A long, sinisterly lit staircase. That’s it. I know when I think of scary true stories I think of staircases. The image fits with the type of ambiance J-Horror likes to create, but it’s not a very appealing cover to people who have no prior experience with the genre. It’s certainly not anywhere near as creepy as some of the covers for scary stories books marketed towards children.

5.0 out of 10

Overall: 4.5 out of 10