Running Time: 90'
Yudai Yamaguchi; Taichi Ito
Mai Takahashi, Takamasa Suga, Hitomi Miwa, Tomorrow Taguchi
GHOUL RATING: 2-
Story: As always, the disc contains 2 episodes, approx. 45 minutes each.
THE PRESENT is about a group of obnoxious teens (aren't they all?) who were very naughty, and Santa comes to get them. You heard that right: Santa is not only a giver of presents for the good kids but also a psycho-killer who tortures and slaughters those who were bad (which somehow makes him – good?). He likes to cut off their limbs and grind their meat in his dirty, water-leaking lair. One is left to wonder couldn't Santa at least afford a basement with good plumbing? Why aren't the elves dusting the place at least once a year, what with all the grime and dirt and all? One would expect Santa to rise a little bit above the pathetic level of some low-down Ed Gein, but no, his hideaway is right from the poor man's version of SAW…
DEATH MAKE tells the sad and uninvolving story of a group of uninteresting 'clairvoyants' brought to an abandoned warehouse, allegedly haunted. Their aim: to shoot a boring TV show sitting in front of white background sheets, chatting about the 'supernatural' – and to run at the first sign of the real deal. This concept is merely an excuse for a shitload of 'first person video-shots' and 'in-camera confessions' a la BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Up to that moment this flick is merely boring: when the 'haunting' takes the shape of a giant grasshopper (or something like that) it becomes downright silly. The grasshopper chases and kills (in entirely unimaginative ways) almost all of them, and then, in a twist ending… well, if you're really into masochism, rent this and see for yourself.
Review: Two more stories from Kazuo Umezz, a Japanese author of horror comics, best known for those adapted into THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM (with Troy Donahue!) and BAPTISM OF BLOOD. He seems to have a thing for giant insects, featured in CLASSROOM as well as in DEATH MAKE, and also for in vivo brain extraction (both in BAPTISM and THE PRESENT). Not exactly subtle, but some like it cheesy, and if cheese is what you want, this 'theatre' will deliver.
It's hard to judge Umezz's quality as a manga artist as none of the movies made from his work so far are any good, and if these two episodes are any sign… I think I had enough, thank you very much. But who knows: maybe Kyoshi Kurosawa made something worthwhile out of Mr. Umezz (born Umezu, but for some reason prefers the double 'z' spelling of his name) in HORROR THEATRE 2.
What we're left with here does not sound too bad – on paper. Just look at those names involved: THE PRESENT features actors from real movies, like Mai Takahashi (THE GREAT YOKAI WAR) and Takamasa Suga (DEATH TRANCE), and furthermore, it's directed by the cult fave Yudai Yamaguchi, who wrote the crazy VERSUS and directed an even crazier BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL. How could it possibly go wrong? Well, it could. And it did.
The script is utterly nonsensical even if you lower down your expectations for the Japanese equivalent of TALES FROM THE CRYPT as it is divested of its spirit of mischief, tongue-in-cheek and black humor. This does not even aim at, say, AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE segment of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, which made a GOOD use of horror Santa. Instead, annoying characters are being cut up by a white guy in a poorly fitting Santa costume so it ends up looking like some dumb Eli Roth torture porn. Oh, yeah, at least there are buckets of gore, severed limbs, nail-pulling and the like, but these scenes are neither gruesome nor funny as they're shot with no inspiration, lacking the spirit… and punch.
Then you come to DEATH MAKE, hoping for something like EVIL DEAD TRAP meets HAUNTING meets BLAIR WITCH. It's directed by Taichi Ito, a visual effects producer, and it (ab)uses the talents of Hitomi Miwa from THE GRUDGE and even the legendary Tomorrow Taguchi from the TETSUO movies. Of course, it's nowhere near the films it's trying to ape. It does not even try hard enough to be a respectable rip-off. No, it's strictly going through the motions, within the limits of a poor budget. While the limited funds can be a partial excuse for laughably bad (to put it mildly) CGI effects involving the giant grasshopper (what were they thinking?!), the poor visual style and non-direction are entirely Taichi's fault. Just look what GOOD directors did with a similar budget in a similar setting, like Toshiharu Ikeda in EVIL DEAD TRAP's abandoned warehouse or Michele Soavi in STAGE FRIGHT's abandoned theatre. There's no style and no substance here: just childish nonsense and waste of everyone's precious time.
If this series may sound like the Japanese equivalent of MASTERS OF HORROR, a few words of warning:
a) even the (mostly) American 'masters' turned out to be largely underwhelming, with only Miike actually PROVING to be a master;
b) UMEZZ'S THEATRE seems to be more intent on quick cashing in on the J-horror craze than on exploring the new boundaries of its genre and bringing new and SCARY stories to the West;
c) MASTERS OF HORROR, even at its stupidest, at least had the good production values and eye candy which this poor THEATRE is sorely lacking.
But obviously, the greatest fault lies in uninspired scripts and directing and rather poor acting, together with a misguided notion (actually shared by Showtime's MASTERS) that any amount of visual effects and splatter can evoke that subtle feeling of HORROR which they falsely invoke in their respective titles. Rather than horrific, this is just horrible.