Because there was so much visceral horror in the first 3 Extremes I expected the second volume to be, well, extreme. So I braced myself. And I kept bracing myself all the way through. Far from being extreme horror, this is a collection of well-made horror tales. They will disappoint carnage lovers, but anyone else should find something satisfying.
First up is Kim Jee-Woon, Korean director of A Tale of Two Sisters. If you've seen the latter you know that Kim is a master of bait-and-switch weirdness. This story, 'Memories', does not disappoint. It begins with a new take on a cliched scenario - a man lying asleep on a couch in a normal living room. Except there's a creepy doll whose head twists round to look at him, and a child's balloon moves of its own accord. In the corner he sees a dark-haired woman, rocking back and forth in distress...
Thus begins a compact yet convoluted tale of the disappearance of a wife, and her husband's quest to find her. The wife wakes up lying in the road, her phone broken, and sets off to find her family. The husband clashes with relatives and seems to be cracking up. Is the wife a ghost? What will happen when she finally gets home? The visuals have that peculiar urban bleakness that Korean directors seem to have mastered - beauty conjured from concrete.
After that excellent start we move to Thailand and director Nonzee Nimubutr. He directed 'Nang Nak', based on a major Thai legend. In 'The Wheel' we learn the legend of cursed puppets, always a fun concept. In this case the puppet master dies and instead of being consigned to his pyre his ensouled 'children' are taken by the leader of a traditional dance troupe. The puppets are supposed to bring a touch of class to the performance, but instead they exact revenge. I found this one enjoyable if a tad difficult to follow at times, as there are flashbacks galore.
Finally comes Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Hong Kong producer of The Eye. In 'Going Home' a widowed cop moves to a run-down apartment block with his small son. The cop is not going to win any fathering awards. But we know that something more than normal peril lurks in the area. This is a puzzler for much of its length, as the disparate elements only fit together at the very end.
The opening scene is a little masterpiece, set in a spooky photographer's shop that seems trapped in a pre-war time-warp. A small girl in a red coat is looking for someone. A man with a disabled wife is boiling up huge amounts of traditional herbal remedies. The boy goes missing, and the cop becomes convinced that the Chinese doctor is somehow involved. A clash between the two leads to a revelation that will not be entirely surprising to fans of Lovecraft.
'Going Home' is bizarre and, yes, extreme in some ways, but it's also rather moving. As the various elements dovetail it becomes clear that love and loss are the unifying themes here, not full-on horror. While the story might not have sustained a feature length movie it works well in capsule form. It certainly kept me guessing. When the resolution comes it is sad, satisfying, just plain right.