Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Get in the holiday spirit with these horror anthology films, which offer several scary stories for the price of one.
Ten years ago, the grisliest and most twisted genre movies were coming straight out of Asia; only France was putting up much of a fight in the international arms race of traumatizing unprepared audiences. Three… Extremes, a sequel to the obscure horror anthology project Three, capitalized on this craze by corralling the talents of multiple provocateurs. Per its confusingly punctuated title, the film offers a trifecta of intense visions, each from a different Asian auteur: Takashi Miike, the Japanese jack-of-all-genres behind Audition, Ichi The Killer, and dozens of other assaults on good taste; South Korean director Park Chan-wook, then experiencing a boom in popularity, thanks to his vicious Oldboy; and Fruit Chan, a Hong Kong filmmaker largely unknown in the States, before or since. If nothing else, this group effort—the rare omnibus that’s consistently, uniformly excellent—demonstrates how malleable “extreme” cinema really is.
Despite their burgeoning bad-boy reputations, neither Miike nor Park provide the most disturbing of the segments. That distinction belongs to Chan, who kicks things off on a profoundly nauseating note with “Dumplings,” about an aging actress who begins feasting on an unusual delicacy to restore her youthful good looks. Chan would later expand “Dumplings” into a full feature, but its gross-out horror—amplified by stunning Christopher Doyle cinematography and revoltingly vivid crunch-crunch sound design—plays terrifically in miniature. Same goes for Park’s middle segment, “Cut,” in which a very Park-like director is tortured by a crazed extra with an encyclopedic knowledge of his oeuvre. While the vengeance-obsessed filmmaker’s stylized ultraviolence can grow tiresome at even 90 minutes, it never wears out its welcome at half the length. The self-reflexivity doesn’t hurt.
It’s Miike who mops cleanup, spinning a haunting story about a circus performer terrorized by the ghost of her twin sister. “Box,” with its striking winter imagery, disquieting use of quiet, and genuinely bracing twist ending, is one of the most masterful things Miike has ever made—and that’s really saying something, given the sheer volume of his filmography. It’s also “extreme” in a much different, much more psychological manner than its predecessors, making it a surprisingly elegant capper for the project. Because of their general, perhaps even fundamental unevenness, anthology films make it very easy to play favorites: Cluster a bunch of short movies of varying quality together on one bill and the best in show is bound to stand out. Here, though, which of the three segments you prefer is less a matter of quality than of specific interest in ghoulish, short-form depravity. They’re three great tastes that taste great together, provided you can stomach their grotesqueries.
Availability: Three… Extremes is available on DVD from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.