Movie Reviews 42 – Whispering Corridors

A local CD/DVD chain outlet was having a huge $5 bin sale recently but what really caught my eye was a shelf with a bunch of Tartan DVDs going for $5. I never had any Tartan DVDs before, but I knew enough about them from Rue Morgue magazine reviews to know that they were a premier Korean horror (or K-Horror if you will) DVD distributor. This was my chance to stock up and as I scoured all the available titles I noticed that there were three movies that were in fact a series. I later learned that there there are even more titles to the “Whispering Corridors” series, but here is are my reviews of the first three.

Whispering Corridors (1998)
The first in this series of the all-girl high school ghost story movies, Whispering Corridors which ushered in the Korean contribution to Asian horror boom of the late 90’s. It starts with the hanging of an elder school teacher who had just made some important connection related to a bunch high school year books. We soon learn that 9 years earlier, an outcast student in the school named Jin-ju committed suicide. Her best friend at the time, Eun-young, also happens to have just returned to the school, now as a new teacher herself. Eun-young has always felt guilty in that she failed to help Jin-Ju at her time of need because the old school mistress told her to ignore her friend. After a few more mysterious suicides and deaths Eun-young realizes that her relationship Jin-Ju is now being replayed with two current students. The climax comes when all the pieces come together and Eur-young confronts the ghost of Jin-ju. As Asian horrors go, this is the typical slow build up and the horror is largely drawn from the ambiance as much as it is with what you actually see on the screen. I felt it was rather slow even for such a movie. The movie is as much a critique of the school system as it is of the relationship between the girls. Look out for a bunch of school officials getting their comeuppance, but not much happening otherwise.

Memento Mori (1999)
This sequel to Whispering Corridors features another suicide and another ghost. That’s pretty much the extent of the tie in with Whispering Corridors. This one deals with two girls experimenting with a lesbian relationship. One of the girls, clearly ostracized in school by all the other girls and even many of the school staff, instigates and obsesses over the relationship while the other girl is a more questionable participant. The girls start a diary in which each would put in an entry and then pass it along to the other for the next installment. The diary is more like a graphic scrapbook with vivid drawings and poems and such. A third girl gets her hands on the ‘diary’ and becomes an onlooker to the somewhat clandestine relationship. But when the obsessed girl gets spurned by the more reluctant one, she decides to throw herself off the school roof and of course begins to haunt the school culminating in one big school shuttering climax. Its all a bit confusing since the story jumps back and forth in time. It would have been better just presented sequentially, but I think that being somewhat obtuse is something that makes Asian horror what it is. It’s a very atmospheric film that jumps between terror and light hearted scenes of friends just being friends and doing kooky fun things. Again very little gore, and a slow pace. A little less an indictment of a failed school system and more of a commentary on school girl bitchery and back stabbing. Now there’s horror for you!

Wishing Stairs (2003)
Returning to our favorite haunted all-girl school, the focus this time shifts to an outdoor staircase with 27 steps. Legend has it that if you close your eyes and count the stairs as you climb, you sometimes end up on a mystical 28th stair, and if that is the case you can state a wish out loud which will come true. The story is about two good friends that are also studying ballerina together at the school. One is not only the prettier of the two, but the most talented ballerina in the class. The rivalry is friendly at first, but when a competition is announced in which the school will send the winner to a prestigious Russian ballet school (and presumably an imminent career), the tension between the girls quickly unravels the friendship. When the less talented girl successfully takes the stair climb challenge and finds herself having counted 28 stairs her wish is to win the upcoming competition. Unfortunately this means that her former friend takes a tumble down another set of stairs, which puts her out of the competition and then some. She eventually ends up being the next ghost to haunt the school and scaring the bejeezus out of the former friend. Easily the more horrific of the the three movies, I also felt it was the least complicated while not being ‘dumbed down’ either. I wonder of last years film noire hit “Black Swan” was inspired by this movie? The moral of the story is that ballerinas are graceful and elegant, but don’t piss them off or they are going to mess you up.

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