If there is a phrase that conjures up a bloodier mental image than "Texas BBQ-Fork Steel-Cage Wrasslin' Match," it must be "Asian Horror Film." Pacific Rim directors bring more sanguine gusto to their work than anyone this side of a pirate; "yo-ho-ho and a bucket of blood" is not nearly enough for these guys.
And yet the films in the Fontbonne University film series "New Asian Horror" (free, 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday through March 2, at Fontbonne University's Library, 6800 Wydown Boulevard; 314-719-8061) are surprisingly blood-free. Instead of opting for the easy Western-slasher trope of "gore beyond gore" (the perfect death-metal band name, incidentally), the directors featured in "New Asian Horror" rely on psychological horror, strange or fragmented pacing, and the strained, interpersonal dynamics of human relations to shock and thrill their audiences. Huh. Who knew that shit could be scary, other than every teenager on the planet?
Maybe that's why teenagers are so often the stars of American horror films, and, not so coincidentally, in Asian horror pics as well. Kim Tae-Yong and Min Kyu-Dong, directors of Momento Mori, focus their story on the pressure-cooker emotional politics of teenage girls at a Korean boarding school. The love story at the center of Momento Mori is mostly obscured by the pent-up sexual tension, general cattiness and intense "I'm-not-a-girl-and-not-yet-a-woman"-type mood swings for which teenage girls are famous. Nary a drop of blood is spilled, and it's still a harrowing portrayal of interior life.
The teen couple at the heart of Higuchinsky's Uzumaki deal with feelings for each other, the progressive madness of their parental units, the bizarrely cruel behavior of their peers and a mysterious vortex that threatens to consume everything around them; if a guy didn't transform into a giant snail in the second half, you'd swear you were watching a Japanese film based on your own high school years. If the remaining movies follow the same intelligent course plotted by these early installments, "New Asian Horror" is sure to please even the most discriminating horror connoisseur.