East or West, who scares us best?
DO ASIANS make scarier horror flicks than Westerners?
That claim has been going round a lot, especially in the past 11/2 decades, a period that gave us Asian horror hits like Ringu, Ju-On, Dark Water, Shutter, A Tale Of Two Sisters and The Eye.
There were also films by Malaysia-born Australian director James Wan, whose fright fests The Conjuring and Insidious have been hailed as among the scariest efforts to have come out of Hollywood.
Regardless of origin or geographical location, any film-maker aware of the cultural conditions, taboos, superstitions and simply what gets under the audience's skin in a particular climate will do a good job of freaking people out.
Yet, there is one area in which I feel Asian film-makers have the edge for now, and that is in their willingness to innovate and push the envelope so far that it rips open, spewing forth a tide of long black hair, guts and gore.
What scares or shocks you? If it's something unexpected, then surely it would fall into that category.
For example, every culture or locale has a "woman in white" legend, but the people behind Ringu took it a step further by having the woman in white crawl out of a well, out of your TV and into your living room.
Would Ju-On be half as chilling without that scene of the little ghost boy perched on the end of a poor haunted girl's bed?
Then, there was Shutter, which totally disarmed us with the moment when we found out why the protagonist weighed so much on a hospital scale. Brrr.
The point is, Asian film-makers have shown a greater willingness to break taboos and test the boundaries of good taste. This has yielded a great deal of scares and shocks over the years.
It has also given us some pretty revolting stuff in the "shock schlock" sub-genre of horror. Just ask anyone who's watched some of the (cough cough) Category III horror movies like Eternal Evil Of Asia (okay, so it was more hilarious than scary, but still disgusting) or Ebola Syndrome.
And who can forget "classics" like The Untold Story (or the literal translation of its Chinese title, "Human-flesh barbecue-meat bun")?
Of course, the Asian success in horror films sounded a momentary knell for genre creativity over in the West, where all Hollywood seemed to do was remake one movie after another.
Ironically, it took an Asian to help pull Hollywood back from the brink when Wan gave us Saw in 2004.
It's all quite cyclical - one corner of the global film industry inspires the other, which in turn thrives and provides inspiration.
What matters is that film-makers continue to experiment, be daring and innovative. It doesn't matter which direction the scares come from, East or West, so long as we don't see 'em coming.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK