Siamese Twins, Scary Dead Asian Children, and Candyman

During the summer of 2003, Loren and I were taking a stroll in Old Town Pasadena; it is called such because it looks like a fairytale suburb—except for the porn store crammed between the upscale restaurants and clothing boutiques. We passed by the now gone United Artists movie theater and saw a poster for a foreign horror flick called The Eye. I had remembered reading somewhere that, though the film is set in Hong Kong, the filmmakers were Thai identical twins. Yes, that makes the Pang Brothers, as they are dubbed, Siamese twins. Ha! (Look, I didn't want to reference the term, but I didn't want you accusing me of not thinking of it.) Eager to support my people, I convinced Loren to saunter into the cinema for a fun and delightful afternoon matinee.

The movie scared the living shit out of us.

A blind woman receives a cornea transplant, but, along with her new vision, she is also able to see dead people. Sure, the seeing dead people thing has been done to death, but the Pang Brothers are clever visual stylists who expertly alternate between quick genuine "jump" moments and intolerably long scenes of utter dread.

Sure, dead Asian children appear out of nowhere, and, as you all know, dead Asian children are scary. But the film's best scene takes its sweet time to unfold. Our leading lady steps into an elevator where an old man stands facing the corner. The claustrophobic elevator turns out to be the slowest moving elevator in the known universe, and the old man turns out to be dead. He starts floating his way toward her at his own leisurely pace. About halfway through this long sequence, I screamed out loud, "Jesus Christ!"

The only other time I screamed out loud in a movie theater was when Jennifer Lopez was finally ready to seek revenge against her abusive husband in Enough. I yelled, "J. Lo. has had enough!" And Rica yelled, "Kick his ass!"

The Eye is my favorite horror movie of all time. (Believe it or not, Bernard Rose's elegantly creepy Candyman is my runner-up. It's a smart gorefest about a hook-handed killer/ghost that delves into community mythology and, surprisingly, race issues. No one ever believes me that this is a really good film, and I understand why—it's freakin' called Candyman, for Christ's sake. Incidentally, Candyman features music by Philip Glass, and it is one of my favorite motion picture scores.)

The Pang Brothers try to strike gold twice with The Eye 2. It's not a masterpiece on the level of the original, but they do manage to one-up that elevator sequence with another elevator sequence that features a pregnant woman as the victim, while oblivious nurses stand by.

But I know the Pangs are not one-hit wonders because Bangkok Dangerous, a Thai action film about a mute hit man, kicks some serious ass, is fun to watch, and could move you deeply if you're in the right mood. (I have not seen The Eye 3, so can't speak to it.)

(Incidentally, American studios are remaking and, most likely, ruining both The Eye and Bangkok Dangerous.)

It's no wonder, then, that I've been very much looking forward to The Messengers, the Pang Brothers' American film debut. It's an almost decent haunted house movie that features a script you can shrug away but does contain a signature Pang Brothers long, drawn-out sequence of dread—this time involving a teenage girl carrying her little brother in her arms in a long, dark hallway and a grotesque ghost that only the boy can see.

Though scary, movies like The Messengers and The Eye don't keep me up or give me nightmares. They're exercises in disposable fear.

Even though Pan's Labyrinth has really stuck with me, it's not the terrifying creature with eyes in its hands that haunt me (even though it jangled my nerves in the theater). It's the cumulative effect of the whole film that resides not in my emotional weak spots but somewhere in my intellect. Those of you who have not seen Pan's Labyrinth, don't be fooled by the ads and the trailer. It's not just an adult fairytale with a seemingly endless imagination; it is also about the Spanish civil war, fascism, and the fight for individual survival. And, yes, it will occupy a space in your brain long after it's over.

The last time I had to sleep with my light on because I was so terrified was after I saw David Lynch's latest brand of mash-up cinema, Inland Empire. A filmmaker who knows how to get under your skin and manipulate your subconscious, he does things things like hold for a very long time on, say, a shot of a couch, while droning ambient noise plays in the background. It doesn't scare you; it just tries to possess your soul.

So when I go home at night, I know that decaying dead Asian children or hook-handed ghosts or creatures with eyes in their hands don't hide out in my apartment. But I do have a couch.

Man, that David Lynch is a genius.

—Reporting From Glendale, California


  1. Pan's Labyrinth is now officially my favorite movie. I've seen it three times and still get teary eyed and upset by the torture and death.

    And every time I've seen it the audience gasps at the same moments and cheers at the same one (she's gutted enough pigs--ouch!).

    You are right, it's more than just a fairy tale for grown ups. It really resonates with me: the tragedy, the imagery, the political turmoil.

    ...and thanks for the info on these other horror movies. I love a good scare. When Enrique was in town, we saw Black Christmas and it confirmed our suspicions that white people want to die at the hands of serial killers.

  2. Do you wanna know what's scarier than dead Asian children? Sitting through a Prince Gomolvilas play with no clearly marked exits.