September 01, 2007

HAUNTED SCHOOL 3 (1997) lively children's ghost-fest

(1997, Japan, Gakko No Kaidan 3)

Region 3 HK DVD (CD Connection) - no English subtitles

Where else can you see a skinless biology dummy come to life, faceless parents stalking their kids with steak knives and a photocopy monster? Haunted School 3 of course.

The many Haunted Schools
Hong Kong maestro, Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs, Initial D - The Movie), produced a film called The Haunted School this year, which appears to be an adult horror film. But I'm still working my way though the Japanese series of children's films from the 1990's, all called Gakko No Kaidan, literally 'school ghost stories', known internationally as Haunted School.

The 4 films were so successful in Japan that they led to various TV series (that I'm still trying find more info on) as well as a marvellous anime series, Gakko No Kaidan (
released as Ghost Stories in the US). Similarly, the recent anime Ghost Hunt was set in a similar situation and features several school hauntings.

Japanese poster

Gakko No Kaidan 3
A group of children and a gym teacher are drawn to the huge unused school building at night, where they are sucked through a cursed mirror (echoes of Poltergeist III) - because facing two mirrors towards each other seems to be unlucky in Japan.

In the mirror dimension, the film opens out as the gang go exploring, going on a ghostly bus ride, and making the mistake of going home to mum and dad... As they learn more about the school ghost, the mirror dimension starts to destabilise...

While these films aren't very grown-up entertainments, I like them for their unusual ghosts and demons - bizarre, but no scarier than a ghost train ride. Also, for seeing what perils children are allowed to face in Japan. Like when the kids are chased by their parents, and a policeman with a rice sickle...

The climax aims for spectacular, slightly beyond the means of the budget, (giving me some unwanted flashbacks to the terrible Drifting Classroom) but there's an animated creature that Ray Harryhausen himself has never done...

This film is more eventful and special-effects heavy than the first two, and the effects are better realised. There's some great horror make-ups (some nasty-looking zombies and the biology department's 'visible man' dummy), computer fx (though not overused) and some stop-motion animation. Perhaps the reason it works so well, is that the director also handled the three revival Gamera films in the 1990's, the best-made giant monster movies there are.

This is certainly the best of the three so far, and I'll tell you more about Haunted School 4 soon, because it's actually scary, with a far more adult approach, made just as the Japanese horror-boom went international for Ring.

A DVD boxset of all four films is now out of print in Japan, and had no subtitles either. The second and third films are still available in Hong Kong, but again have no English translation. What's worse is that they have non-removable Chinese subtitles - these are almost totally in the letterbox, so you could crop them out. Both Haunted School 2 and 3 are non-anamorphic widescreen, and the smeary, dark transfers don't help with a film that spends a lot of time in darkened corridors. 3 seems to have been cut, slightly, at some of the more intense moments.

But these are the only DVDs (and VCDs) out there at present. Haunted School 1 and 4 are also available with primitive Englsh subtitles.

More movies...
HAUNTED SCHOOL 1 (1995) reviewed here

Do you want to know more?
Sarudama writes more about the plots for the first three films, and has loads of screengrabs too.

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