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"Gregory Horror Show" Vol. 1: Just Think Square-Headed Hitchcock

The Sci-Fi Channel may have stopped running The Twilight Zone in the afternoon, but if Gregory Horror Show, a strange computer-animated release from Geneon, is any indication, the symbolic, abstract, and, of course, campy style of science fiction Rod Serling’s masterpiece epitomized is still alive and well in Japan. Though the DVD case makes the show look lazy, dull, or even childish, a deeper look will be reveal an anime that is, for better and worse, entirely unlike anything else on the shelves today.

Gregory Horror Show follows the journey of an average salaryman protagonist to a dark, isolated hotel run by a clearly deranged giant mouse named Gregory. After our protagonist is convinced, perhaps against his better judgment, to stay the night in the hotel, the real strangeness begins. A starving cat with his mouth, ears, and nose sewn shut howls all night with hunger. The extremely dangerous chef forces an extremely questionable red soup down our protagonist’s throat and a sadistic lizard-ish nurse comes to deprive him of much of his blood. It isn’t long before the salaryman finds his memories of the outside world fading and sets off on a race against time to escape from the madhouse before he loses all connection to his past. There are more twists on the way, however, and soon our everyman begins to wonder about whether he really deserves or even wants to leave this nightmare behind and return to his dull, lonely existence in the real world.

The first surprise to the viewer is the show’s unusual perspective—it is told in the second-person and (with some exceptions) the camera follows the point-of-view of the main character all the way through. In fact, the only time we hear the protagonist speak is at the beginning of each episode, to orient those just joining the program. It might seem gimmicky, but it actually works quite well, pulling the viewer into the shell of the everyman at the beginning and rendering the protagonist’s gradual recognition of his own demons even more eerily and effective. The second startling choice is the episode length: each is only a few minutes long. This is strange at first, but eventually it becomes clear that this too is very well-suited to the show’s plot structure.

The characters are all suitably creepy and, thanks to the brief episode length, each gets their time in the spotlight. My favorite by far was a box that glides around on rails attached to the ceiling, referred to as “Judgment Boy.” The box has scales attached to it, one side holding a heart and the other holding a gold dollar sign. Over a period of several episodes the Judgment Boy engages in a bizarre ritual of shaming the main character, giving him a hypothetical moral choice and, shouting, “Judgment!” confirming the protagonist’s worst fears about how he would act in that situation as the heart drops to the floor and shatters.

The show does have several major problems. First and most obvious is the visual production. Though Gregory is computer-animated, the quality of the cg reminds me of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” music video. The characters nearly all consist of sharp geometric shapes stacked one on top of the other and textures and light effects are extremely basic, though the artistic use of light is very good at certain points. As for the animation, characters may as well lack joints entirely given the way they move, while lip movement and facial expression often communicates little more than simply which character is talking. Myst looked better. The other immediate issue is the lack of an original Japanese language track. The English voice actors do a superbly creepy job, but in this day and age the omission of the original audio is nigh on inexplicable.

The plot also has its foibles. Obviously, for those not fond of this kind of moralistic, symbolic sf Gregory will seem nothing more than silly. Also, though the short episode format is perfect for a show with this kind of plot development (there are some other similar shows, such as Kino’s Journey, that I wish had taken the cue), watching the DVD front to back can get tedious. Probably the best way to watch the show is three or four episodes at a time spread out over several days.

Gregory’s Horror Show comes in far above expectations. Though it may not have the flash, production values, or even rounded heads of other anime, it still makes for an extremely unconventional experience that old school science fiction fans and intellectual anime viewers are sure to enjoy.

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