Gregory Horror Show: The Nightmare Begins Review
You're lost, alone in the woods with no sense of direction. But wait! Up ahead there stands a hotel. What could it be doing out here in the middle of nowhere? As you move closer you see "Gregory House" - a dimly lit building, with just the flickering of light masking another worldly creation perhaps? With no choice dare you enter and discover what awaits within?
Gregory Horror Show comes from the mind of Naomi Iwata, who first cut her teeth on the CG animated Pecola, which began in 1998 and was later turned into a series co funded by Canadian children's entertainment company, Nelvana and the Japanese, Milky Cartoon. The series took place in Cube Town and followed the life of a young penguin named Pecola, who would get up to a different adventure each day, often getting into trouble and meeting the friendly folk of Cube Town. Making the series unique is its character presentation - cube headed animals with differing personalities that ensured the series success. After this ultra cute series, Iwata took her unique yet simple designs and placed them into the realm of horror. In collaboration with Milky Cartoon and TV Asahi, "Project Gregory Horror Show" began production in 2000. The concept is again simple but effective as you, the viewer are placed into this strange, mystifying world, in a collection of first person episodes that along the way questions life's values.
First things first, Gregory Horror Show is unlike anything you'll have ever seen, best described as a psychological game of interaction in which you have no control. That's the trick, the main character is you, from the moment you arrive at the seedy hotel until the final moment when your forced decisions may or may not save you from its clutches. As the protagonist you have certain things to adjust to, a voice (yours) accompanies each episode, setting up the various moral dilemmas that you face. As well as this your life is also mapped out. While we don't learn this until later on you have in fact a family, so it becomes significant that whoever's body you possess is linked to the outside world which makes your predicament all the more desperate. A further restriction is that for this volume you play the role of a man, so in terms with identifying the show may not always hit its mark. That said the concept is interesting enough to place you in the shoes of a lost one, trapped in a hotel of lost souls.
Helping you to drive along the narrative is the titular Gregory - the hotel's owner who greets you in each of your episodic journeys through the dark corridors where time seems to not exist. Gregory is a talking rat, a sniggering little rodent who asks the most ambiguous of questions and dares you to enter beyond closed doors by telling you never to go to certain places within the hotel. Your natural curiosity forces you to leave your dank room and discover many of the bizarre inhabitants who reside there, placing you in dangerous situations to which Gregory rarely offers to help out, rather these situations that happen before your very eyes force you to question your own soul and beliefs. As a result of these questions the series not so much scares the viewer but confounds them. The entire run is constructed of questions that are meant to aid you if you ever hope to escape and make it back to your family. Spiritually and physically the series tries to drain you but unfortunately the act of desperation and effort is lost upon the viewer - there's only so much interaction that can be taken.
Each of these moments last for little more than 3-minutes - what would seem nothing more than quick fire vignettes actually make up a story arc, one which doesn't just leave you as the main source of focus but concentrates small amounts of effort onto its growing repertoire of quirky characters.
Gregory Horror Show really comes into play when showing us the freaky little creations of Iwaka, each of which is as imaginative as the next. The most notable aspect is the look of the series, each character being built up of blocks. It's crude yet nicely executed and adds an extra sense of surrealism to the proceeding, especially when you, the protagonist supposedly looks entirely human, making this most certainly a world far from our own. This presumption naturally stems from a transmission we witness through the TV head of a ghostly resident fish that haunts the corridors and proceeds to show you your son who cries for you to come home. Gregory is the first character we meet; we learn later that he has an argumentative mother who lives upstairs. He's always sly, making obscure gestures before disappearing down a corridor somewhere. We soon meet Catherine - a purple reptilian nurse who constantly carries a syringe around with her, which is larger than her own body. She loves nothing more than taking blood from the hotel guests and relishes in the opportunity of taking yours, in pure orgasmic ecstasy. Hell's Chef works in the kitchen, his speciality seems to be soup, made from very dubious ingredients, though give him a chance and he'll gladly make something of you (just like he did with the other guests no doubt). Along the way you'll be introduced to Neko Zombie - a once beautiful creature who woke up one day and found his eyes, ears and mouth stitched up, he also suffers from a perpetually empty stomach. Then there's Mummy Papa and his son Mummy Dog, who both suffer from extreme headaches brought on by knives lodged in their skulls. The mad toilet baby, skeletal Dead Body and the awful marksman, Cactus Gunman represent just a few of the weird and wonderful characters you'll meet but perhaps the most intriguing of all is Judgement Boy and his infectious introductory song. Judgement Boy arrives with his scales of justice throughout several episodes and asks you an important question that usually entails having to choose between a loved one or yourself. Being fairly psychotic though your answer is never going to be right and Judgement Boy forces you to live with your decision that supposedly is meant to leave you thinking that you're a pretty bad person. I gotta hand it to Iwata - she's bonkers alright. But where Gregory Horror Show might fail in some areas it more than makes up for it with this collection of weirdo's - these things that represent the fears we hold in our minds.
In addition to the quirky characters is a purely computer rendered environment that is far from welcoming. The series is dark, dank and depressing but then it's supposed to be and the animation itself is quite masterfully handled. The series isn't designed to rival the likes of Applessed and Pixar or push the boundaries of what computer animation can achieve, rather it takes the medium and manipulates it in ways we haven't seen. This brings about a nice change; it shows a simpler approach that having been utilised more effectively can do wonders for its environment. Although the series rarely even borders on scary its designs are nonetheless intriguing. For children it may well cause a few upsets as several episodes are quite abrupt - with the appearance of Lost Dolly being effective in a sharp turn of events. Director, Kazumi Minagawa brings a great sense of ambience to each episode, the lighting is quite superb throughout and a sense of belonging in this place is realistically met. It's a shame that the setting isn't capitalised on far greater, beside the fleeting moments that do occur to offset the viewer there is little left to truly chill. Try as it might to send shivers down our spines it merely succeeds in aesthetically pleasing on a different level - a sense of technical wonder done on the cheap.
With 25 episodes here one would think that there's plenty of value but despite Geneon's listed 73-minute running time (I presume they're including the extras) the episodes here only clock in at just over 60-minutes. As mentioned these episodes are very short, having aired individually on TV in Japan before the eventual DVD collections. In some ways these episodes work extremely well, when focused on an individual topic or scenario - for example Judgement Boy bringing another question for you to ponder. As a fully flowing narrative piece that sees you trying to escape it doesn't always succeed because there are moments that struggle to connect it together. Gregory Horror Show feels like a jigsaw with missing pieces, the answers are there, often within yourself but the mystery of this crazy hotel and its characters’ relations is a whole other matter. There are a couple more volumes after this so I should hope that things begin to gel a little better in future. In the meantime volume 1 offers plenty of interesting bits and pieces. It's a strange mix of horror and fantasy with unclear motivations and relationships between its deformed guests. In conjunction with trying to unsettle the show rests on how well it can make the viewer examine their own existence. I'm not sure it works entirely, though it poses a level of poignancy at times and at others it reaches out desperately. Gregory Horror Show's slight misdirection at achieving what it sets out to is what ultimately makes it a slight disappointment. Its surreal nature works for it, even a touch of humour but as a self labelled horror piece it doesn't quite come together. Psychologically its flawed but nevertheless it remains fascinating and highlights just what the CG medium is capable of. I can't say I've ever witnessed a show like it and for that it deserves praise. As an introductory piece of work it's drawn me into its inspired little world.
It's certainly an interesting series for Geneon to have licensed. This first of three volumes comes in a standard amaray case with attractive artwork. No reversible sleeve this time and just a little insert of chapter stops but the extras on the DVD are a worthwhile treat if very sparse.
Gregory Horror Show is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Its full frame presentation adds a claustrophobic element which was likely aimed for. The shots are often tight, constricted to small rooms and hallways and this is captured greatly. The transfer itself is good, if not a little mixed. For a computer rendered show you can expect some banding and pixelation, particularly during its foggy moments, though these aren't too distracting. The image has a constant grain which counteracts most of this problem but black levels tend to suffer slightly. Here they become murkier than most of the other colours, which surprisingly there are a lot of, appearing dark but muddy which is evident when characters come and go along corridors and lighting patterns shift. Much of this can likely be attributed to the original rendering and for the most part the series is well suited to this look.
The sound department is where I have the bigger issues. Geneon has decided to put this out in 2.0 English only. I'm not sure why this is so and I've tried to contact them to ask why the Japanese track wasn't included but as yet I've not had any response. With that in mind let’s talk about how well the English track works. It's not too bad actually; the voices are fairly well suited though Gregory can begin to wear thin due to his slimy sounding voice and constant sniggering. Dave Pettitt's performance is slightly overplayed but bearable, given the nature of the series a little over embellishment is to be expected. In other areas some of the voices are great. Byron Close's Hell's Chef is fun but best of all is Steve Olson as Judgement Boy - a character who’s already become a favourite of mine. He delivers a very funny performance and his little song is delectable. Elinor Holt as Catherine is amusing and she seems to get into the role wholeheartedly, particularly when her character is required to draw blood. It's become a case of adjusting to the series that relies here on its English translation. I know what to expect in future and at least it isn't as bad as I was expecting. Ocean Productions have done a decent job.
Voices aside the track manages to deliver plenty of ambient sounds and effects. They're not quite as flesh crawling as they try to be and given the limitations of 2.0 there's little to get under our skin. The front speakers pick up dialogue clearly and there's little separation. For a horror show and being that I watch this kind of thing late I had hoped for a more involving experience. This could well have benefited from a full 5.1 mix, particularly the music which doesn't quite reach its potential.
Unfortunately for those who require subtitles and would have liked to have checked out the series, Geneon have failed to provide any.
The Bloody Karte
Geneon has given us Cases 1-4 of the spin-off show The Bloody Karte. These run for the same length as the standard Gregory Horror Show episodes but this time they take place at the local hospital which is run by Dr. Fritz, assisted by Catherine. Characters from the hotel crop up here and there and these episodes try to deliver far more sinister tones. I'm not sure why Gregory wanders around with a drip so often and manages to get back to his hotel so frequently but these episodes rarely have much to do with Gregory and focus a lot more on Catherine's obsessions.
Gregory Horror Show Action Figures
This is nothing more than one measly page with a photo for Gregory's toy.
Trailers for Submarine 707R, eX-Driver: The Movie and Gad Guard.
It comes as no surprise that the very notion of this playing out like a game ended up fuelling a Playstation 2 release and a card game, with a toy line up following. Gregory Horror Show is one of the more interesting shows I've seen recently but for its first outing it doesn't quite capture the soul so to speak. There's plenty to like about it but given its limitations as being a forced tour its life span becomes questionable. Naomi Iwata has come up with an interesting premise and although this wasn't designed with DVD in mind it would have undoubtedly been more successful had we been given full interactivity here. I await Volume 2 with the hopes that something more comes from this style of storytelling.