Tales from the Dead consists of four ghost stories shared between a hitchhiker and the medium who picks her up. In the first, the medium visits a haunted house; in the second, a cop uncovers ghosts on an investigation; in the third, a man gets what he wished for, and dies regretting it; and in the fourth, we learn that the hitchhiker may or may not be dead herself. Jason Cuadrado filmed his debut feature in Los Angeles with an all-Japanese cast, but the prospect of a foreign film made in America is the only innovation here. Put simply, Tales from the Dead is a terrible movie. Each segment proceeds the same way, the frame story’s black-and-white digital photography switching to the smotched-up, blotchy color of each individual story. Spooky piano music (duh-duh-duh-duh) accompanies dialogue either hopelessly underwritten (“The dead can’t find peace until they make right”) or overwritten (“In the immortal words of Albert Einstein, it’s all relative”). The actors playing the ghosts, with their caked-on makeup, aren’t any scarier than Goth music fans. Each story proceeds like a Twilight Zone episode, with didactic establishing speeches, developing chaos, and a not-so-shocking shocking twist (plus pat moral) at the end. The only thing missing is a sense of humor.
The frame story's black-and-white photography is fairly legible, though overlit. The color imagery of the individual ghost stories simply isn't good; characters sometimes look white or are blinded out of view. Motion appears blurred and muddy. What's clearest is that the movie was shot for cheap. The movie's sound generally aims for one effect at a time and hits you with blocks of noise rather than playing on you. Echoes sound whenever ghosts appear. The movie gets its obvious goals in perfectly competent fashion.
Jason Cuadrado adds another bad entry to America's J-horror canon.