Japanese horror doesn't get more tedious than "The Stranger From Afar," a DV misfire whose hodgepodge scenario, pretentious dialogue and laughable f/x make for risible viewing. This latest quickie offering by "Grudge" helmer Takashi Shimizu displays a similar inability to follow through on plot devices.

Japanese horror doesn’t get more tedious than “The Stranger From Afar,” a DV misfire whose hodgepodge scenario, pretentious dialogue and laughable f/x make for risible viewing. This latest quickie offering by “Grudge” helmer Takashi Shimizu displays a similar inability to follow through on plot devices, here centered on a fear-obsessed cameraman and some silly creatures living underground.

William Castle’s old howler “The Tingler,” in which Vincent Price’s mad scientist discovers a creature that feeds off human fear, is back here in a new form, with equally nonsensical results. Freelance news photog Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is fixated on the concept of terror, and after filming a man’s grisly suicide, he becomes convinced that people see something truly terrifying at the precise moment of maximum fear.

His exploration leads him to a series of tunnels beneath Tokyo, where he encounters the supposed suicide and is partly guided through this dingy netherworld. All major cities have similar networks of underground spaces, he’s told, inhabited by “detrimental robots,” or Deros — white humanoid creatures who scamper on all fours and don’t seem to have any point in the plot at all.

Continuing into the depths, Masuoka comes to a stalactite-filled cavern incongruously full of natural light (think original “Star Trek” TV art direction). There he finds a nude woman (Tomomi Miyashita) chained to a rock and takes her home. She can’t talk, has difficulty walking, and doesn’t eat, but those incisors aren’t sharp for nothing.

How exactly this woman connects with the Deros is never explained, nor who (or what) she really is. Meanwhile, that fear concept blows in and out more often than hurricanes in the Caribbean. Chiaki Konaka’s inane, heavy-handed script bounces from one disconnected idea to the next with little horror, although Shimizu avidly follows along as if it all had some deep meaning. At least the “Grudge” films provided brief moments of creepiness, something utterly lacking here.

Video quality is passable, although Shimizu uses way too many super-grainy surveillance camera shots. Budget concerns must have hampered set design, but there’s little excuse for the laughably obvious painted backdrops in the underground caverns. In an attempt to provoke a desperately needed mood of fear, Shimizu relies too heavily on electronic sound effects that become, as in “The Grudge,” monotonous, if not plain annoying.

The Stranger From Afar

Japan

Production

A Euro Space Inc. production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris). Produced by Kenzo Horikoshi, Mikihiko Hirata, Yoichiro Onishi, Atsuko Ohno. Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Screenplay, Chiaki Konaka.

Crew

Camera (color, Dvcam), Tsukasa Tanabe; editor, Masahiro Ugajin; music, Toshiyuki Takine; production designer, Atsuo Hirai; costume designer, Kuniko Hojo; sound, Gen Komiya. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Digital Cinema), Sept. 10, 2005. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho Ninagawa, Shun Sugata.
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