If you have seen Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters (1968), you know what the 100 Candles title is referring to. It was a Japanese parlor game (hyakumonogatari kaidankai), circa samurai age-ish, that involved arranging two or three rooms so they appeared like an L if you walked through them. Up to 100 persons could play, but I am not sure that ever happened, unless an entire village joined in. Each person, in turn, would tell a ghost story. Or curse story. Or monster story. As each story was told a light would be extinguished (hence the 100 candles or the original andon lanterns used back then). As each light was extinguished and a new story begun, the rooms would get darker and, presumably, a lot more creepy.
So the Japanese, who brought us the dark, long-haired J-horrors of our cinema nightmares, learned the craft of scaring the bejezus out of anyone hundreds of years ago by creating a mood and a sense of mounting dread. The trick was not to tell those 100 stories. The participants feared that if you reached the 100th story, terrors might be unleashed that were slowly building up as each story was finished, and each villager was quietly positioning themselves closer and closer to the exit just in case all hell broke lose. Now that is a game. Kind of like our contemporary haunt attractions, it relied on scary vignettes and mood lighting.
Sadly, that overall mood and tension is not to be found in 100 Candles.
Part of that lies with the actors in the wrap around story. They are supposed to be friends, but none of them are friendly and the game's host (Magui Bravi) least of all. One wonders why they all gathered together in the first place. More context and lead-in would have helped a great deal. Why are they playing the game? No one was having fun, not even before they started. No one seemed to have a reason for being there to play the game. None of the emotions on display indicated they even liked each other. An explanation of the game was more detailed than the characters playing it. After that explanation, we are into the first story about a witch that eats kids. It is short and sweet but could make for an entire movie with a fleshed out script.
The next story involves a domestic dispute and a twist-ending, followed by an unsettling but confusing sojourn into demonic children. A demon-haunted mother, a woman waking up in a coffin, a demonic possession, and a nasty habit concerning taking pictures with a cell phone round out the remaining scares.
The stories themselves are good and creepy and while fairly traditional in execution, have an earnest taste for blood and horror. But the wrap around story jostles with them uncomfortably. Eventually the wrap around reaches its climax but since we did not learn much about the game's participants we really do not care too much about them or what happens to them.
If you take away the wrapper, the horror candy inside is strong and visually arresting, so I recommend you watch this movie and fast forward through the game's participants as they stiffly dialog their growing concerns about the game (but never just leave), and watch the seven stories instead; which makes this a perfect on-demand view, so go at it.
Note: As always, I receive screeners, links, courtesy copies, etc., for some of my reviews. But I still review 'em as I see 'em. So there.