Pet Shop of Horrors

In the summer of 1984, Joe Dante gave the kiddie world a good scare with his film Gremlins. If you were around at the time, you remember the hype surrounding this tale about a young man who gets a special pet with some very specific guidelines for its care and feeding. Although Gizmo's quite a cute creature, when his owner manages to break all of the ownership rules, he nearly destroys his idyllic little town. Now, it's nearly forgotten, but not for those of us who were 10 years old at the time! Pet Shop of Horrors is an intriguing riff on the same concept. Imagine that the old man selling Mogwhi in Gremlins had a son who runs an exotic pet shop in Chinatown, and you've got the idea.

Count D is that son, with hair that half covers his eyes, each a different color.  Many of the pets his store sells are merely unique. But some people who come to his shop need something a little more...parents mourning the loss of their daughter or a former star trying to reconnect with his former glory...and they desire a pet to restore their hopes and dreams. That's D's speciality. There's only one catch -- not only are these pets just this side of mythological, they have special needs, and not taking care of them properly can be devastating to creature and owner alike. Leon, a young detective, gets wind of D's pet shop and its links to a variety of different strange occurrences. Full of swagger, Leon is sure that Count D is behind it all. However, as he eventually strikes up an odd friendship with D, Leon learns that not every owner is worthy of his pet. Some pets teach their masters hard lessons...sometimes even deadly ones.

Pet Shop of Horrors was originally part of an anthology television series, as I understand it, and the four episodes made dwell in that animation realm. The disc released by Urban Vision is decent, though not particularly impressive. Although the show is from 1999, it actually looks a lot older than its pedigree, harkening back to horror films from the 1980s like Wicked City. Its palette is very dark with the corners of the screen often seeming hazy in their shadedness; however, this seems intentional, especially since outdoor sequences following Leon look bright and colorful. Although Pet Shop is not going to impress on its technical merits, I found the animation very effective in setting up the show's atmosphere. Based on a manga for women, there are lots of bishoujo males with incredibly thin figures, but it's not distracting.

The four episodes made really grow on you, one after the next. Admittedly, the first story is easily the weakest one; it is a bit too straightforward and predictable, though by the time it was over, I was pretty creeped out! However, because of the need to establish the characters and the basic show format, I was forgiving. And I'm glad I was, since each episode built steam from the last. Without spoiling anything, the show starts as a pedantic moralizer and becomes far more throughout its run.

At its heart, Pet Shop of Horrors is an anthology series with two lead characters that give us a secondary plot in each episode. Without Count D and Leon, Pet Shop would wind up being even more like the classic Twilight Zone series than it already is. But D and Leon give us another good reason to watch. The development of their difficult relationship helps Leon to see that D is not malicious in his intent. Yes, he sells unique and dangerous animals in the course of his business, but lots of minor characters are also his clients, apparently with good results. I'm not sure that I consider Count D a "good guy," by any stretch, but he's a more complex character than we initially believe, and if I had the time, I'd be inspired to find out more about him within the manga.

Pet Shop of Horrors was quite a surprise; Urban Vision is not known for licensing subtle shows, so to find that Pet Shop was more story-oriented and suspenseful rather than gory was most pleasant. If you've watched much intellectual horror like The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, you've seen the central stories of the series; for this factor and its theft of concept from Gremlins, I mark it down a bit for its lack of originality. But for a few spooky tales with a little bit of message and a shiver or two, Pet Shop of Horrors delivers.

Pet Shop of Horrors -- mild violence, brief nudity, brief gore, disturbing images -- A-