Ju-On * Takashi Shimizu * 2002

the grudge

The cover says “from the makers of Ringu (The Ring)”, but in fact the story is of Hiroshi Takahashi who wrote the story of the original Ringu, but as far as I know, the director of “Ju-On” had nothing to do with any of the Ring-films. Anyway, I suppose most of you know at least the first Ringu? Of course I am not talking about the American remake. Ringu was said to be the most frightening film ever and even though the atmosphere is indeed extremely pressing in comparison to Western horrors, I didn’t run out of the room in a fright. But didn’t you too love that scene at the end where Sadako crawls out of the television screen?!? Well in that case, Ju-On is at least 5x scarier than Ringu, because there are several scenes like the one I described from Ringu. Here and there the films are a bit too much alike, but Ju-On is definately very dark, pressing and pretty scary. Like in other Japanese horrors, the atmosphere is mostly created by the sound, so be sure to watch this on on DVD. Deep rumbling, weird sounds, vocal tricks combined with disturbing images, but not much blood. This sure is my kind of thriller/horror. Shimizu even managed to give me goose-flesh a few times. Maybe more of awe than of fright, but the atmosphere is so great!
Minor point: there is not too much story about Ju-On. Again it deals with a curse of a revenging ghost. The title “Ju-On” is explained in the beginning. It is the grudge (but “wratch” or “vengeance” would have been a better translation) of a person who died violently. This is all you need to know, and please keep this advice in mind: do not read the back of the box! because it gives away every surprise that there could possibly be. Oh, the story is a bit hard to follow and it is hard to say if it is given chronologically or if different stories/chapters play in different periods of time. This also comes from the fact that Japanese women are (at least for me) hard to keep apart anyway and when they also change haircuts during the film, I am lost.

Anyway, just like the four Ring-films and for example Kakashi, this film should be watched in a dark room on big speakers at high volume. Also for this film goes that you should watch it for the atmoshere, not for the cheap frights of Western horrors, because you won’t get any. So if you like that and you like the Rings, you will love this one!

Janghwa, Hongryeon * Ji-woon Kim * 2003

a tale of two sisters

A strange film about two sisters who return home after having spend some time in a mental institution. At home there lives a terrible stepmother. I have seen the film only ones so far and I don’t understand much of the story. One of the sisters died and the other can’t get over that. The stepmother is -to say the least- strange and somehow a monster (or an imaginary monster?) is formed.
The director comes from South Korea, but the film is a horror in the Japanese style such as Ringu, Ju-On or Kakashi. The film is more horror than Ringu, but not as much as Ju-On. The atmosphere is more or less the same, but “A Tale Of Two Sisters” has some other styles of filming as well, especially in the beginning. It is a nice film, with a nice atmosphere, but I will have to see it again to be able to judge the story.

Honogurai mizu no soko kara * Hideo Nakata * 2002

Dark Water

This is something I already feared. Japanese horrors are nice, but too much the same and most are just nice and not really good. Nakata was at least the director that gave Japanese horror a place in the world of film with his “Ringu” and “Dark Water” is one of the earlier other films in this vein, but I saw it way too late. Anyway, the original “Ringu” is nice, but not as scary as “Ju-On” for example. “Dark Water” isn’t also one of the better films in this style, but still it is an enjoyable film. Again a cursed house, but as the title suggests, water plays a major part in it. The atmosphere is not as pressing as in the other mentioned films, so this is actually more of a thriller maybe. An alright film.

The Grudge * Takashi Shimizu * 2004

Just like “Ringu” was made into the American version “The Ring”, “Ju-On” was anounced to get an American version as well. “The Grudge” started playing in the USA just when I was in Seattle and a few months later it is already here. My interest was caught when I found out that this time the project was at least still in the hands of the original director and I wondered how much Shimizu himself would Americanise (or to put it even more American: Americanize) his own creation.

So yesterday we went to one of the three local cinemas where “The Grudge” is shown. “Scarier than the Ring” the poster says. The same can be said about the original versions. Unfortunately we took a cinema which has the film in a small room with no surround sound which would definately have added to the effect.
It was a big relieve to find out that Shimizu left his film(s) in a rather Japanese style. The setting is even still in Japan, but now there are Americans who went to live their for work who get to fall under the curse. There is quite much Japanese language at the atmosphere is mostly left in tact. There are some Americanisations to be detected. There is more use of music, some scenes are slightly altered, some fright-moments have been added and an awfull horrorish special effect with no use is dragged in. In general the film remains fairly close to the originals though. I say originals, because the film has elements and stories of both part 1 and 2 (of “Ju-On: the grudge”, I haven’t seen either of the TV versions “Ju-On: the curse”). The sound is still an element that adds to the creapy atmosphere, which is extremely dense and pressing. There is a still a big part of mystique however no so much is left to the imagination anymore. The light and dark elements are still much in use and ‘the monster’ didn’t become too much of a monster (fiew). Those of you who have seen the Japansese versions will recognise bits of both Japanese parts and find out that other parts of the story have been cunningly altered in order to fit in the new version.

Karen is an American student who is in Japan for probation and it is her who works at the welfare instution. Her boyfriend is also in Japan for study, but he is added to the story. Also added in an American professor who appears to be the cause of the curse. Also some answers are given that are not clear in the Japanese film, while other things are left vague. Some scenes seem a bit out of place now too, since they were too easily taken from the original scripts (the haunted sister, the hung man banging against the wall).

Overall I must say that I am definately not dissatisfied with this American version. The atmosphere is still extremely pressing (some scenes leave the extreme atmosphere for an almost unbearable span of time) and the Japanese-horror-feeling is left mostly in tact. I wonder if the ‘normal horror audience’ will find this a scary film too, but to speak for myself, seeing a film like this on the big screen, is an extra addition to the effect. Shimizu has brung me gooseflesh again, but since I mostly knew what was coming, not as much as the first time I saw the first Japanese part. All in all I can highly recommand this film to anyone who wan’t to see a really good horror without the splatter and humour and also to anyone who has seen and liked the Japanese films.

Geoul Sokeuro * Seong-Ho Kim * 2003

into the mirror

This is a Korean film so of course it is compared to Asian horror clasics like “Ringu”, “Ju-On” and of course “Janghwa, Hongryeon”. This is not just! “Geoul Sokeuro” is not a ‘pure horror’ film like the others. In basis “Geoul” is a crime/police film, but the subject is ‘supernatural’. The film starts nice Asian dark and horrorish, but most of the film is more like a police-film, but in this case looking for an inhuman murderer. The film is nice and at least a variety to the popular theme, so that is a good thing. The story is not too original, but typical for an Eastern film, it is superstitious/mythological.

From Hell * Albert and Allen Huges * 2001

Well, I read and heard a few things about this film which made me curious enough to go see it. It is said that this film is very scary and mostly because of the impressive sound and not as much because of the images and horror-shock-effects. Two conclusions to start with for those who would want to see this film because of similar stories: 1- the film is not the least bit scary; 2- I don’t know what all this talking about the sound is, but I didn’t experience anything different from any other film.

Let me dig out the conclusions a bit deeper. “From Hell” is said to be a horror film just like for example “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, “Interview With A Vampire” or “Sleepy Hollow”. We all know that these films are much different from a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, more refined, better worked out, no splatter-horror. Also none of the mentioned films is frightening (personally I usually say that the first scary film still has to be made). “From Hell” is in the vain of the first three. The story plays in the darker times of our history and is more ‘thrillerish’ than horror. Also “From Hell” isn’t much more explicit or anything than the other three films.
The sound then. What you usually hear is that you don’t see Jack the Ripper cutting up an “unfortunate woman” but hearing it is what makes it scary. Besides some slashing and gargling (what you hear in any horror) there isn’t much more to the sound than some dark deep tones that we all know of David Lynch for example, nothing more, really. Besides, “From Hell” is pretty gory at times, with extreme closeups of cut-up bodies and blood all over the place. Quite contrary to the usual reviews, not?

In short the story, because there are two major minor points in it. Frederick George Abberline (Johhny Depp) is a police-officer who under influence of Laudanum (a poison known to alchemists) has visions about cases he is working on. Recently a group of five “unfortunate women” (“there are no whores in England, but oh so many unfortunate women”) are terrorrised by a serial killer who kills them one by one and brutely/ritually cuts up the bodies and leaves them at a place where they are easily found. Of course Abberline falls in love with one of the women, being the beautiful Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) while trying to crack the case with his unusual capacities. Funnily enough there is no happy end for the two.
Then to the bad points in the story. Somewhere halfway you see the Ripper close his small case with equipment and you clearly see the square and compass that form the most well-known symbol of the Freemasons. This made me fear the worst and my fears came more than true. Around the end you see several rituals of the ‘evil’ Masons and Jack the Ripper turns out to be a Mason doing his Mason duty and cutting up the bodies in a Masons ritual way.
And if this is not enough, Jack the Ripper is exposed, while the real example of modern serial killers was never found!!

So, is “From Hell” a bad film? Not at all! It is not quite what you hear and the story is quite horrible, but the acting is good, the stages and locations are wonderfull and there are some brilliant dark scenes when Abberline has his visions. ‘Filmographically’ it is really well-done and entertaining and definately worth to see.

Fallen * Gregory Hoblit * 1998

Not bad, for a Hollywood ‘supernatural horror’! John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) and ‘Jonesey’ (John Goodman) are two cops that have been partners for “12+ years”. Hobbes caught the gruesome serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) who is fried in the electric chair. Then an amusing film developes in which you fairly quickly learn that an evil spirit wants to make the life of Hobbes miserable. However the story is slightly thin and some things are a bit too obvious, the end is still a bit of a surprise. The atmosphere is alright and the actors are doing fine, they even make the story fairly credible.

Ed Gein * Chuck Parello * 2000

“The true story of Ed Gein” as told in all it’s gruesome details resulting in a disturbing horror film. NOT!

This film is actually called “In The Light Of The Moon” and of course tells the story of one of the many American serial killers. Ed Gein (Steve Railsback) lived with his brother, mother and authoritive father on a farm somewhere in a small, remote village. Somewhere along the line the father died and Ed was happy about it. Shortly after that Ed accidentally kills his brother and makes it look like an accident, he was already quite aged by that time. Then for quite a while Ed lived alone with his extremely religious/Christian mother who gives him most of his ideas. When his mother dies and Ed lives totally alone on the big farm he is a bit of an outcast in the village where he lives. Not seeming too intelligent, Ed does read a lot about headhunters, grave robbers and similar subjects which in combination with his extremely ‘fundamentalistic’ Christianity results in a twisted logic. Obviously confusing fantasy and reality Ed starts to dig up corpses from the local graveyard and decorates his house with heads, faces, lamps made from spines, skulls and similar objects. After a while Ed starts to make corpses himself, again under influence of his mother who he has visions off. After killing two local women and feeding one to a befriended family, Gein is caught and taken to jail.

“Ed Gein” is nowhere more gruesome than any other film and only on a few places there is ‘something to be seen’. Neither is this a horror film (fortunately!) in my opinion, because it is not made to make you jump out of your chair with fright. Actually this is a drama also showing the human side of a serial killer, mostly just being a man having lost it. Also I find the film rather chastened, since only in one short scene you can see Gein dressed up as a woman in the skins of his victims. Gein was even more disturbed than this film dared to show!
A pretty boring movie.

Donnie Darko * Richard Kelly * 2001

How often have I been how great this film is and how stupid of me that I haven’t seen it. By different people even. A couple of days ago I saw it in the videostore and (unlike me) decided to give it a go.
Well, where and why is this film good? It is a boring teenager horror/thriller. Donnie Darko gets a visitor from the future and changes present time. Nothing scary, nowhere surprising, nothing special.

Dawn Of The Dead * Zack Snyder * 2004

I have never been fond of horror films, so I never saw the 1978 original of this film. Watching DOTD I already see why I never watch this kind of horror. The beginning and the end are good, strange filmographic jokes and a nice, dark atmosphere. The rest of the film is slashing and not the least bit scary, atmospheric or anything, just a bloody action film. I usually see these kinds of films as comedies, but after a few hundreds of liters of blood, also the fun goes down rapidly.
The ‘story’ is about a strange epidemic in which people are bitten by a rerisen dead and become ‘undead’ themselves. The undead have to eat living human flesh. A few survivers hide in a mall. They better waited until the undead simply died of hunger, but in order to make the film more interesting, they leave their hiding place and get killed themselves. I wasn’t bored stiff watching the film, but it certainly didn’t rise any interest in the American horror genre. <10/4/05><2>