The list of films to recommend related to this remake will make for a busy weekend.
In 2000, Takashi Shumizu made a low-budget horror film based on a concept he had been developing in a pair of short films. That concept was a twist on the classic Japanese ghost story (onryō) where an aggrieved spirit haunts the place it died. And hunts those that wronged it. The movie was Ju-On: The Curse, and it would go on to inspire nearly a dozen films.
In 2004, Shumizu got the green light to make an American adaptation of the third film in the Ju-On series, called The Grudge. It struck just as J-Horror reached a fever pitch, thanks to hits like The Ring. While it generated less praise than The Ring, it did well and created it’s own mini franchise of US based films.
Ten years later, we now are poised to see an up and coming horror director, Nicolas Pesce, take the franchise back to its roots. If you’d like to see the best of what came before…as well as some of the more interesting misfires…we’ve got a haunted house full of recommendations to see instead.
The Grudge (2020)
After a tragic murder, a single mother and detective tries to investigate and solve the case. Later, she discovers the house where the murder happened is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death.The Grudge (2020)
This version of The Grudge seems to lean more heavily on the police investigation into the murders that center on the house. Instead of a hard remake, it’s more of a gentle reboot. The original was split between the social worker and her family inside the house and the police detectives working the murder case outside. This seems to condense those two threads.
The Serious Pick: Ju-On: The Curse (2000)…and Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)…and The Grudge (2004)!
Alright. Let’s dig into Takashi Shumizu’s ghostly franchise.
The Seiki’s family becomes the genesis of an immortal curse when a jealous husband murders his young wife, Kayako, and their young son. As multiple people come in contact with the house where the tragedy occurred, the vengeful ghosts haunt and murder them.Ju-On: The Curse
Shumizo’s original is like Japan’s The Evil Dead. Shot for short money in only 9 days, it’s a testament to economy. The creature design was inspired by a childhood terror of the director’s, and he evokes it masterfully with minimal effects and fantastic sound work. Claustrophobic shots, mostly at low angles, give the film a twisted perspective. No wonder the guys behind the actual Evil Dead movies snapped up the American rights to it!
A social worker is sent to replace a missing co-worker at a run down home. The home, it turns out, is the old Seiki house, and the ghosts are still around, looking to spread their vengeance.Ju-On: The Grudge.
Shumizo’s third entry to the film is a hybrid sequel and remake. While it doesn’t discount any of the old plot, it does take the opportunity to use the series’ notoriety to expand the budget. It’s interesting as a comparison to the original and the American version, though it does show that the franchise had pretty much run out of new things to say.
An American social worker and her family accept a job in Tokyo. The gig pays strangely well, as it is involves working at a location no other employees want to touch. You guessed it, the old Seiki house, home to some angry ghosts!The Grudge (2004)
I enjoyed the US version of The Grudge, but it pales compared to The Ring or the Japanese originals. It plays with some different themes, though, mostly dislocation and alienation, that give the horror a different flavor. Shumizu certainly took Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert up on the bigger budget for some more creepy visuals. That shower scene is so iconic that it became the whole marketing ploy of the 2020 reboot!
The Lighthearted Pick: Sadako Vs. Kayako (2016)
Two teens attend a lecture about local urban legends. They’re initially skeptical, but their perspectives soon change. One teen finds an old VHS tape possessed by the spirit of Sadako (The Ring). Her friend learns that their new home is next to the cursed house haunted by the ghost, Kayako (The Grudge). To survive, they attempt to pit the two wraiths against each other.
This film is a big ol’ baloney sandwich…and it knows it. When you make a campy “Vs.” movie, it helps to be in on the joke. There is certainly more grotesque humor than iconic horror, but that ends up being the film’s endearing quality. The two threads of the competing curses are interesting and don’t require much knowledge of the two series.
The final fight between the two creepy, pale ghosts? Well…the jokes are pretty good!
The Unconventional Pick: The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Young Francesca grows up on an isolated farm with her parents. Her mother, a trained surgeon, clinically instructs her in the dissection of animals.
One day a vagrant visits the farm and brutally kills Francesca’s mother before her father can subdue the man. Franscesca maims the man and keeps him locked up in the family’s barn. As she grows, she begins to see her prisoner as her friend, and spirals into a murderous spree to find more “friends.”
Director Nicolas Pesce rose to notice in the horror world for his debut film, The Eyes of My Mother. This film was not only a notable horror film, but quite a critical darling as well. It certainly deserves all of the glowing press…but be warned this movie is harrowing as all hell to watch.
Themes of isolation, alienation, and how trauma and lack of empathy can warp a person pervades the piece. Pesce gives you just enough time to chew over these themes before tossing you into a sea of violence and mutilation. Filmed in a gorgeous black and white, it somehow makes all of the blood feel more visceral.
The Eyes of My Mother reminded me of the fantastic French horror, High Tension, where the physical violence and psychological abuse really drive the thematic elements home. It’s a rock solid horror movie that rewards those with the stomach to withstand it.