Throughout the 2000s, the American slasher film had a remake renaissance, with classics from the 70s and 80s getting 21st century treatments. Running alongside these was another spate of remakes with a much more recent lineage. The success of the Japanese horror film Ringu (1998) sparked interest in the “J-Horror” subgenre, and these movies were quickly remade for Western audiences. With only a few years separating the new versions from the originals, these American interpretations might be more accurately described as translations rather than remakes, as often not a great deal was changed.
In the case of The Grudge (2004), the Japanese setting was also kept, and it even had the same director as the original Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Takashi Shimizu. Because of this proximity, these films have a distinctly different feel to most popular Western supernatural horror. One aspect of this is the sheer level of threat that the ghostly entity possesses. In films like Poltergeist (1982) or The Amityville Horror (1979), a spook would trouble one family for the duration of the film, and then be vanquished at the end. Not so in J-Horror: the raging ghosts in these enact a furious curse on the living, hounding multiple characters and racking up body counts that would make a slasher villain envious.
So with that in mind, how would you go about clinging on to your slim chance of survival in a J-Horror remake? Here’s my guide letting you know what to take heed of, and what to beware…
Children spell disaster of one kind or another. Ghost children are often the tragic victims of accident or wrongdoing, which has set them on the path to becoming a vengeful and sometimes murderous supernatural entity. While sympathy is naturally in order in these circumstances, kind words and understanding won’t help you when you’re confronted by The Grudge‘s Toshio yowling at you like a cat, or when your already shoddy apartment is being repeatedly flooded by Natasha of Dark Water (2005). These spirits are both tenacious and deadly – your only option may be to make like Dark Water‘s Dahlia and give up your own life to become their mother forever.
Sometimes though, the child in question is the main instigator of all the terror, like Samara in The Ring (2002). In this case, it’d best to play by the rules and adopt avoidance tactics – copy that tape, and pass the problem on to someone else. Better keep an eye on you’re own children too – if they’ve recently got an imaginary friend or have started drawing sinister pictures, that’s a sure sign there’s a haunting afoot.
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Nothing good comes from a phone call in these films. If it’s not Samara on the line for a post video-screening chat to let you know you’ll die in a week, it’s Kayako calling to makes hideous creaking sounds, apparently just to freak you out. It doesn’t even help to not answer, as Aiden in The Ring finds out when Samara skips her usual seven day waiting period and climbs right out of the TV to kill him, phone in the background ringing off the hook. Call-screening is out too – if you let it go to voicemail you could end up in a One Missed Call (2008) scenario, receiving ominous voice messages from the future and desperately trying to avoid your inevitable grisly fate. Probably safest to ditch the phone altogether?
PHOTOGRAPHS & VIDEOS
Vengeful ghosts in J-Horror remakes are remarkably skilled at using and manipulating visual media. One of the most formidable villains of the genre, The Ring‘s Samara, has the ability to imprint her thoughts onto video tape, and later digital media, as a means to spread her lethal curse. After watching Samara‘s tape, the only way to avoid doom is to get someone else to watch it too, so you’d also be wise to ignore any recommendations from friends – best keep your viewing to properly scheduled TV, or a nice un-cursed DVD (ideally in its original packaging). But it’s not all bad news – this kind of spiritual interference can give you a heads-up about what’s really going on.
In The Grudge, Karen finds a stack of photos of Peter which have an image of Kayako in the background, giving her a hint that her obsession with Peter may be the root cause of the haunting. In the same film, Detective Nakagawa sees Kayako‘s spirit manifest on the surveillance tapes from Susan‘s office, letting him know that her disappearance could be linked to the strange happenings at the house.
We usually think of water-based horror as involving the open waters of the ocean, with peril coming from encountering a ghost ship, or being attacked by a sharks or ravaging sea monsters. In the J-Horror remake world, it’s the water in your own home that you should be worried about. Taps turn on by themselves, ghostly images appear in bathwater and malevolent spirits clamber up from dark wells. In Dark Water (a film so rainy that you feel you should be watching it from under an umbrella), water is inescapable. After a small girl, Natasha, accidentally drowns in the water tank on the roof of her apartment block, her ghost seeks to draw attention to her fate in dramatic fashion, repeatedly flooding the homes downstairs. As in real life, this level of damp should tell you that the place isn’t fit for living in, and it’s time to get out. But that’s easier said than done, as your attempts to escape or fix a haunted house might be blocked by another staple of this subgenre…
As well as vengeance-minded spooks, you might find yourself up against property owners that are either the original cause of the problems, or are no help when the supernatural happenings start going down. The Williams family in The Grudge get no warning from their estate agent about there being anything untoward about the place. We learn that the house has gone unoccupied for three years since Kayako and her family died, which suggests that there have already been some disturbances. In Dark Water, poor Dahlia gets little help from either her landlord or the maintenance man, despite the apartment above hers resembling a swimming pool. The blame for this haunting could even be said to be with the property owners in the first place – an unlocked door to the roof and a water tank with no cover adding up to be a recipe for tragedy.
J-Horror spirits have a signature style: pale face, white clothing and long, dark hair – most iconically seen in the character of Samara, whose damp locks obscure her face as she climbs out of the well in the cursed video. This uniform look will at least give you a chance to recognise that you’re probably dealing with a haunting, rather than just encountering someone with a gothic taste in fashion. Hair also appears as an omen or a warning – in The Grudge clumps of hair appear in the kitchen sink, while in Dark Water Dahlia finds some coming out of her taps. So if you start finding your plumbing clogged up with dank strands, calling a plumber won’t be enough – it’s time to face the fact that you’ve got a haunting on your hands.
So what’s your best chance to make it out alive? Unfortunately, once you find yourself in the world of a J-Horror or their remakes, you’re basically in a sticky situation with not a lot of options for survival. The vengeance ghosts you’re up against are pretty unforgiving and virtually unstoppable, whilst also being intelligent and tech-savvy. As Rachel does in The Ring, you can try palming the curse off onto someone else, although this does risk continued danger to humanity at large. You can try to burn it all to the ground like The Grudge‘s Karen, but there’s a chance that the haunting continues nonetheless. Sadly, you may have to just accept you’re now at the mercy of the supernatural for good and accept your fate, perhaps wishing you were in a slasher movie instead.
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