The true worth of a “bargain” is often in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? I mean, if I were to offer you a triple pack of DVDs for £2-45, you might be tempted… but what if the three films in question were The Grudge (2004), The Grudge 2 (2006) and The Return (2007)? Hmmm…
I’m not a big fan of gore or sadistic violence, so generally what I’m looking for in a horror flick is gothic elegance and/or supernatural surrealism… which is why I’m so fond of so-called “J-Horror” movies like Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) and Cursed (2004). They don’t really offer much in the way of plot or character depth, but they do offer plenty of creepy, crazy shocks to mess with your mind. There’s no point complaining about the American remake of Ju-on: The Grudge on grounds of artistic integrity, since the version I saw was also a remake… and Sam Raimi does give a decent account of his motivations for bringing the work of writer/director Takashi Shimizu to the attention of a wider Western audience, by keeping the original setting and shipping in a load of American characters. As someone who’s quite happy to watch/read subtitled films, I find it all a bit unnecessary and clunky, but apparently this version took big bucks at the box office, so I guess the gamble paid off…
The cast includes a lot of familiar faces, including Ted Raimi (of Xena fame), William Mapother (of Lost fame) and Bill Pullman (of Casper fame). Sarah Michelle Gellar (of Southland Tales fame) plays the film’s main protagonist, ‘Karen Davis’, an exchange student who takes a job as a care worker for extra credit, only to find herself sent to a haunted house, where the ghosts of a creepy kid and his contortionist mother get up to all sorts of spooky shenanigans. Karen’s supposed patient is an elderly woman suffering from severe lethargy and mild dementia, played by Grace Zabriskie… who has not only appeared in a number of David Lynch projects over the years (most notably as Laura Palmer’s mother ‘ Sarah’, in Twin Peaks), but also played George Costanza’s disapproving mother-in-law-to-be in Seinfeld. Here she shares the house with her son (Mapother) and his wife, played by Clea DuVall (of But I’m a Cheerleader! fame). Aside from the unforgivable absence of Chiaki Kuriyama (who had a bit part in the original straight-to-video version), I can’t really quibble with the casting… and everyone performs as well as could be expected, considering their characters are basically just being set up to become catatonic curse-fodder.
Listening to the commentary, it sounds like everyone enjoyed their jaunt to Japan, and brought back plenty of fascinating “culture clash” anecdotes with them. When I went to California for a holiday, I was surprised by how disoriented I felt, even after years of watching American movies and TV shows… so lord knows how I’d fair in a country with a completely different language and alphabet! There’s a fun little scene in the film where DuVall’s character is in the supermarket, and she pokes a hole in the lid of a soup bowl to sniff the contents, because it’s the only way she can figure out what’s inside it… and the cast claim that their own, real-life experiences were very similar. I’d still like to visit Japan someday though. I know it won’t be anything like the Last Samurai-esque* Shangri-La I imagine it to be… but you’ve gotta respect a country that loves comic books and cartoons as much as they do!
* Fun fact: The Last Samurai (2003) was actually filmed in New Zealand!
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