Ju-On: The Grudge

Writing a review of Ju-On: The Grudge is tough for me. This is a movie I avoided for months because I’d heard it was so scary. After actually watching it I was underwhelmed, but that might be because of my expectations. Or maybe I’m spoiled. Ju-On: The Grudge doesn’t hold a candle to Dark Water. I don’t know how it compares to Ringu, because I’ve only seen the American remake.

A man kills his wife, the family cat and his son. He dies soon afterwards. The house becomes cursed, meaning that anyone who steps foot inside dies. It might take awhile – even years – but eventually the ghosts will get you. The vengeful spirits in question are the wife Kayako, her son Toshio and the family cat. Sometimes the husband makes an appearance.

Rika is a social worker who enters the house to check on an elderly woman. It doesn’t take her long to meet the former occupants. The point-of-view switches to Kazumi, the elderly woman’s daughter-in-law; and then to Kazumi’s husband; and then the husband’s sister; and so on. This movie has no main character, which gives it the feel of a series of short films spliced together. It also makes it hard to view the characters as anything more than cannon fodder.

That would be okay, except Ju-On: The Grudge isn’t scary. It didn’t scare me, anyway. Parts of this movie are bizarre and freaky, but the jump scares didn’t make me jump. Perhaps that’s because I’m conditioned to respond to Hollywood type jump-scares. I give them points for creativity. Kayako crawls around on her belly and hisses like a rattlesnake and Toshio does a great cat imitation.

I wouldn’t describe Ju-On: The Grudge as a bad movie, but it has problems. It isn’t scary. The time shifts aren’t in chronological order, which is disorienting. I also didn’t care about any of the characters. This movie did hold my interest; my mood as I watched can be described as mildly interested. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps I’m not the intended audience and this is a movie for a younger audience.


We Are Still Here

 We Are Still Here is a sneaky movie, starting with brooding shots of the desolate New England landscape that scream arthouse horror and ending with the bloodiest gore sequences this side of Lucio Fulci. This movie has been in my Netflix Queue for months, mostly because it stars Barbara Crampton. Full disclosure: Ms. Crampton is my favorite Scream Queen, which made me predisposed to like this movie. I still remember seeing her in Re-Animator and From Beyond, way back in the 1980’s.

Anne and Paul are a middle-aged couple whose college-age son just died in an accident. For reasons I can’t fathom they move to a house in the middle of Nowhere, New England. To escape the memories, I guess? They’re visited by a pair of locals who seem shocked they’ve been in the house for two weeks and are still alive. The locals tell them a story about the first-ever people to live in the house, a family of morticians accused of selling the bodies. According to local legend, the townspeople drove them off. Hint: take a look at the movie’s title.

Anne believes her son’s ghost has followed them because she senses a presence in the house. She’s right, sort of. There are several presences in the house, and they aren’t friendly. When the electrician comes to fix the boiler he’s attacked by one of the ghosts living in the basement. Soot black with chalk white eyes, these ghosts are literally burning up.

Anne invites a second couple, Jacob and May, to visit. May is a self-proclaimed psychic who might be able to contact the entities in the house. May’s son and his girlfriend arrive when the couples are out enjoying a wild night in town (i.e., eating at the local equivalent of Applebee’s). They get frisky on the couch, which stirs up the cinder ghosts.

It is at this point that We Are Still Here goes gonzo. The wild car ride, cold-blooded murder and disastrous séance culminating in Jacob eating a sock are only the beginning. When the locals join the party the blood and brains really start to fly, including a great scene with a knife and a sickle. Yet the movie’s center holds. The end credits are a must because they fill in a few plot holes.

I liked We Are Still Here as much as It Follows, probably the most critically acclaimed horror movie of 2015. The acting and effects are good. This is a simple story, well-told, which is why it succeeds so well.



Shutter is a Thai horror movie directly inspired by the J-horror craze of the early aughts. The plot: Tun and Jane are a young couple driving home to Bangkok after partying with Tun’s skeevy college buddies. They’re both drunk, but Jane is the one driving when they hit a young woman. Jane wants to stop and check to see if the woman is all right but Tun yells at her to keep driving.

Afterwards, Jane feels awful and can’t sleep. Tun, who has the uncanny ability to put other people’s misfortunes behind him, has different problems. A professional photographer, he starts seeing weird shit in his photos. Then he has visions, all involving a malevolent dead woman. Jane sees things, too, but – unlike Tun – nobody seems to be stalking her, which is strange since she was the driver. It’s almost like someone is trying to tell her something – as ghosts do. Jane finds a photograph of Tun with a woman named Natre, whom Tun admits he knows.

Shutter takes a hard left turn when Tun and Jane discover that there were no reported accidents the night of their hit-and-run. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the woman Jane hit was Natre and that she wasn’t – uh, alive. Tun’s visions grow worse as his college buddies start practicing high-diving off buildings. What’s up? Watch the movie to find out!

Shutter exists because of evil-girl ghost movies like The Ring. That said, Natre isn’t an evil spirit; there are evil people in this movie, but she isn’t one of them. Shutter is well-written and visually striking, with foreshadowing that works, a ton of good jump scares and two twists at the end. The first twist isn’t a surprise if you’ve been paying attention, but for me it was hard to watch. The second twist surprised me, in a good way.

My only quibbles with Shutter are that the subtitles aren’t great and Jane is more sympathetic than Tun, the main character. That said, one of the real pleasures of this movie is watching Natre drive Tun crazy. A few of his visions resemble bad acid trips.

Highly recommended!

The Ring

Trivia question: what horror movie remake grossed a quarter of a billion dollars and helped spawn a horror subgenre in the U.S.? I am of course talking about the remake of The Ring, starring Naomi Watts. I would have watched Ringu – the original – but I can’t find it anywhere.

The plot: intrepid reporter Rachel hears an urban legend about a cursed videotape that will supposedly kill you seven days after viewing. After tracking the videotape down and watching it, Rachel’s hardboiled skepticism quickly turns to complete belief. Despite the danger, Rachel makes a copy of the videotape and shows it to her ex, who comes to believe her but isn’t angry that she, you know, showed it to him.

The videotape itself is a bunch of disjointed images that don’t seem to make any sense, and most of The Ring is devoted to deciphering them. Following a trail of lighthouses, falling ladders, dead horses and hidden wells leads our heroine to the ghost of a creepy little girl. Can Rachel decipher the angry spirit’s secret before her seven days are up?

Two things struck me about The Ring. The first is that certain plot elements of this movie most likely inspired It Follows. The second is the lack of jump scares; J-horror is infamous for its creepy children and jump scares. With the exception of the ending, The Ring isn’t all that scary. When it comes down to it, not a whole lot happens in this movie.

I also didn’t like Rachel, The Ring’s main character. If you found a cursed videotape that is supposed to kill you seven days after viewing, would you watch it? A lot of people might, especially skeptics. Would you make a copy and show it to your ex? Maybe, if you didn’t like your ex. How about bringing the videotape home and leaving it around the living room so your curious child can watch it? Thoughtlessness is one thing; blatant stupidity is something else.

I bought The Ring fifteen years ago. After watching half the movie, I hit the Stop button. Now I remember why I did it. Unfortunately, this movie just doesn’t hold up.

Helloween Day Seven: It Follows

It Follows is an American horror movie released in 2014. I bought the Blu-Ray last year and it sat in my cabinet for months, unwatched. I’ve heard a lot about this movie, good and bad. There are people who love it, and people who think it’s way overrated. You know, everyone’s got an opinion. I heard the hype and bought the movie, so it’s based on my own recommendation.

The plot: Annie is a high school student who starts dating Hugh. Annie likes Hugh, even though he’s a weirdo who does things like flee movie theaters in a panic because he sees people who aren’t there. They have sex in his car and then he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair and tells her that it will follow her and she should pass it on, just like he did to her. Right on cue, the naked woman shows up. It turns out that Hugh has indeed passed it on; but instead of a venereal disease, it’s a bloodthirsty evil spirit. Slow but implacable, it follows. If it kills Annie, it will come for Hugh, and then the person who gave it to him, and so on.

I thought It Follows was an effective horror movie. There’s a plot and the characters aren’t throwaways. The director has an interesting aesthetic sense which gives the movie a creepy atmosphere. There’s a lot of strange imagery. Annie has her own ‘Scooby crew,’ and one of the girls carries around an e-reader that looks like a seashell. The sodas aren’t name brand, and neither are the porn magazines. Besides sex, the director also has a thing for deserted buildings, urban decay and bodies of water, large and small. These images recur throughout the movie. On the downside: I thought the climax was muddled. The Scooby crew’s plan to kill it doesn’t make sense, but then again, they are high school students.

It Follows is worth seeing. I watched the Blu-Ray, but I believe it’s available on Showtime streaming.