“Before you die, you see…The Ring!”
Long black hair. Pale white skin. CREEPY. ASS. GHOST. GIRL. CAGG for short. These words could describe numerous entries into the J-Horror craze that washed upon our shores in the early 00’s. The post-Scream slasher phase was waning, and Hollywood needed something new to drive into the ground. Enter, The Ring (2000), Gore Verbinski’s take on the cult original was a massive success that launched a wave of increasingly less successful Asian horror remakes. For those unaware, the films tell the story of a CAGG by the name of Sadako/Samara, depending on country of origin, who will come for you 7 days after you’ve watched a cursed VHS tape. Today we’ll be ranking 6 of the films in the series from the Japanese Ringu to the horrid American sequel, The Ring Two.
Rings, the third American film, is set to return the vengeful Samara to cinemas this Friday, Feb 3rd. The franchise has laid dormant inside of a VCR for nearly 12 years after the stinker that was The Ring Two. You may have gathered enough context clues to guess where that particular entry falls on this list. With a whopping total of 12 features that span varied continuities and include several remakes across different countries, is there any story left to tell? And of those many adaptations, which ones are worth seeking out?
I won’t rank ALL 12 films as obviously Rings has yet to be released. Plus, 12 is just a hell of lot to cram into one weekend binge-fest. I’ll be focusing on 6 entries in the Ring saga. To explain my choices, I will obviously be including the two American productions. From Japan, Ringu, Ringu 2, and Ringu 0: Birthday are represented for being what truly started it all. They also exist within their own continuity, the “Hideo Nakata Timeline”.
I’ll then take a hop and a skip over the “Rasen Timeline” which includes the two Sadako 3D films. We’ll then bypass the original TV adaptation and South Korean remake. Deep breath. Still with me? Good, because Sadako vs Kayako is the last film that will be in the running. I tacked this on because I want to see it and it just launched on Shudder, so…there’s that logic. Deal with it.
How do these 6 films stack up? Does Japan really do Sadako better than America does Samara? Does my opinion even matter to you? Keep reading to find out!
#6 THE RING TWO (2005)
True story, I was 19 and just picked up a second job at a multiplex. I started the night The Ring Two came out. They were so busy that they stuck me with a 16 year old to “show me the ropes”. All he did was order me to walk through auditoriums. I had no idea what I was looking for.
The first screening I was to “check” was a packed house for The Ring Two. I walked in to see Samara clawing her way out of the well up on the massive screen. I was so jealous. This movie was going to be amazing. I mean, they brought Hideo Nakata in to direct. It was going to be so scary, and I was missing out.
Then my 16 year old supervisor told me to go walk through a different screening. I quit, picked up a friend, and off we went to see The Ring Two at a different theater. While I totally would’ve quit that job anyway, it wasn’t necessarily worth doing it for The Ring Two.
I wonder how much of this film’s failure falls on Nakata’s shoulders. It doesn’t fit in Nakata’s oeuvre in any way, shape, or form as we know it. One tell-tell sign is the editing. There are numerous “look what we can do with Final Cut” moments of sped-up, slowed down, jarring cuts that just don’t fit. They scream studio meddling. Throw in plenty of poor CGI, a script that is nothing but a loose collection of soggy scares, and you have yourself a terribly forgettable sequel. Kick this one to the bottom of the well and seal it shut!
#5 RINGU (1998)
Full disclosure: I anticipate getting annihilated by daring to leave this film so low on the list. I understand why people love it, but it doesn’t fully work for me. Plus, I saw Verbinski’s remake before getting around to the original. I’m sure my previous knowledge of how it would all play out factored into my overall impression of Ringu. I decided to start my weekend binge-fest here, to go in with fresh eyes. My opinion didn’t change much.
Don’t get me wrong, Nakata’s simplistic staging and the subdued score allow for several goosebumps. My main complaint, however, is what an exposition bomb the film is. Just as tension begins to build we’re given another scene of our two leads hypothesizing and making huge leaps in logic to come to their next conclusion.
While Hiroyuki Sanada (Helix, The Wolverine) as Ryūji brings his typical quiet strength to the role of the brooding and handsome ex with overly convenient psychic abilities, Nanako Matsushima’s Reiko is far from compelling as our heroine. Surprisingly, in a rare case of original foreign film versus American remake, there seems to be a desperate need to over explain everything to the audience. This carries all the way to the ending where voice-over reiterates everything just in case you missed it.
And some of the major fright set-pieces fall flat. Take the penultimate scene where our heroes discover the well. This had the potential to be a terrifying highlight (as in Ringu 2, The Ring) but is squandered by absurd character actions. If you believed you only had hours to live and that discovering Sadako’s body at the bottom of the well would break the curse, why spend so much time trying to bail out the water? Just get your hands down there and dig! I’m all for characters making dumb choices for the sake of suspense, but this was too much. It ripped me right out of the moment.
Nonetheless, Ringu isn’t a total wash. At the film’s core is a quality mystery that sets up an intriguing mythology for the following entries to build upon. There’s strong subtext about the fears and anxieties of motherhood that does get a bit lost in the remake. The scares just don’t hold up as well here as in some of the other films.
#4 RINGU 2 (1999)
This is a tough one. On one hand, there’s hardly any forward momentum for the story or any deepening of the cursed tape’s mythology. We do get a couple more characters “touched” by the curse who now have their own convenient psychic abilities. Their visions ultimately shed some new light on Sadako’s backstory. Unfortunately, the info provided doesn’t really add to the experience in any meaningful way.
In spite of the threadbare script, I can’t help but dig this entry. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread that never lets up and numerous scary moments that left me clutching for my pearls. After the original sequel, Rasen, failed to garner the same success as its predecessor, Hideo Nakata was brought back to direct an alternate follow up. Thus the reason we now have two different timelines for the series.
Nakata shows a sure hand from frame one, never allowing the audience up for air. Even the bits of humor sprinkled throughout are so dry and off-kilter they hardly serve to dissipate the tension. Thankfully the over abundance of exposition from the previous film is abandoned here for a barrage of nightmarish visuals. Our lead heroine is a much stronger character even without much to do, and the scares are effectively peppered throughout to keep up the pace. Look out for the finale that returns us to the depths of Sadako’s well; it’s nerve-shredding stuff. Ringu 2 is deeply flawed in many ways, but the chills it elicits are enough to earn this spot on the list.
#3 SADAKO VS KAYAKO (2016)
What a blast! When Sadako vs Kayako was announced, I rolled my eyes. However, I knew I would check it out the first chance I had. I couldn’t wrap my head around how these two J-horror titans were supposed to duke it out. Neither one has ever really been about that life, ya know? They just sort of show up and BAM! You’re dead. Flash forward to now, I just finished this wackadoodle film and am thoroughly surprised by how much fun it was.
First off, this is a goofy idea and the filmmaker knows that. The main plot involves two girl’s stumbling upon Sadako’s cursed tape and trying to figure out a way to save their asses before their 2(!) days are up. Yep, the time limit isn’t the only bit of mythology changed here. Even the tape itself is now incredibly uninteresting, featuring nothing but Sadako stumbling through a door, moving closer to camera. Sure, these alterations could turn off some of the die-hards, but the movie never takes itself too seriously. There’s a lot that’s played for laughs, and it’s best you just go with it.
On the flip side of the coin, the Ju-on plot-thread (however thin it may be) is straight up Scares-ville. The scenes inside the dilapidated Grudge house are one well staged fright after the other. I was yelping and screaming with every “meow” and distant death rattle.
When the two finally come to blows, it’s truly outrageous. The screenwriter does just enough to work out a decent reason for them to attack one another. While a lot of criticism has stated the fight last for only a few brief moments, and they’re correct, it was enough to satiate my appetite. The scenes are visually amazing with CAGG hair flying all over the place. In fact, the effects throughout the the entire film are crazy. They come right out of the Screaming Mad George playbook of surreal design. Although I couldn’t find anything online as to who actually did the effects. Hit me up if you know.
I’d say Sadako vs Kayako is a prefect party film. It’s not unnerving like any of their respective predecessors, but it will leave you laughing and squealing like an anime schoolgirl. If a sequel comes about from this, you can sign me up.
#2 RINGU 0: BIRTHDAY (2000)
Wow. Other than Sadako v Kayako, this was the only film on the list I hadn’t seen yet. I’d put it off for so long, because it’s a prequel/origin story. When it comes to our legendary screen monsters and psycho killers, most times the less we know tends to be far scarier than the imagined backstories. So, yeah, Ringu 0 was never that high on my “must see” list. What a mistake that was.
I appreciate the film isn’t concerned with bending over backwards to fill in the gaps from previous movies or trying to explain away every detail. By the time the credits roll, there are still plenty of questions to be answered and even some new ones at that. Director, Norio Tsuruta (Premonition) stepping in for Nakata, is far more interested in delivering a compelling character drama. Sadako’s story is touching, heartfelt, romantic, and tragic.
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a constant palette of deep browns, creamy whites, and dark shadows creeping around the edge of every frame. The score is amazing but at odds with the previous films. The music on display is much more traditional, bombastic orchestral fare which suits the different type of storytelling utilized here. Production values overall are head and shoulders above the first two entries.
Yeah, I’m sure you may have read that and thought “is this a horror movie or what?” Well, mostly, no. This film instantly brought to mind Carrie and earns that comparison through to almost the very end. Right from the start Sadako warrants our empathy. She’s awkward, an outcast, and we just know that nothing here will end well. This version of the character is the polar opposite of what we’ve been primed to expect. And, yes, there is an interesting explanation as to why this is.
Ringu 0 isn’t all melodrama. The final act does deliver on the horror goods in ways you might not expect; I felt like I was watching a Friday the 13th clone during one sequence. The great news is that once the proverbial “s” hits the fan, Ringu 0 delivers. Color me thoroughly surprised by this one, and I highly recommend checking it for those who may have let it pass them by before.
#1 THE RING (2002)
“Before you die, you see…The Ring.” This wasn’t just a great tagline dreamed up for the American remake. It’s a warning that actually pays off by the end of the film. The Ring’s plot is almost identical to the Japanese production it’s based on. There are small changes and additions that in my opinion only make the story stronger. The cursed video tape still signals your impending doom within 7 days, but Ehren Kruger’s screenplay provides a simple reason why. It’s not enough to de-mystify our CAGG (now christened “Samara” for US audiences). In fact the simple moment, which I won’t spoil for those who have yet to see the film, actually sends a chill down my spine every time.
This is one of the very few instances where I prefer a remake to the original film. Despite leaving a lot of gaps for viewers to fill in for themselves, there is still more meat to this story’s bones. We’re provided just enough visual cues to piece together a much richer mythology for Samara as opposed to Sadako. In fairness, Kruger had an existing trilogy of films from which to pilfer from and ideas from all three make an appearance here.
In the director’s chair, Verbinski delivers moody imagery in every frame. For better or worse, the cinematography with its cool-toned blues filtered over everything has been imitated repeatedly since the film’s release. While the film’s visual style is worth noting, more importantly, Verbinski knows how to set up a scare. The perfect example is to compare the discovery of the well here to that same scene from Ringu. I’d say there’s no competition.
I’ll never forget dragging my friends and family to see this in theaters for my birthday. I was genuinely terrified throughout. This was my first Ring experience, and I had no idea what to expect. The mystery was captivating without feeling spoon-fed. Yes, The Ring has lost some of its power over me from years of having witnessed various sequels and copycats, but giving this a re-watch has reminded me what a classic of the horror genre Gore Verbinski’s The Ring truly is.
There we have it! That’s my ranking of the six selected films from the Ring saga. Let me know if you agree, disagree, or want me to burn in flames for not appreciating your favorite in the series! How would you rank them all? Sound off below!