Audience reaction is oftentimes a fantastic indicator of how successful a scary movie can be. “The Grudge” is very, very successful. The audience this evening was screaming in fear at least once or twice ever ten minutes or so, and several people raced from the theater at the conclusion, desperate for the comforting lights of the lobby. Now, seasoned professional gore-hounds may find this film a little lackluster, and those familiar with the recently-in-limited release “Ju-on,” the basis for this American remake, will be well primed for all of the creeps. However, for the un-initiated, “The Grudge” is scary and fun and has Ted Raimi in it, what more could you possibly ask for?
Purists will not doubt point out that the original Japanese version is superior in every way, and why bother with slick Hollywood hokum. While the original (which is actually the first of two movies to follow two popular Telefilms in Japan) had was stark and foreboding, the remake, as per usual with American fare, tries to flesh out the characters with little back-stories, which mostly backfires and creates silly caricatures. But who cares? The evil force here, as in the original, is embodied by Takako Fuji as Kayako, and Yuya Ozeki as precocious little Toshio, a young boy-ghost who is known to meow, and they are still absolutely as scary as hell.
While the bare-bones plot remains the same, the American version beefs up some storylines and drops a few all together. This is good for clarity (which the original is not famous for), but infuses lame clichés, unneeded in a film so innovative and chilling. American audiences, as a whole (and this is no slam) like things explained a little more full (“Why, pray-tell, is that woman crawling down the stairs and emitting a noise somewhere between that of the Predator and the Budweiser frogs?”), where the Japanese are more comfortable not knowing why, just giving themselves over to the aromatic atmosphere of apprehension.
Overall, though, this solid, Sam-Raimi-Produced horror-free-for-all translates in-tact, substituting a group of American’s living in Japan for the original all-Japanese cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as Karen, living with her boyfriend and studying in Japan. Karen also volunteers at a hospice, and on her first solo gig stumbles upon a house with a curse. A family was savagely killed inside, and it was so brutal that their rage lives on, destroying haphazardly anyone who comes into contact with it.
Like its Japanese counterpart, “The Grudge” is largely a series of smaller stories, tied together through the over-arching plotline. Clea Duvall and William Mapother play a young professional couple, who moved to Japan for business with Mapother’s aging mother (Grace Zabriskie of “Twin Peaks”). They must all battle the Grudge, and in turn pass it along to Mapother’s sister (and she tells two people, and they tell two people, and so on and so on). Bill Pullman, who thrusts himself off of a balcony about 4 seconds into the movie, is also tied into the fateful violence of the house. Ted Raimi turns up in an amusing turn as Karen’s supervisor.
Most importantly, Raimi (Sam, that is) brought on board “Ju-on” creator and director Takeshi Shimizu, who re-creates many of his breath-taking, terrifying moments in the re-make. A few problems, however, in that he has watered down some of his scariest stuff. Again, the audience was terrified when Kayako emerged from beneath bed sheets in one scene, but here Shimizu tips his hat, showing something under there before the big reveal. This works better in the original, and, frankly, just thinking about it is enough to cause goose-bumps. Also, the slicker look of the film, some gratuitous CGI, and a more obvious horror musical-score take away from the tremendous atmosphere.
These are all small points, though, and you could do a lot worse than taking the gang to see “The Grudge,” which, I feel, has a pretty good chance of following “The Ring” (another Japanese import) to box-office gold. It’s a nice balance of jumps and blood for the Halloween set, and if successful will lead to a franchise in the States.