It’s been some time since I revisited Hideo Nakata’s Ring. As memory best served me, it was an intense and far more atmospheric rendition of Gore Verbinski’s American rendition, The Ring. And realistically, that mindset isn’t surprising; remakes rarely meet or surpass the genius or effectiveness of their original source.
But every once in a while a return to a certain film can inspire a completely different assessment of said film.
Case in point: Ring.
The story is familiar to just about every genre lover out there. The film opens with two teen girls discussing a mysterious video tape that left them dealing with an unsettling sensation. One of the two girls had watched the video with some friends a week prior. Immediately after watching said video, a mysterious phone call came through the lines; and suddenly, life expectancy took an enormous hit.
Seven days after watching the video, all of these kids were dead. Death is sudden and unexplainable… to anyone who doesn’t spot the menacing Sadako crawl from within the television screen to scare video viewers to death, literally.
It’s an interesting story that birthed some of Japan’s most famous modern monsters. And Gore Verbinski very clearly saw the appeal in the film, as he opted to change extremely few details of the story. In fact, The Ring is extremely close to a shot-for-shot remake. There are obvious cultural differences, but this is the very same story.
Time has actually been rather kind to Ring, as it is still a highly regarded, frequently praised film, considered by a great many to be a superior picture to The Ring. But time can distort things, especially our memories.
Ring is no doubt an awesome flick. It’s eerie, it’s well-paced, the concept is superb, and the mystery is ultimately very, very successful in luring viewers into a dark, haunting world. This is all true, but here’s the kicker: Gore Verbinski did it better. You can be angered by that statement, and you’re more than welcome to disagree, but I spent last evening studying both films as meticulously as possible, and Verbinski’s film no doubt packs a much stronger punch.
Take for just a single example the first scene, in which we see the effects of Sadako’s/Samara’s rage. We see a memory/flashback sequence in which one poor mother opens a door and sees her daughter, deceased, a look of mortifying terror etched in her face. In Ring the victim’s face is not modified in the least; it’s just a teenage girl with her eyes rolled into her head and her mouth wide open. In The Ring we get CGI modification, but the CGI isn’t evident. Because the shot is so brief, we simple see a contorted face – a mouth stretched impossibly wide open, her skin a sickly pallor. This scene is widely regarded as one of the greatest jump scares of the last few decades. But in Ring there is very little impact in the scene. It’s slightly creepy, but nothing more, and it doesn’t stand out as a memorable moment in the picture.
Verbinski’s decision to intensify all of the visuals pays huge dividends. And he was smart enough to know to control the visual effects as much as humanly possible. Yes, computers have intensified the scares, but they don’t drown the scenes. These eerie moments that crop up repeatedly throughout the American film remain minimal in enhancement, and that conjures an unspeakable dread because these terrifying sequences still feel possible. The victims, and the villain, don’t look like cartoons gone awry… they look real. Too real for comfort.
Now yes, they also look quite real in Ring, but the lack of modification manages to actually tame the terror. Sometimes, especially when it comes to horror, we want to see the envelope pushed just a bit. Just a hair of enhancement can make a world of difference. And these two films, when essentially viewed side by side, make for a great reminder that sometimes just a little bit more makes a colossal difference.
Ring is a fine film. It’s eerie. It sports a number of disconcerting scenes. But the strained relationship between mother and son doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, and Sadako is ultimately a little flat, when we do see what we see of her.
Now, in the American film the strained relationship between mother and son is superbly pronounced, and we’re left to understand that this young boy basically lives his own life, with little assistance and little parental interaction. That leaves him an uncharacteristically independent young man, and that alone, while not frightening, is extremely uncomfortable. It’s an entirely new wrinkle to the story that goes sorely neglected by Ring. And don’t get me wrong; Ring’s little booger Yôichi is definitely a neglected youngster, but there’s absolutely no comparison to the level of neglect that Aidan experiences in The Ring.
In terms of pacing I think both pictures get it really right. There’s little downtime in either film, and the proper beats are nailed by all involved. The acting is excellent in both pictures, and each features likable and loathsome characters. They
function on very similar planes. The finale is the only other major separator, and it does admittedly get a little tricky.
Gore Verbinski treads dangerous waters with his reveal, as there’s more CGI in this sequence than any other point in the film, and it almost spoils the Samara reveal; she’s dangerously close to looking humorous as opposed to frightening. But dangerously close isn’t the same thing as full-blown overboard. Verbinski pulls back at the very last moment, and we’re left to contemplate an extremely creepy looking entity with a power that no one wants to encounter.
Interestingly enough, Hideo Nakata heads in the opposite direction, showing us next to nothing of Sadako. We see her absurdly long hair disguising her face, the camera zooms in, and then we see one eyeball. And then the movie is over. Some may feel it was a perfectly ambiguous way to close the show, but it feels as though it’s a little bit of a cheat in my mind. We waited nearly two hours to really get a good look at her – give us that look!
I am and always will be a fan of both Ring and The Ring, but the false memories and the myth that Ring is the superior feature has now officially been dispelled. When it comes to the entertainment factor and the fear factor, Gore Verbinski pulls off the near impossible by remaking a great film and turning it into an even greater piece of chilling entertainment.
Event Coverage: Mark Patton and Kim Myers Talk Freddy’s Revenge in London
Earlier this month Unicorn Nights organized a rare treat for horror fans, not only did we get to view the often under rated A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge but we were also honored to be in company with the two leading cast members. Mark Patton who played Jesse Walsh and Kim Myers who played his on screen girlfriend Lisa Webber were on hand for a Q & A session once the 1985 sequel had wrapped and Dread Central was in London for a full report.
Every horror fan has their own take on Freddy’s Revenge which has always felt like a standalone movie compared to the rest of the franchise. Speaking to fans at the infamous Prince Charles Cinema where the event was being shown they recalled moments that made the movie so special and separate from the other sequels. The bright yellow school bus, Jesse’s 20 inch tongue, Freddy bursting out of a Mark Patton plastic fantastic body, the exploding parrot, Jesse’s dance, Jesse’s fight, Jesse’s scream, the dog with a human head, the horrifyingly beautiful score by Christopher Stone, Hope Lange, Clu ‘fucking’ Gulager, the beautiful Kim Myers (who judging by tonight hasn’t aged) and of course the infamous line when Freddy tells Jesse,”you’ve got the body, I’ve got the brain”, before peeling back the skin on his head to reveal his pumping organ.
When the movie had wrapped Mark and Kim got down to business and answered fans long awaited questions. Myers confirmed that her audition had been grueling and that she had been asked back four times, but it was her read through with Patton that convinced the powers that be to cast her. “It was a dream come true to get the part and the opportunity of a lifetime”, confirmed Myers.
It was also interesting to learn that Robert Englund who of course would return as Freddy Krueger was the very last cast member to sign on for the sequel, and his participation was very much in the balance. Patton made everyone in the room laugh when he answered a question from a fan who said ‘was his screaming really him?’ Patton confirmed it was, before revealing that the sound men were in fear of him. Of course Myers is the only actress to have kissed Freddy and she revealed that the peck was very slimy and disgusting , but it was all about saving the love of her life, and with that, both her and Patton, embraced in what had been a fantastic and memorable night for the fans that had turned up for this sold out showing.
ABOUT UNICORN NIGHTS:
Unicorn Nights is the LGBTQUAI strand of films at the Prince Charles Cinema. Looking at some of the best (and worst) films that appeal to a queer unicorn audience. From Classics like Dirk Bogarde’s Victim and Tilda Swinton’s Orlando to lesbian werewolf love stories Jack & Diane and coming out classic Get Real. Their goal is to not let forgotten films from gay film makers or covering gay subjects be forgotten about and give a safe space for unicorns (as they like to call their audience) to come and enjoy film in the beating heart of London’s film center.
If you are in the London area you can follow Unicorn’s latest events and keep up to date by clicking here!
Also check out news on Mark Patton’s new documentary, Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street.
All Photos: David Bronstein
2017: The Digital Rebirth of the Midnight Movie
This year’s Sundance audience had no idea what they had signed up for when they entered the Egyptian Theatre on January 21st, the midnight premiere of Kuso. While Flying Lotus has established a well-earned legacy through his music, feature films are a fresh venture for him – and his first effort was transgressive enough to be dubbed one of the grossest films ever made. In spite of this film’s instant infamy, however, it didn’t have a theatrical run. Its grotesque pleasures must be sought almost exclusively online. Only some (lucky or unlucky) cinephiles have been able to experience this creation as it, and much of its ilk, should be – in the darkness of a theater.
The midnight movie phenomenon truly broke into the mainstream during the late ‘60s, amidst the academically-deemed Golden Age of American cinema. Now-famous directors like John Waters, David Lynch, and Alejandro Jodorowsky earned notoriety with these works – made infamous by their grotesque natures, sure, but also because they broke cinematic rules in such effective ways. There is something cathartic about watching a film that shows you something impossible, surrounded by others who are just as shocked and moved. This is an experience that audiences can’t truly replicate outside of a theater, at any time before nightfall.
Since the rise of the multiplex and big-chain theaters, independent cinemas have had a more difficult time competing. Why settle for one screen, anyway, when you can have twenty? With blockbusters and a series of misfires (lookin’ at you, Heaven’s Gate) putting an end to the revolutionary Golden Age, there wasn’t a space for midnight movies. Perhaps this was because they defy classification. Their ultimate effect may be disgust or discomfort, but a midnight movie isn’t necessarily horror, or comedy or sci-fi, for that matter. Without a category, they’re impossible to sell – or sell easily.
Film festivals have become the salvation of these less accessible offerings. Kuso was one of eight midnight selections at Sundance this year, amongst the equally harrowing (albeit less gooey) Bitch, the oddly touching The Little Hours, and entertaining anthology XX, to name a few. Big players like South by Southwest, TIFF, Tribeca and AFI sport midnight sections as well, which have premiered recent smashes like Turkish hellfest Baskin or monstrous love poem Spring – while the equally important Fantastic Fest and Sitges Film Festival have focused solely on genre films for years. Fest favorites still rely on distribution to find a broad audience, though, and often the weirdest ones get left behind.
So, where do modern audiences find these films when they don’t get a traditional release? They have to go online. Netflix’s horror section is notoriously uneven, though its acquisition of IFC Midnight’s lineup has improved it immensely. One of the most consistent platforms for weird cinema is far more niche – AMC’s hidden gem, Shudder. It’s advertised as Netflix for horror, but its curators have shown a specific focus on all things strange, regardless of category. This year, they’ve acquired more standard genre fare, like the heinously clever Better Watch Out and the powerful, agonizing Revenge; but arguably their most famous grab is Kuso, which draws an entirely different audience. Fresh acquisitions like Prevenge and We Are the Flesh, along with hard-to-find classics such as Death Bed: the Bed that Eats and The Devils, prove the site’s attention to exposing new audiences to bizarre, world-changing content.
It isn’t to say that weird movies haven’t been made in the decades between these periods; but we seem to have entered an age in which they’re becoming easily accessible again. Prestige talent has begun crossing into weird movies too; see Anne Hathaway in the genre-destroying Colossal or Jennifer Lawrence enduring all sorts of abuse in mother!, remarkable if only for the fact that Paramount released it with no questions asked. Stylish directors like Ben Wheatley and Ana Lily Amirpour broke into the mainstream with their own no-budget visions of strangeness, A Field in England and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, respectively.
Presenting a new generation with films that challenge, provoke, disgust and distort is essential; we live in a time of upheaval and anxiety, so why not explore movies that show the world in all its chaotic glory? Even so, that connection of a dark theater is missed – and fans can hope that somehow, the system will change again, allowing for a fresh cycle of movies that only play at night.
12 Spooky Video Game Farms To Celebrate Your Thanksgiving
Happy pre-Christmas, everybody! It’s once again that magical time of the year, where all the department stores get out their light up Santas and tinsel to celebrate the birth of capitalism. The Spooky Month is gone, all praise be to the glorious Coca-Cola Company. Oh, and there’s also something about turkeys and stuffing your face with enough pie to temporarily shut down your brain’s ability to recognize your in-laws as the enemy.
Now if you’re like me and your family is an impossible five whole hours away from you, you might be spending Thanksgiving alone. No shame in that, just a single adult man alone in his room on a day meant for loved ones. But that doesn’t mean that we very-much-not-lonely-and-totally-content-with-our-life-choices individuals can’t have some fun! So this year, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving by remembering the American heartland that made this all possible. The noble farmer, tilling the soil from dusk till dawn until automation made his job mostly just pushing buttons. So join me if you will, with my list of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving!
12) All is Dust
All is Dust is pretty much the reason that this is a list of “Spooky Video Game Farms,” and not “Top Spooky Video Game Farms.” This is a game that I once used to kick off a series of negative reviews I called “Bottom of the Bargain Bin,” you can go ahead and read my rambling review if you are so inclined. For the rest of you, I’ll recap by saying that All is Dust is bad. None of that wishy-washy some redeeming nuggets that you can see through the rest of the turd. It’s just plain bad. But what it does have going for it is that, A) it is 100% free, B) it 100% takes place on a farm, and C) it’s so bad that it sticks in my brain as being entertaining. Play if you’re very bored or truly deranged.
11) Farm for your Life
Although not really living up to the “Spooky” part of the “Spooky Video Game Farms” list, I’d be remiss to leave it out. Taking place after the zombie apocalypse, you must do your best to raise livestock and run your restaurant by day, and defend it from waves of zombies by night. It’s part tower defence, part Harvest Moon, part Cooking Mama, part Diner Dash, and part Minecraft. For only $10, it’s definitely worth checking out just for the unique premise and adorable zombies.
10) Monster Rancher
Whereas Pokémon was about a small child going forth into nature to enslave its creatures and force them to fight in the ultimate bloodsport, Monster Rancher was about setting up the ideal monster sex palace. Okay, you still make them fight. This is a monster raising (or, if you will, monster ranching) simulator after all, it would be pretty bleak of the ultimate goal was to just chop them up and sell off the best bits. It never did as well as Pokémon, but I always found something charming about Monster Rancher’s take on raising your monsters. Rather than just fighting to get bigger and stronger, you could raise their individual stats by making them do chores like tidying up or running laps. I got much more of a sense of attachment to my individual monsters when I felt like I was their dad, making them mow the lawn for their own good. Then, later as their pimp, I forced them to mate and produce supermonsters.
9) Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green
Somewhere out there some, search optimization program must be whirring its little algorithms in confusion as this is the first time anyone has mentioned Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green in a decade. A tie-in to the equally unloved Land of the Dead, it actually serves as a direct prequel. You play as Jack, a farmer who on the night of the zombie outbreak finds his farm besieged by… well you know the drill. Road to Fiddler’s Green gets bonus points for not only partially taking place on a farm, but for starring an authentic American heartland stereotype farmer. Now let me be clear, this game is pretty bad. But it’s even more so that endearingly simple kind of bad, where the zombies are so easily avoided it’s like the scene from Dawn of the Dead where the bikers are basically just having an orgy around them. I have no idea where you’d get your hands on it, but give it a play if you want some good ol’ fashioned bad game.
8) Dead Secret
This is the part where if this were a “Top” list, it would begin in earnest. Like a Jigsaw victim tasked with beating Five Nights at Freddy’s, this is a game that surprised me. I’m not really keen on the whole fixed point VR thing, as it tends to only lend itself to jump scares, but Dead Secret won me over with some thrilling chases and overall creepy atmosphere. The bizarre plot contains oni-masked demon spirit guides, magic slugs, dream machines, and the phases of the moon. It’s definitely something worth checking out, and is available on all major VR headsets. Even without one, I found the game enjoyable.
First of all, if you don’t find Minecraft scary, fuck you. You’ve obviously never played it. I do not care how blocky the graphics or adorable the sheep are. You try to listening to the zombies moaning softly in the distance as you huddle in your makeshift hovel and pray the night to be over. How about you place the last block on your new swimming pool, only to hear the telltale hiss of a creeper just behind you. Then you can come back and tell me that Minecraft isn’t horror. And don’t tell me it’s not a farm, either. All you do in Minecraft IS farm. It’s a game about building things to eventually grow more things so you no longer have to go out of your way to collect things. That is the literal transition from hunter/gatherer to farming.
6) Slender: The Arrival
Now that it’s been 4 years since its official release and the hype/controversy has died down, I’m free to say nice things about Slender: The Arrival without sounding like a pandering YouTube twat. In retrospect, the part of Slender that I really didn’t like (other than the community) was the first randomly generated section. The whole 11 or so interchangeable environments with 8 pages scattered between them just felt unnatural, a cheap way to lengthen gameplay at the cost of a cohesive world. However, I found the game to be pretty good when it got to the more linear scripted areas. One such level was titled “Homestead,” and takes place on a spooky farm complete with grain silo and quaint little hilltop church. It’s a pretty solid little piece of horror, and definitely worth watching someone overreact to on YouTube.
5) Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 is not a game wanting for memorable locations. It’s got a spooky castle, a spooky military base, a spooky mine, a spooky… ancient ruins? I mean hell, this is a game with an underground lava fortress and a minecart ride! That being said, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t immediately associate Resident Evil 4 with the first pitched siege battle in the farming village. Many of the game’s most memorable moments come from these first few chapters in the decaying rural town, including the enduring introduction of Mr. Chainsaw-McSackface. That alone deserves a spot on this list.
4) Dying Light: The Following
When I gave Dying Light: The Following a five-star tongue bath awhile back, much of that was due to my own personal disappointment with DLC releases. You really have to give props to a DLC pack that is at the same time affordable, lengthy, and adds something genuinely new to the title. For The Following’s case, that came in the form of lengthy rural sections you had to get across in your sick customizable buggy. It was unique compared to the previously cramped and vertical spaces of the main campaign, adding even more freedom to a game about freerunning.
3) The Walking Dead
Back in the day, Telltale Games was that cute little indie company putting out new Sam and Max games and the CSI tie-ins. That all changed in 2012 when The Walking Dead put them on the map. Before then, no one expected that a game you could play on your iPhone would make you cry. Of all the heartbreaking and shocking moments, perhaps the most is the dinner at the St. Johns’ farm. Clementine will remember that…and so will I.
2) Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The last two additions on this list basically write themselves. I’m choosing to give Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the second slot because it’s just way less recognizable as once having been a plantation. As someone who doesn’t find country bumpkins scary, the crazed hillbilly trope of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1000 Corpses never really got to me. The Baker family? These people scare me.
1) Outlast 2
Of course the top spot on this list goes to Outlast 2. If you Google “horror games on farms,” it’s the first result. And there’s good reason for that. Outlast 2 takes everything unsettling about rural Americana and cranks it up to 11. You’ve got slaughterhouses filled with people, rotting cattle, a syphilitic cult leader, pits filled with dead babies… the list goes on and on. It’s genuinely terrifying. I’m not even someone who likes the weaponless approach to horror, but with Outlast 2 it’s as much about the setting as it is the jump scares. Definitely check it out.
Well, there you have it horror fans. A nice sampling of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving. I tried to include a little bit of everything for everyone here, but let me know if I missed your favorite heartland horror! Happy pre-Christmas to all, and to all a good… fright?
…I’ll see myself out.
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