Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Of all the frightening films to come out of Japan, the Ju-On (translated: grudge or curse) franchise is without question my favorite. Director Takashi Shimizu has created an entire world for his characters to interact and meet horrible demises within. Not to mention the fact that every victim needs a big bad to bring the evil. With The Grudge Shimizu has also created two of the most memorable film villains to grace the big screen in quite some time: the forever croaking and twitching Kayako (Fuji) and her cat-scratch fever infected son Toshio (Tanaka). Every time this lethal pair are on the screen, you know the scary is coming. What some folks may not know is that while this may technically be called The Grudge 2 here in the States, it’s actually the sixth film in the series.
It all started back in the year 2000. Shimizu debuted the first Ju-On film to Japanese television audiences, and it was an immediate hit. The film’s surreal nature and incredible story had enough twists, turns, and genuine frights to cause even the most jaded of viewers many a sleepless night. In fact it was such a hit that within that very same year Ju-On 2 also graced the small screen. Like its predecessor, it too was met with critical acclaim, and as a result Ju-On made its theatrical debut in 2003 with the second big screen entry, Ju-On 2, to follow later that same year. For those keeping score, that brings us to four films with almost identical titles. Confusing? Maybe a little.
After the success of both the television and theatrical versions overseas, it wasn’t long before the franchise was brought to America. The good news? Shimizu was staying at the helm and bringing along the irreplaceable Takako Fuji to play his lead ghostie. In 2004 Western audiences finally got their chance to see what all of the fuss was about as The Grudge headed into theatres nationwide. For the most part it delivered, but for long-time fans of the series the movie played like more of a Ju-On‘s greatest hits compilation as just about every spooky gag from the Japanese films was recycled for us Yanks.
Finally, that brings us to the subject of the day, The Grudge 2. Anyone familiar with the Ju-On series knows that one of the staples of the franchise is that several intertwining stories are told at once, and this latest Grudge is no different. For starters we follow the exploits of a young girl named Aubrey (Tamblyn), who is the sister of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character Karen from the original American Grudge. After being sent to Japan by her bedridden mother (Joanna Cassidy) to see what’s become of her sister, Aubrey (as you may have already guessed) becomes privy to the curse and is in turn haunted by Kayako and Toshio.
The two other storylines of the film are directly related but not told in chronological order. They both follow the exploits of a Chicago girl named Allison (Kebbel). While attending school in Japan, Allison is dared by her friends (two years after the Karen/Aubrey incident) to enter the house where all the evil originated, thus damning herself and her antagonists. Of course the spooky hits the fan, and after a few deaths Allison ends up going back home to Illinois. But she’s not alone. Little do her parents know that when they were picking her up from the airport, she had two spectral stowaways. Where’s Homeland Security when you need it, right? Probably off seizing somebody’s pack of Freshen Up gum because it has a liquid center.
Let’s face it. Shimizu, as brilliant as he is, has gone to this well plenty of times. Does this latest trip work? Yes and no. Thankfully The Grudge 2 gives us some truly original scares along with some of the gags from the Japanese Ju-On 2. This comes as a breath of fresh air after the first American Grudge film. Yet, when I saw this movie in the theatre, something still seemed a bit off.
This unrated director’s cut DVD does a lot to fix most of the problems. The film seems more complete. More cohesive. The additional footage brings forth a bit more character development and of course much more time spent with our ghostly duo. While still not one hundred percent sold, I have to say that this version plays a hell of a lot better than its theatrical cousin and is well worth a first or second look for fans.
The extras are pretty friggin’ sweet too. After you get past a really strange musical montage consisting of people signifying the changing of film reels, we’re treated to all three episodes of the previously Internet-only released Tales from the Grudge directed by newcomer Toby Wilkins and introduced by Sam Raimi. Although this trio of short films clock in at just under eight minutes, they sure are effective and true to the spirit of Shimizu’s mythos. Good stuff.
From there we get several behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about fifteen minutes each. First up we have a little diddy called Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio. This is an up-close and personal look at the ghosts, their creator, their evolution, and the people who play them. Nothing groundbreaking but nothing bad either. The second and third entitled East Meets West and Grudge 2: Storyline Development focus mainly on the same thing — the bringing together of two cultures to make one movie. Oddly enough each ends up being absolutely infuriating. Why, you ask? Because I am sick and tired of hearing about how foreign directors need to re-tailor their stories so that American audiences will have an easier time following them. Why not just hire a music video director if you’re not going to let the person make his movie? And excuse me, but are we the country that rode to the big game on the short bus? Contrary to the studio reps beliefs, we don’t all need to be spoon-fed our entertainment. I don’t know of a single person who had a hard time following either of the four Japanese installments, so why must the two American entries be dumbed down?
Listening to Shimizu and producer Taka Ichise talk about some of the studio’s ideas to make the series “more accessible” is enough to make you throw something at the TV. Without question, the most ludicrous was their demand to have Kayako have a living twin. What the fuck?! Um … why? Thankfully Shimizu and Ichise stuck to their guns and shot most of their stupidity down. Yet, one can’t help but get the feeling that if there is anything wrong at all with the American versions of The Grudge, it is directly because of the ridiculous meddling of some executive with aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg. Sure, these guys write the checks, but let the people who know how to make movies, make movies! In retrospect I’m starting to think that it’s a miracle these films ended up being as good as they were.
The fourth and final featurette focuses on the director himself and is titled Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu. While there’s still an obvious language barrier between Shimizu and his Western fans, you just cannot help but like the guy. He’s a prankster, a comedian, and a genius behind the lens.
Now on to the star of this DVD: the deleted scenes. Well, not all of them actually, just one in particular. The alternate ending. In it we get to see what becomes of Karen and Aubrey’s bitch of a mother. I watched this scene several times, and it was so cool that I had to make a small pictorial outlining the events. Never say that I don’t care about you sickos! Dig on these:
It’s going to be interesting to see where things go from here. Japan will have their Ju-On 3, but will we get our own? Let’s not forget that Kayako and Toshio are now loose in Chi-town. If it comes to pass, we can only hope that Sony has the good sense to keep Shimizu in the director’s seat. I don’t think anyone else could capably handle the material.
This is a grudge that only one man can truly hold.
East Meets West featurette
Grudge 2: Storyline Development featurette
Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu featurette
Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio featurette
Tales from the Grudge with introduction from Sam Raimi
Cast and crew reel change montage
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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