Yes ladies, gentlemen and anyone in between, it’s time for yet another year of Remaketober! The rules, for anyone new to the party: Each week of October, I watch a horror movie and its remake, and compare and contrast them. No plot summaries, no scores, just a quick ramble on each movie. In case you’re wondering, no, I’m definitely not in any danger of running out of horror remakes any time soon. At least not as long as they keep pumping them out at the speed they’re going.
But this year, I thought it might be interesting to try and do a “Theme” for what movies get chosen. Oh I have minor themes here and there, but nothing that would be obvious to anyone who isn’t me. Why not try and do a year of Remaketober where anyone reading can figure out what the theme of this year is. So, for all of you who were waiting with not-so-baited breath to find out what I’m going to be doing for this year’s Remaketober, the theme this year is: Asian Horror. And we’re kicking off the month with the big one, the one that got everybody talking.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Ringu first hit Japan, and I’m still more than a little surprised that it wound up being as successful as it was, at least in the US. It’s a strange little movie, heavily influenced by Japanese culture and sensibilities, and firmly rooted in Japanese mythology. But I’m not unhappy that it got big, because even to an outsider to the culture, it’s still a damn fine little movie.
One thing I noticed on this most recent watch is how good the film is at subverting jump scare conventions. I kept noticing how much the film lingers on shots with just enough room in the frame for something to pop out, and then never having them actually do it. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it has the effect of never giving you the catharsis of the jump scare, keeping you constantly on edge. It gives the entire film an edge that I feel like a lot of ghost stories don’t have.
It’s also a heavily Japanese film, especially in theme. The conflict between the then modern technology of the VHS tape (heh, dated tech references) and the very ancient idea of a vengeful spirit is baked into the subtext of the film, and is a very particularly Japanese conflict to have. It’s not exceptionally deep (we’re not watching Rosemary’s Baby here) but it’s enough to give the film some depth and subtext that informs the conflicts within. Even horror films are improved by subtext.
It’s not perfect; The kid who plays Reiko’s son is just awful and its start and stop pacing occasionally leaves something to be desired. But it’s still a damn fine little horror flick, engaging and well directed, with a lot of standout moments. It’s also a monstrously successful little horror flick, the most successful horror film in Japan at the time. And because we can’t leave well enough alone (like, as a culture), we had to make an American version.
…Hey, did you know that Japan made a movie where Sadako fights the kid from Ju-On? Seriously, look it up.
The Ring is an odd movie, and I’ve always been something of a holdout when it comes to loving it. I like it well enough, I guess, but I’ve never felt the need to revisit it, or defend it when someone puts it down. But that’s not what makes it odd. Whats odd is that there are elements of this film that work, that really really work. Hell, certain elements of the film are better than their Japanese counterpart. But I feel like it adds up to a much weaker whole than the original.
The film’s big shift from the source material is in Samara’s backstory and motivation (understandable, since between 6 books, 8 movies, 2 video games and 2 TV series, Sadako’s backstory in Japan is something of a clusterf**k). This is actually one of the things I really like about the remake, the idea that Samara isn’t some abused waif who just needed someone to help her, she’s actually an evil little s**t who’s basically doing this out of spite. It’s not a lot, but it’s a nice little subversion of the typical ghost story convention.
Unfortunately, most of its other big moments, such as Samara’s final attack or Naomi Watt’s finding the fingernails in the well are pulled directly from the Japanese original, which undercuts their effectiveness somewhat. The films original moments are something of a mixed bag. The sequence with Brian Cox attack Naomi Watts is definitely a standout, solidly directed and paced. On the other hand, the scene with the horse on the boat is just plain hilarious, and I don’t think the movie intended it to be that way.
In a way, I think that’s the problem: The Ring is a film of moments. Some of them are quite good, others are bad, but the overall film doesn’t string them together into something larger. Some of the parts are better than the original, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Ringu has some lesser parts (although some things it includes, like the man with the towel on his head, are genuinely unnerving enough that I wish the American version has found room for them) but the overall whole is much greater. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s still a solid horror flick, just not as good as the original.
And it was also MASSIVELY successful, which along with the success of the original kicked off a pair of trends. See, the originals success in Japan kicked off a series of similar movies (jury is out on whether to call them all ripoffs) while the remakes success in America kicked off a trend of remaking Asian horror films, and since the movies they wound up remaking were mostly the movies that the original kicked off, well I think you can see how that might go. And that is where this year’s theme came from. Tune in next week when we check out the other half of that Vs. movie I mentioned above.