director Hideo Nakata
This year’s Halloween Horror Fest marathon I allowed to extend one day into November since the kids were out trick-or-treating on actual Halloween. But for our final films of 2014’s version of our horror marathon, I thought we would turn to a genuinely scary movie, 1998’s Ringu.
It’s the movie that launched the J-Horror movement (not that it was the first but the most successful) and imports, re-makes, and imitators onward for years to come. And while The Blair Witch Project (1999) happened around the same time and also had tremendous influence on the horror genre, I would be willing to say hands-down that the scares and motifs of Ringu have more depth and tenacity than the cheap thrills of faux found footage horror.
Because what Ringu trades on more than anything is a pervasive creeping fear of something unknown, a handful of confusing, disturbing images, and an overall sense of eeriness and doom.
Re-made in the states by Gore Verbinski in 2002 as The Ring, I have to say that I was a little torn as to which film to show the kids, the original Japanese film or the Naomi Watts version that hewed closely to the original. The real perk was not having to read subtitles to the kids and just to let them get pulled in. But I myself saw the original Ringu on video from Le Video back in 1999 or 2000 and was genuinely impressed/freaked out. I erred to the side of the original.
It’s easy enough to explain to the kids: there is this weird, creepy VHS video that if you watch it, you get a phone call and then you die one week later. Like 1996’s Scream, Ringu begins with the prelude, the legend upon which the story is passed. It’s only when a television journalist and her ex-husband start to investigate the story that the video is found and watched again, triggering a need to solve the mystery behind the tape in hopes of removing the curse.
It’s a more classic and traditional approach to horror, with crafty camerawork, dissonant music, building terror that makes the film develop into the lingering horror that it has. But not only that, there is the mystery at the core: where did these images come from? What is actually happening? The dread, the suspense, this is what the legacy of Ringu has, the influence of more refined storytelling, of building a sense of terror, not just creepy-looking things, nor quick-passing images nor just jumps and soundtrack explosions. And certainly not shaky hand-held camera contrived to have been shot by characters in the story. Hear, Hear to cinematography!!!
And did Ringu scare the kids? You bet your life. Both of them said that they thought it was the scariest movie that they’d ever seen. Up there above Annabelle (2014), Poltergeist (1982), The Others (2001), and House on Haunted Hill (1959) (the one that I didn’t think would make the impression that it did).
I asked the kids to think of why Ringu was so scary. What is it that made them afraid? And it was hard for them to articulate. And maybe that’s true overall. There are some effective images, none less than the girl crawling from the television. But it’s the unknown, the weirdness, and the overall film-making efficacy.
There is a lot more to discuss re: Ringu, like its true legacy, its literal legacy in the past 15 years. The whole “urban legend” aspect, or even the turning-point technology upon which the whole film is based, coming in 1998 at the tail end of the VHS era, perhaps the best VHS-based horror film of all time. I still vividly recall watching the film for the first time. And for all my love and appreciation of horror films, very, very few actually scare me or freak me out. Ringu did when I first saw it. And that, believe me, is not something I have to say about just anything.