The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering The Grudge (2004) was Written and Narrated by Adam Walton, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
If there was one thing the early noughties had in an abundance, especially within the horror genre, it was remakes. We were graced with reboots, or re-imaginings, whatever you want to call them, of the likes of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror, House of Wax, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake from 2007 and The Ring. However, despite the decent quality of those examples, well most of them, one thing that stands out in the film we’re focusing on today, The Grudge (watch it HERE), is the fact that the original’s director, Takashi Shimizu, chose to also take on the remake. In 2002 the aforementioned The Ring, a remake of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 movie, Ringu, proved such a success that it set off a chain reaction of J-horror remakes in the American and other prominent, English speaking international markets. Director Gore Verbinski may have started the craze with The Ring but the J-horror phenomenon also gave birth to another hugely popular franchise in The Grudge, which starred Buffy the Vampire Girl incarnate, Sarah Michelle Gellar, at the peak of her fame. So, try to control that infectious rage as we take a deep dive into the jaw dropping J-horror remake The Grudge, in this episode of WTF Happened to this Horror Movie!
Ju-On: The Grudge from 2002 is considered to be one of the most classic, and scariest, horror movies to come out of Japan in the early 2000’s. Many horror fans regard the film as the first in the franchise but it’s actually the third, with the first two, imaginatively titled Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2 respectively, being straight to home video releases in the year 2000. Directed by Takashi Shimizu, the movie may not be quite as thematically rich as Ringu or even Nakata’s Dark Water, a chilling and disturbing tale of childhood abandonment, however its images are permanently embedded in the consciousness of horror fans the world over. The movie introduced audiences to a house full of vengeful ghosts who are led by the family’s fairly creepy matriarch who groans and contorts her body in a manner ‘intended’ to scare the bejeezus out of audiences. Although, to be fair, all she needs to improve her vengeful mood is a long shower, and a decent haircut.
The plot of the 2004 remake is largely very similar to Ju-On, however the main difference is in the structure of the narrative. Shimizu’s original screenplay is split over several segments and is told in a non-linear fashion, but in a move to likely appeal more to western audiences, The Grudge’s screenplay was adapted to be more streamlined, putting more emphasis on the key selling point for the movie’s main demographic, Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. The events of the movie follow Gellar’s exchange student, Karen Davis who is sent to take care of an American family living in a house in Tokyo. Once there, she starts to notice some very odd behaviour from the elderly resident, Emma, and, after investigating some scratching noises from upstairs, she discovers a curse that will consume anybody who enters the house. The curse is born from someone dying in a powerful rage and Karen soon finds herself becoming tormented by the curse as it starts to claim its victims.
Alongside Buffy we also get an eclectic cast of stars who also play a pivotal role in the movie’s spooky, if somewhat underwhelming, shenanigans. Jason Behr plays Doug, Karen’s boyfriend, Grace Zabriskie is the elderly and lethargic Emma Williams, her daughter Susan Williams is played by KaDee Strickland, William Mapother plays Matt Williams and Clea DuVall is Jen, Matt’s wife. Also joining the cast in a relatively small role is Bill Pullman who plays Peter Kirk, the secret object of affection from the married Takako Fuji’s Kayako Saeki. Peter commits suicide by jumping off the balcony of his apartment in a sequence that bears more relevance once the plot of the movie, and the reasons behind the vengeful spirits wrath, become more clear.
While the movie boasts a pretty memorable cast and is undoubtedly positioned as a star vehicle for vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar, the talent behind the camera is also notable. As mentioned earlier, director Takashi Shimizu returns to helm the remake and writer Stephen Susco, also known for his work on Texas Chainsaw 3D, delivers a script that makes the narrative more linear than the Japanese original. You know, for the quote unquote, dumbed down American and international markets. Horror legend Sam Raimi produced the film alongside Xena: Warrior Princess co-creator Robert Tapert and Takashige Ichise. The production team behind the camera all have notable credits, especially Sam Raimi and you could probably forgive the most cynical horror fan for questioning why the movie needed to be remade in the first case. I mean, Ju-On: The Grudge is certainly an effective horror movie but it’s not quite as effective as its forebearer, Ringu, which had more international acclaim overall.
Director Shimizu hasn’t necessarily improved upon Ju-On: The Grudge, however, that’s not to say that we don’t get a remake that’s not without some fun sequences, and at least it doesn’t just imitate its predecessor outright. It’s a fairly decent movie if you’re happy to sit through something that probably wouldn’t spook most young fans of Stranger Things nowadays, but overall it’s too tame and bloodless for this particular horror fan. There’s a nice sequence in which Susan is riding an elevator in her apartment block and, unknown to her but clear to the viewers, we see the creepy boy Toshio appear outside each set of elevator doors she passes, getting progressively closer on every floor. It’s creepy, effective, imaginatively shot and adds some much needed tension to the narrative. The subsequent moment in which we see Susan cowering under her bedsheets after being tormented by her pursuers is also a pretty decent way to visualise the death of the character, with a lump appearing beneath the sheets revealed to be Kayako’s face as they both disappear underneath it. The issue is that the jump scares we get littered throughout the movie aren’t all that scary, just a little creepy at best. The terror also relies a little too heavily on those all too obvious horror cliches; we get the cat in a cupboard trope and screeching bursts of audio each time we’re meant to be shit-scared at something suddenly appearing.
However, the movie more or less works overall as a paint by numbers horror and while Sarah Michelle Gellar is trying to be less wooden than one of her Buffy stakes, at least it’s more effective than her subsequent foray into the word of horror with 2005’s awful, The Return. The rest of the cast are suitably game and, despite his limited screen time, Bill Pullman is good value as the college professor who becomes the love interest of the fateful Kayako. However, unfortunately it simply isn’t scary enough, or bloody enough to satiate the needs of this gore-hound and despite the inclusion of horror icons like Sam Raimi all over the marketing when it was released, it doesn’t live up to anything in his own back catalogue.
The movie opened at 3,348 screens in North America on October 22nd and grossed $39.1 million over its opening weekend. It dropped off, however, by 43% over the following weekend but it’s haul of $21.8 million ensured it was the first horror movie to be at the top of the Halloween box-office since 1999’s House on Haunted Hill. The trailer for the movie was strong and very effective, positioning the movie as a ‘terrifying’ star vehicle for Gellar. Its competition over the weekend and around the time of release wasn’t great either with only Alexander Payne’s wine comedy Sideways and the oddly placed for an October release; Dreamworks’ Surviving Christmas, released over the same weekend. Sony’s release strategy therefore worked as the only other movie knocking around at the time for a similar demographic was Team America: World Police which had already dropped off by 46.4% from its first weekend. The Grudge ultimately grossed $110.4 million domestically and $187.3 million internationally, making it a massive hit for Sony Pictures, and a lucrative one at that, with the movie’s production costs being a reported $10 million. It’s also recognised as the second-highest grossing horror remake of the last forty years behind its J-horror counterpart The Ring.
Critically, the movie was met with a mostly positive reaction and if the review aggregator on Rotten Tomatoes means anything to you, it reports that 40% of 162 critics gave the film a positive review. Clearly critics and audiences were scared by literally anything back in the early noughties, or is that just me being a ‘tough as nails’ horror snob? Roger Ebert gave the movie a withering one out of four stars, writing that, “I’m not sure how most of the scenes fit into the movie. I do, however, understand the underlying premise: There is a haunted house, and everybody who enters it will have unspeakable things happen to them.” Empire Magazine gave the movie a more positive review, awarding it three out of five stars, saying that, “The terror is upped without relying on too many clichés – we’ll let the odd cat in a cupboard slide – and while the harsh, clinical look and lack of humour may not appeal to everyone, it keeps the dread simmering, with the cast in a permanent state of uncomprehending panic rather than screechy horror”.
However, for fans of J-horror and The Grudge in particular, just what exactly did the studio afford the release when it appeared on the various home entertainment formats at the time? Well, it appeared on VHS (remember that wonderful grainy format, bring it back Hollywood!), DVD and also UMD on February 1st 2005 as a bog standard version of the movie with only a limited amount of extra features. An unrated cut did appear on DVD a little later with several scenes added that were originally cut for the MPAA at the time of its theatrical release. It also contained deleted scenes, commentaries plus the Ju-On short films Katasumi and the amusingly titled 4444444444, both by director Takashi Shimizu. A Blu-Ray release arrived in 2009 but oddly, if you want to stream the movie, it’s not available on any of the big streaming sites, at least at the time of writing this retrospective.
Ultimately then, The Grudge is one of those horror films that performed well on the back of some excellent marketing, decent star power and the perfect positioning for the movie on the release calendar. However, for this writer, it’s just not scary at all, and despite some effective scenes it really is an incredibly tame horror flick. I doubt any kids who happen across their parent’s copy of the movie will lose any sleep watching it. Or, am I being too harsh? Let us know your opinion of the movie in the comments and as always, thanks for watching our show. See you next time, gore-hounds!
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!