23/09/2020

Japanese horror remakes such as ‘The Ring’, ‘Dark Water’ and ‘The Grudge’ were once cinema’s hottest property, with help from Naomi Watts, Kristen Bell and Sarah Michelle Gellar, but a flop new remake of ‘The Grudge’ suggests it won’t rise again, says Adam Wh…

A pale-faced girl in a long dress and with very bad hair crawls like a crab out of a television set, or alternatively down the stairs. She is soggy and sounds like she has a bad throat, and theres sometimes a well or a water tower, cat sounds or creepy photographs, and often a bit of now-archaic technology.
Japanese horror movies at the turn of the millennium, dubbed J-horror, endlessly cycled through a dozen or so of the same tropes. There were always slight differences here and there swapping the terror of a cursed home for the terror of a cursed telephone, for example but the tropes were consistent. They were also endlessly remade for western audiences. Anchored by American stars like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kristen Bell, US remakes of J-horror staples came to dominate the horror genre in the mid-Noughties until they suddenly didnt.
Plummeting box office and new horror trends may have sounded the genres death knell, but, much like scraggly haired Samara insisting on climbing out of that well in The Ring, western J-horror remakes just wont stay dead. This month marks the release of The Grudge, a reimagining of the Gellar version, itself an English-language remake of the 2002 Japanese film. But compared to its US predecessor, a surprise smash in 2004, this one has tanked. In effect, its lack of success speaks to how far the sub-genre has fallen since the years of The Rings Naomi Watts throwing a haunted VHS across the room.
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That aforementioned film, a gloomy portrait of shrieks and horse death directed by Gore Verbinski, was the $250m-grossing geyser in which an abundance of J-horror remakes sprung forth. From there came Gellars Grudge, Dark Water (with Jennifer Connelly), Pulse (with Bell) and One Missed Call (with Shannyn Sossamon). Much of the rest of Asia was plundered, too. There was Chinas The Eye (remade as a Jessica Alba vehicle), Thailands Shutter (with Joshua Jackson) and South Koreas A Tale of Two Sisters and Addicted (remade, respectively, as The Uninvited, starring Elizabeth Banks, and Possession, with Gellar once again).
Strangely, it was a single man responsible for the majority of them. Development executive Roy Lee launched a cottage industry in the early 2000s selling the rights of Asian hits to US studios. He also found gaining the rights remarkably easy, telling Asian studios that theyd make far less money merely distributing their work internationally, as Americans historically never see subtitled movies. Selling the remake rights instead would be far more lucrative in the long term. American movie executives were also seduced by Lees description of non-English horror movies as mere blueprints for international success, or case studies in what sells and what scares people.
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1/37 Funny Games (1997)
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Funny Games places the horror in the familiar setting of home. It follows two young men who hold a family hostage and torture them with sadistic games. The result is far scarier than anything featuring ghosts, witches or demons.
2/37 The Amityville Horror (1979)
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
The Amityville Horror is based on the true story of the Lutzes, a family who were run out of their home after being terrorised by paranormal phenomena in 1975. Just one year before, Ronald DeFeo Jr shot and killed six members of his family in the same house. James Brolin and Margot Kidder lead this film, which became one of the biggest hits of 1979.
3/37 Audition (1999)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Japanese horror Audition (1999) follows a widower who meets a woman named Ayoma after staging auditions to meet a potential new partner. Soon, though, her dark past begins to surface, which equates to a pretty disturbing climax.
4/37 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by:
Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Although parodied to death, The Blair Witch Project popularised the found-footage format to terrifying degrees in 1999. People genuinely believed they were watching real clips of three student filmmakers being terrorised by a Maryland legend known as the Blair Witch.
5/37 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Black-and-white silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionism, but also one of the scariest films in cinema history. It follows a hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist to commit murders, and Wiene’s shadowed sets and striking visual style combines to unsettle the viewer in ways most filmmakers only dream of managing.
6/37 Candyman (1992)
Directed by: Bernard Rose
A contemporary classic of horror cinema, 1992 film Candyman which spawned two sequels and has a Jordan Peele-produced remake in the works follows a graduate student whose studies lead her to the legend of a ghost who appears when you say his name three times.
7/37 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Extreme enough to warrant a ban in Italy and Australia, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was one of the first films to embrace the found-footage format so much so that Deodato found himself charged with multiple counts of murder due to rumours that several of the film’s death scenes were real. He was later cleared.
8/37 The Descent (2005)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Released in 2005, The Descent follows six women who, upon exploring a cave, battle to survive against the creatures they find inside. It’s these creatures that earn this British horror film’s placement on this list.
9/37 The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by: William Friedkin
One of the most controversial films of all time, The Exorcist which tells the story of the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) became the first horror to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in 1974.
10/37 Halloween (1978)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Sure, it may be dated, but John Carpenter’s original Halloween film released in 1978
remains the daddy of all horrors. It re-defined the rule book and has been emulated in everything from Scream (1996) to Trick ‘r Treat (2007). The tension, as babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) attempts to evade masked murderer Michael Myers, only heightens with every new watch.
11/37 Hereditary (2018)
Directed by: Ari Aster
Proving that horror is a force to be reckoned with, Hereditary became independent distributor A24’s highest-grossing film around the world upon its release in 2018. It tells the story of a family who find themselves haunted after the death of their secretive grandmother and features a final act that left many of its viewers with sleepless nights.
12/37 The House of the Devil (2009)
Directed by: Ti West
The House of the Devil (2009) follows a student named Samantha who is hired to guard an isolated house with one rule: don’t go upstairs. For most of the film’s runtime, not much happens, which is what makes the action-packed final third so terrifying. Spoiler: she goes upstairs.
13/37 The Innocents (1961)
Directed by: Jack Clayton
Based upon Henry James’ chiller The Turn of the Screw, the plot of 1961 psychological horror film The Innocents concerns a governess who watches over two children and comes to fear that their large estate is haunted by ghosts and that the youngsters are being possessed.
14/37 It (1986)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Forget the effects-laden remake this version of It, released as a miniseries in 1986, is the most terrifying adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved novel to date. It follows a shapeshifting demon who takes the form of a sadistic child-killing clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry).
15/37 Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Japanese horror maestro Takashi Shimizu who also directed the pretty scary 2005 remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar balances mystery with horror in Ju-On: The Grudge, a story based in a cursed house in Tokyo.
16/37 Kill List (2011)
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
To describe the horrors of Kill List is to ruin the film’s surprises, but let’s just say this: the final 20 minutes of Ben Wheatley’s violent drama from 2011 features some of the most unsettling scenes in any film from this decade.
17/37 Lake Mungo (2008)
Directed by: Joel Anderson
Taking the form of a mockumentary, the little-seen Australian drama Lake Mungo may have received a limited release in 2008, but its story of a family attempting to come to terms with the drowning of their daughter stays with viewers long after.
18/37 Martyrs (2008)
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
The polarising 2008 film Martyrs, often associated with the New French Extremity movement, is the kind of horror that leaves you needing a shower once the credits roll. It follows a young woman’s quest for revenge on the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child.
19/37 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by: George A Romero
Younger viewers may be desensitised by the more extreme horror films to have been released in recent decades, but the scares featured in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead including the young girl zombie reveal remain some of the most chilling committed to celluloid.
20/37 Nosferatu (1922)
Directed by: FW Murnau
Alongside Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), the character of vampire Count Orlok in 1922 film Nosferatu played by Mac Schreck remains one of the most spine-tingling in cinema history.
21/37 The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by: JA Bayona
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this acclaimed 2007 chiller follows the disappearance of a young boy in an orphanage, which brings many of the building’s terrifying secrets to the fore.
22/37 The Others (2001)
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
The Others (2001) is a towering achievement for Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar who wrote, directed and scored this Nicole Kidman-fronted tale about a woman trying to protect her children from supernatural forces. It’s perhaps the scariest 12-certificate film of all time.
23/37 Paranormal Activity (2009)
Directed by: Oren Peli
Could Paranormal Activity be the scariest film of all time? It’s certainly one of them. Just when you thought found-footage had had its day, Oren Peli’s small-budgeted festival favourite became one of 2009’s biggest hits. Audiences lapped up the story of a couple who capture supernatural presences on a camera in their own home.
24/37 Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Paranormal Activity 3 earns its place on this list for its final 10 minutes. Set 18 years prior to the events of the first two films, we see the cause of the curse that follows characters Katie and Kristi for the rest of their lives and it’s down to a coven of witches led by their grandmother.
25/37 [REC] (2007)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Played out in real-time, the claustrophobic Spanish horror film [REC] is one of the better examples of found-footage cinema. Released in 2007, it follows a reporter and her cameraman who follow firefighters to a Barcelona building and soon find themselves locked inside with its occupants who are displaying murderous behaviour.
26/37 Ring (1998)
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the story of Ring by now: viewers of a cursed videotape die seven days after watching it. While the inevitable Hollywood remake in 2002 was better than it had any right to be, Nakata’s original is as terrifying as horror films come.
27/37 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Released in 1968, Rosemary’s Baby follows a pregnant woman who suspects that an evil cult want to take her baby for use in their rituals. Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon’s performances tip this psychological chiller into classic status.
28/37 The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Forget the iconic “Heeeeere’s Johnny” or that bath scene it’s the smaller moments that make Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining a terrifying watch, notably the trippy final act that sees Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) lose his mind to the Overlook Hotel.
29/37 Sinister (2012)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Of all the Blumhouse horror films, 2012 release Sinister which features the demonic character Bughuul is the spookiest of them all. It stars Ethan Hawke as a true-crime writer who discovers a box of home movies depicting grisly murders in the attic of his new house.
30/37 Sleep Tight (2011)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró
This little-seen Spanish horror follows a concierge who, believing he was born without the ability to feel happiness, decides to make life hell for everyone around him.
31/37 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
The fictional Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), marketed as a true story, follows a group of cannibals including Leatherface who relentlessly hunt down a group of friends.
32/37 28 Days Later (2002)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Many might not reflect upon 28 Days Later (2002) as one of the world’s scariest horror films, but its desolate depiction of a viral outbreak seems more real than any other. When merged with the fast-paced infected and the usage of John Murphy’s song “In the House In A Heartbeat”, it’s hard to deny it such status.
33/37 V/H/S (2012)
Directed by: Various
Directed by six filmmakers, including Adam Wingard and Ti West, 2012 anthology film V/H/S is grimy horror of the tallest order. Look no further than David Bruckner’s section “Amateur Night” following three friends who meet a mysterious girl who says nothing other than three small words: “I like you.”
34/37 The Wailing (2016)
Directed by: Na Hong-jin
Twist-filled horror drama The Wailing follows a policeman who investigates a series of mysterious killings and illness in the mountains of South Korea. If the journey fails to scare you, its destination will leave you lying awake at night.
35/37 The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by: Robin Hardy
The Wicker Man is deemed the best British horror film of all time for a reason. It tells the story of a Police Sergeant who travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find its inhabitants practising a form of Celtic paganism.
36/37 The Witch (2015)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
For the most part, it’s not what you see in The Witch that terrifies, it’s what you don’t see. Eggers unsettlingly holds his camera a fraction too long in places as he retells the story of a Separatist family who encounter supernatural forces in the woods beyond their farm.
37/37 Zero Day (2003)
Directed by: Ben Coccio
The horrors are all too real in Zero Day, a film inspired by the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The majority of the film is portrayed through the video diaries of two students who are planning to attack their high school.
1/37 Funny Games (1997)
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Funny Games places the horror in the familiar setting of home. It follows two young men who hold a family hostage and torture them with sadistic games. The result is far scarier than anything featuring ghosts, witches or demons.
2/37 The Amityville Horror (1979)
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
The Amityville Horror is based on the true story of the Lutzes, a family who were run out of their home after being terrorised by paranormal phenomena in 1975. Just one year before, Ronald DeFeo Jr shot and killed six members of his family in the same house. James Brolin and Margot Kidder lead this film, which became one of the biggest hits of 1979.
3/37 Audition (1999)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Japanese horror Audition (1999) follows a widower who meets a woman named Ayoma after staging auditions to meet a potential new partner. Soon, though, her dark past begins to surface, which equates to a pretty disturbing climax.
4/37 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by:
Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Although parodied to death, The Blair Witch Project popularised the found-footage format to terrifying degrees in 1999. People genuinely believed they were watching real clips of three student filmmakers being terrorised by a Maryland legend known as the Blair Witch.
5/37 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Black-and-white silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionism, but also one of the scariest films in cinema history. It follows a hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist to commit murders, and Wiene’s shadowed sets and striking visual style combines to unsettle the viewer in ways most filmmakers only dream of managing.
6/37 Candyman (1992)
Directed by: Bernard Rose
A contemporary classic of horror cinema, 1992 film Candyman which spawned two sequels and has a Jordan Peele-produced remake in the works follows a graduate student whose studies lead her to the legend of a ghost who appears when you say his name three times.
7/37 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Extreme enough to warrant a ban in Italy and Australia, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was one of the first films to embrace the found-footage format so much so that Deodato found himself charged with multiple counts of murder due to rumours that several of the film’s death scenes were real. He was later cleared.
8/37 The Descent (2005)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Released in 2005, The Descent follows six women who, upon exploring a cave, battle to survive against the creatures they find inside. It’s these creatures that earn this British horror film’s placement on this list.
9/37 The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by: William Friedkin
One of the most controversial films of all time, The Exorcist which tells the story of the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) became the first horror to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in 1974.
10/37 Halloween (1978)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Sure, it may be dated, but John Carpenter’s original Halloween film released in 1978
remains the daddy of all horrors. It re-defined the rule book and has been emulated in everything from Scream (1996) to Trick ‘r Treat (2007). The tension, as babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) attempts to evade masked murderer Michael Myers, only heightens with every new watch.
11/37 Hereditary (2018)
Directed by: Ari Aster
Proving that horror is a force to be reckoned with, Hereditary became independent distributor A24’s highest-grossing film around the world upon its release in 2018. It tells the story of a family who find themselves haunted after the death of their secretive grandmother and features a final act that left many of its viewers with sleepless nights.
12/37 The House of the Devil (2009)
Directed by: Ti West
The House of the Devil (2009) follows a student named Samantha who is hired to guard an isolated house with one rule: don’t go upstairs. For most of the film’s runtime, not much happens, which is what makes the action-packed final third so terrifying. Spoiler: she goes upstairs.
13/37 The Innocents (1961)
Directed by: Jack Clayton
Based upon Henry James’ chiller The Turn of the Screw, the plot of 1961 psychological horror film The Innocents concerns a governess who watches over two children and comes to fear that their large estate is haunted by ghosts and that the youngsters are being possessed.
14/37 It (1986)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Forget the effects-laden remake this version of It, released as a miniseries in 1986, is the most terrifying adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved novel to date. It follows a shapeshifting demon who takes the form of a sadistic child-killing clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry).
15/37 Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Japanese horror maestro Takashi Shimizu who also directed the pretty scary 2005 remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar balances mystery with horror in Ju-On: The Grudge, a story based in a cursed house in Tokyo.
16/37 Kill List (2011)
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
To describe the horrors of Kill List is to ruin the film’s surprises, but let’s just say this: the final 20 minutes of Ben Wheatley’s violent drama from 2011 features some of the most unsettling scenes in any film from this decade.
17/37 Lake Mungo (2008)
Directed by: Joel Anderson
Taking the form of a mockumentary, the little-seen Australian drama Lake Mungo may have received a limited release in 2008, but its story of a family attempting to come to terms with the drowning of their daughter stays with viewers long after.
18/37 Martyrs (2008)
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
The polarising 2008 film Martyrs, often associated with the New French Extremity movement, is the kind of horror that leaves you needing a shower once the credits roll. It follows a young woman’s quest for revenge on the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child.
19/37 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by: George A Romero
Younger viewers may be desensitised by the more extreme horror films to have been released in recent decades, but the scares featured in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead including the young girl zombie reveal remain some of the most chilling committed to celluloid.
20/37 Nosferatu (1922)
Directed by: FW Murnau
Alongside Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), the character of vampire Count Orlok in 1922 film Nosferatu played by Mac Schreck remains one of the most spine-tingling in cinema history.
21/37 The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by: JA Bayona
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this acclaimed 2007 chiller follows the disappearance of a young boy in an orphanage, which brings many of the building’s terrifying secrets to the fore.
22/37 The Others (2001)
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
The Others (2001) is a towering achievement for Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar who wrote, directed and scored this Nicole Kidman-fronted tale about a woman trying to protect her children from supernatural forces. It’s perhaps the scariest 12-certificate film of all time.
23/37 Paranormal Activity (2009)
Directed by: Oren Peli
Could Paranormal Activity be the scariest film of all time? It’s certainly one of them. Just when you thought found-footage had had its day, Oren Peli’s small-budgeted festival favourite became one of 2009’s biggest hits. Audiences lapped up the story of a couple who capture supernatural presences on a camera in their own home.
24/37 Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Paranormal Activity 3 earns its place on this list for its final 10 minutes. Set 18 years prior to the events of the first two films, we see the cause of the curse that follows characters Katie and Kristi for the rest of their lives and it’s down to a coven of witches led by their grandmother.
25/37 [REC] (2007)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Played out in real-time, the claustrophobic Spanish horror film [REC] is one of the better examples of found-footage cinema. Released in 2007, it follows a reporter and her cameraman who follow firefighters to a Barcelona building and soon find themselves locked inside with its occupants who are displaying murderous behaviour.
26/37 Ring (1998)
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the story of Ring by now: viewers of a cursed videotape die seven days after watching it. While the inevitable Hollywood remake in 2002 was better than it had any right to be, Nakata’s original is as terrifying as horror films come.
27/37 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Released in 1968, Rosemary’s Baby follows a pregnant woman who suspects that an evil cult want to take her baby for use in their rituals. Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon’s performances tip this psychological chiller into classic status.
28/37 The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Forget the iconic “Heeeeere’s Johnny” or that bath scene it’s the smaller moments that make Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining a terrifying watch, notably the trippy final act that sees Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) lose his mind to the Overlook Hotel.
29/37 Sinister (2012)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Of all the Blumhouse horror films, 2012 release Sinister which features the demonic character Bughuul is the spookiest of them all. It stars Ethan Hawke as a true-crime writer who discovers a box of home movies depicting grisly murders in the attic of his new house.
30/37 Sleep Tight (2011)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró
This little-seen Spanish horror follows a concierge who, believing he was born without the ability to feel happiness, decides to make life hell for everyone around him.
31/37 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
The fictional Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), marketed as a true story, follows a group of cannibals including Leatherface who relentlessly hunt down a group of friends.
32/37 28 Days Later (2002)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Many might not reflect upon 28 Days Later (2002) as one of the world’s scariest horror films, but its desolate depiction of a viral outbreak seems more real than any other. When merged with the fast-paced infected and the usage of John Murphy’s song “In the House In A Heartbeat”, it’s hard to deny it such status.
33/37 V/H/S (2012)
Directed by: Various
Directed by six filmmakers, including Adam Wingard and Ti West, 2012 anthology film V/H/S is grimy horror of the tallest order. Look no further than David Bruckner’s section “Amateur Night” following three friends who meet a mysterious girl who says nothing other than three small words: “I like you.”
34/37 The Wailing (2016)
Directed by: Na Hong-jin
Twist-filled horror drama The Wailing follows a policeman who investigates a series of mysterious killings and illness in the mountains of South Korea. If the journey fails to scare you, its destination will leave you lying awake at night.
35/37 The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by: Robin Hardy
The Wicker Man is deemed the best British horror film of all time for a reason. It tells the story of a Police Sergeant who travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find its inhabitants practising a form of Celtic paganism.
36/37 The Witch (2015)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
For the most part, it’s not what you see in The Witch that terrifies, it’s what you don’t see. Eggers unsettlingly holds his camera a fraction too long in places as he retells the story of a Separatist family who encounter supernatural forces in the woods beyond their farm.
37/37 Zero Day (2003)
Directed by: Ben Coccio
The horrors are all too real in Zero Day, a film inspired by the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The majority of the film is portrayed through the video diaries of two students who are planning to attack their high school.
It helped that so much of J-horror is driven by relatively simplistic plots. We need films with rules, Lee told The New Yorker in 2003. Rules and hooks, like a videotape that kills people.
Lee was also responsible for the decades influx of remakes of non-horror Asian hits, too, including Martin Scorseses The Departed (originally Hong Kongs Infernal Affairs), the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock time-travelling romance The Lake House (based on South Koreas Il Mare), and even the Paul Walker snow-dog vehicle Eight Below (originally Japans Antarctica).
Few of Lees horror revivals were particularly good, instead existing as lesser carbon-copies of the subtitled films that came before them. The ones that did work, and even improve on their source material, felt like distinct visions regardless of their origins. Verbinskis grey-hued and nightmare-inducing The Ring and the rain-soaked and atmospheric Dark Water remain particular highlights. They were also lucky enough to be anchored by Watts and Connelly respectively, actors especially strong when playing haunted and broken. They knew to not merely let the spookiness carry the story, instead injecting very human pathos into extraordinary, terrifying circumstances.
They werent enough to rescue the genre from oblivion, however. The horror genre has historically existed as a faster, bloodier microcosm of Hollywood culture: something innovative proves a surprise smash and its ideas are quickly photocopied elsewhere, whether in rapidly produced sequels or rival movies playing in the same thematic sandbox. They dominate for a period before tailing off, replaced by another, far trendier horror movie doing very different things.
Nightmare-inducing: Naomi Watts in The Ring (DreamWorks)
Rebooted J-horror arrived in the wake of the transatlantic success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the anime-inspired visuals of The Matrix, and just as the Scream cycle of teen slasher whodunits were beginning to run out of blood. It helped that J-horror also felt attuned to the cultural fears of the era. The kids with knives motif of Scream mirrored a society suddenly terrified of violent youngsters raised on Marilyn Manson and Natural Born Killers; classic J-horror was often about alienation, fear of technology and the vice-like grip of regret and grief. Its no coincidence that the internet was flourishing alongside these movies, along with the feeling that there were significant psychological drawbacks to handing yourself over to it.
If the internet is still just as punishing as it is pleasurable, why did these movies die out so rapidly? The answer is most likely in the horror sub-genre that felled it. The end of the J-horror boom coincided with the rise of torture porn movies like Hostel, Saw and Wolf Creek, which delighted in graphic violence, moral abandonment and sadism. Born in the midst of the Iraq war, they symbolised a rejection of much of the foundations of the horror genre, instead swimming in chaos and misery rather than flickers of hope against evil. J-horror, with its greater subtleties and feelings of sleep-deprived isolation, was never as angry.
Torture porn led to an end-of-decade boom in found-footage horror, something like the Paranormal Activity franchise angling the technological paranoia of J-horror through a Blair Witch-inspired lens. They also cost significantly less to make helpful at a time when many studios were questioning whether horror had had its day at the box office. In the wake of profitable found-footage movies, the genre was dominated by a return to old-fashioned haunted-house spookiness, in the form of The Conjuring, Insidious and Annabelle. From there emerged elevated horror, a polarising term for horror movies like Get Out, The Witch, Midsommar and Hereditary, that play with sociopolitical relevance or arthouse ambiguity.
Trailer for the new revival of The Grudge
As for J-horrors demise, there was also the Scary Movie problem the lucrative horror-spoof franchise that helped morph many of the traditions of the genre into unintentionally silly clichés. Cindy, the TVs leaking, a line delivered in Scary Movie 3 by Regina Hall in response to an attack by Samara, has had a far greater online legacy than the movie it was satirising. Another little white girl done fell down a well, she remarks of the long-haired villain minutes earlier. Fifty black people got they ass beat by police today, but the whole world gotta stop for one little whitey down a hole.
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Despite feeling so baked into the mid-2000s, J-horror occasionally rears its head in the Hollywood of today, even if few show up to experience it again. The new Grudge, which awkwardly features far more Asian representation than the Gellar version despite being set in suburban Pennsylvania rather than Tokyo, has been a flop. Audiences polled after selected US screenings also gave it an F score making it the first conventional horror film to poll as low since 2012s The Devil Inside. It follows the equally dismal release of 2017s Rings, a go-nowhere revival of The Ring starring Leonard from The Big Bang Theory.
There may be a silver lining to it all, however. Just as the rise in music streaming has led to an explosion of non-English pop acts into the mainstream, theres a feeling that western audiences have finally woken up to the fact that foreign art can stand on its own. Where once hand-holding was interpreted as a necessity, in the form of a recognisable blonde from your favourite TV series or dialogue entirely in English, today something like Bong Joon-hos dark comedy Parasite can become a breakout US hit, with not a single American actor in sight. Why pay for a sub-par US reimagining, when the real deal is right there?
The Grudge is out in UK cinemas on Friday