Bumpin' Gullivers & More J-Horror: Cinefantastique Post-Mortem 2:1.1

Gabby, stunned at the life-like might of a rotoscoped hand in the Fleischer Bros.' GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Gabby, stunned at the life-like might of a rotoscoped hand in the Fleischer Bros.' GULLIVER'S TRAVELS

Having roundly belittled the recent, Jack Black-infused version of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons turn their sights to other, earlier versions of the fantasy classic. Of a slate that includes an animated version from the Fleischers, a kid-oriented take from Ray Harryhausen, and the Halmis’ encyclopedic TV adaptation, which towers Brodignagianly over the others, and which are mere Yahoos? And while we’re at it, why are the prince and princess of the Fleischer version so camera shy?
Then Steve gives us his thoughts on David Kalat’s ambitious survey, J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge, and Beyond; and Dan & Larry wax nostalgic for Looney Tunes presented the way god intended them: at a full, six minute running length. Plus more tangents and digressions than you can shake a Lilliputian at.

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Laserblast 10/5/10: Splice, The Exorcist, Beauty & The Beast

Also coming out on home video this week: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CAPRICA SEASON 1.0, STARGATE UNIVERS: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, THE SECRET OF KELLS, GRINDHOUSE SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY, and DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND

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Tuesday, October 5 is overflowing with horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles of all shapes and sizes arriving on home video in various formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes downloads. The best of the new releases is SPLICE, which arrives in two versions, DVD and Blu-ray. When it hit theatres earlier this year, Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror opus was a bit misrepresented by its advertising campaign, which suggested a SPECIES-type monster movie. Instead, audiences got a thoughtful science fiction film with an overlay of dark satire.
Also out this week is A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the unnecessary (and unnecessarily dull) remake of writer-director Wes Craven’s 1984 classic. The new version is slickly made but typically soulless. Somewhat less typically, it is also almost entirely devoid of shocks and suspense. Give this one a pass.
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This is one of those rare weeks when classic titles are overwhelming new releases, thanks to some deluxe editions that surpass and eclipse previous home video versions. Horror fans disappointed by the ELM STREET remake can take solace in Warner Brothers Home Video release a two-disc Blu-ray of THE EXORCIST (1973), which includes the original theatrical cut and the so-called “Extended Director’s Cut,” plus three new documentaries. The film is also being made available for download via iTunes for the first time. The extended cut is just a new name for the 2000 theatrical re-issue of the film, which at the time was dubbed “The Version You ‘ve Never Seen” – a sobriquet that hardly makes sense ten years later. Even if (like me) you have previously purchased both versions of the film on DVD (including the excellent 25th anniversary edition), you will find much worth viewing on this disc, thanks to previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage that provides an amazing glimpse at the making of this horror classic.
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If your tastes run more toward fairy tale fantasy, you are in luck: Walt Disney Home Video is releasing a 3-disc Diamond Edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, their 1991 Oscar-nominated blockbuster, which has been unavailable in any form since 2003. (This combo pack will be followed seven weeks later by a 2-Disc standard definition DVD on November 23.) The 3-disc set includes one DVD and two Blu-rays. The DVD features an all-new digital restoration, three versions of the film, sing-along mode (with subtitles for the lyrics), and an audio commentary. The first Blu-ray disc includes the DVD bonus features and the three versions of the film (in high-def, of course), plus more extras, including previously unseen alternate opening and a deleted scene. The second Blu-ray disc offers the bonus features from the old Platinum Edition DVD, plus some new Blu-ray extras, including “Beyond Beauty – The Untold Stories,” “Enchanted Musical Challenge Game,” and “Bonjour, Who is This” – a game in which you use your phone to receive secret messages and guess players’ identities before they guess yours.
In a move no one could ever have expected, the abysmal TROLL 2 receives a Blu-ray release this week; the format seems altogether too refined by the cheezy little movie, which has gained some cult notoriety this year, thanks to the art house release of BEST WORST MOVIE, the documentary tracing the lives and reunion of some of the TROLL 2 cast members.
MGM Home Video offers the MGM Sci-Fi Movie Collection. Unfortunately, the company’s 1956 classic FORBIDDEN PLANET is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get one  (WAR GAMES) and a bunch of forgettable duds (SOLAR BABIES, ALIEN FROM L.A. with Kathy Ireland, HACKERS with a  young Angelina Jolie film, SPACE CAMP, and a WAR GAMES sequel).
Apparently, bargain days have arrived this week, with several previous available titles re-released in two-packs: GROUNDHOG DAY and SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, HANCOCK and GHOST RIDER, THE GRUDGE and SILENT HILL, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and WOLF, FANTASTIC FOUR and X-MEN, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and I ROBOT, plus several others.
But wait, there’s more! Also on store shelves this week:

  • CAPRICA: SEASON 1.0 on DVD
  • SGU: STARGATE UNIVERS – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON on DVD and Blu-ray
  • THE SECRET OF KELLS on DVD and Blu-ray
  • GRINDHOUSE two-disc collector’s edition on Blu-ray
  • THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION on DVD
  • DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND on DVD
  • DELGO on DVD and two-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo
  • THE EVIL/TWICE DEAD, a two-pack of Roger Corman Cult Classics
  • FINGERPRINTS on Blu-ray
  • THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS, a deluxe edition
  • THE RIG
  • SISTERS on Blu-ray (no not the Brian DePalma original but an unnecessary remake)

And the list goes on and on… All are available in the Cinefantastique Online Store. Click the links below to check them out, or go here.
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The Grudge 3 – DVD Review

Remember how scared you were when you first saw THE GRUDGE? Want to feel that way again? Well, it’s a good thing home video allows you to pop the 2004 film in the DVD player, because watching THE GRUDGE 3 is not going to invoke any of the atmospheric, irrational thrills you recollect from the older movie. In fact, THE GRUDGE 3 – a low-budget, direct-to-video sequel shot in Bulgaria – is such a dismally spiritless affair that it almost seems deliberately designed to make the disappointing THE GRUDGE 2 look good by comparison.
In case you don’t remember the ending of the aforementioned GRUDGE 2 (and really, why would you want to?), it relocated the action to Chicago with the obvious intention of setting up future sequels that could abandon the Japanese origins of the story. Living up (or down) to that unpromising premise, GRUDGE 3 is set entirely in Chicago except for one brief scene in Japan that introduces us to Naoko (Emi Ikehata), who in the grand tradition of pointless revelations turns out to be the unlikely sister of Kayako, the angry spirit responsible for the lethal “grudge.”
The great thing about the JU-ON films (the Japanese originals on which THE GRUDGE was based, particularly 2003’s JU-ON: THE GRUDGE) was the way that writer-director Takashi Shimizu abandoned traditional plot structure, offering a series of vignettes that tied together like a twisted tapestry, avoiding the exposition, characterization, and plot mechanics over which so many horror films stumble. THE GRUDGE 3 abandons this lesson in favor of telling a story about an apartment building where the manager is slowly turning homicidal thanks to a ghostly influence; in effect, it has as much in common with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as THE GRUDGE.
Fortunately for our American victims, after sitting out the events of the previous two films (six, if you count the four Japanese JU-ON titles), Naoko has finally decided it’s time to take action and put her sister’s restless spirit down for good. Why the change of heart? Apparently, as long as Kayako was limited to Japan, it was okay, but it’s a shame on the family for the ghost to be messing with Americans overseas.
What is Naoko going to do? Perform an exorcism, that’s what. This undermines the overwhelming terror of the orignal JU-ON/THE GRUDGE concept – which was that the curse was unstoppable; one you were exposed to it, your fate was sealed. It also moves the already conventional story in an even more conventional direction, with a stranger riding into town to solve the problem.
This disappointing scenario was written, surprisingly enough, by Brad Keene, who scripted two of the best entries in the annual After Dark Hororfest. You really would be better off watching either FROM WITHIN (2008) or THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006). Presumably, executive interference undid him here.
Keene’s writing certainly wasn’t helped by Toby Wilkins’ direction. Having helmed a few “Tales of the Grudge” webisodes to promote THE GRUDGE 2, Wilkins does a poor job of stepping into the director’s shoes. The omnipresent dread that filled Takashi Shimizu’s JU-ON and GRUDGE films is missing from THE GRUDGE 3, replaced with the cliches of bad American horror movies. Even worse, the uncanny, irrational scares have been abandoned in favor of cruder shocks, including a few moments of gratuitous gore. Completely ineffective, these bloody moments merely underline how desperate the director is to deliver anything approaching a scare.
The cast of is mostly forgettable. Genre names Shawnee Smith (SAW) and Marina Sirits (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) show up just long enough to get killed off. Aiko Horiuchi, replacing Takako Fuji as Kayako, does a passable imitation, but newcomer Shimba Tsuchiya is too old to play ghost-boy Toshio, who has been recast  twice previously to prevent the character from aging on screen. It’s a sign of how careless the custodians of the franchise have become that such an obvious mistake was allowed to slip through.
Perhaps the most perplexing cinematic mystery of the new millenium is why and how Ghosthouse Productions (Sam Raimi’s horror-oriented production company) managed to run their GRUDGE franchise into the depths of the direct-to-video abyss so quickly, going from a blockbuster hit (THE GRUDGE) to a disappointing theatrical sequel (THE GRUDGE 2) to a total DTV disaster (THE GRUDGE 3) in just three easy steps. Really, they couldn’t have failed any more badly, or any faster, if they had tried. (Maybe someone from the Bush administration is working for them?)
Of course, even popular trends can fade fast, and America’s J-Horror remakes and sequels have been waning for awhile now, so it’s tempting to theorize that Ghost House is merely the victim of fading audience interest in a genre that has lost the ectoplasmic power to spook. Has J-Horror given up the ghost? Perhaps.
Or perhaps not. Two new JU-ON sequels made their debut in Japan last month, JU-ON: SHIROI ROJO (“The Grudge: The Old Lady in White”) and JU-ON: KUROI SHOJO (“The Grudge: The Girl in Black”). JU-ON writer-director Takashi Shimizu merely supervised these follow-ups, but the deliciously creepy trailer suggest that the angry spirits of Japanese horror films still have a few scares left in them.
THE GRUDGE 3(2009, direct to video). Directed by Toby Wilkins. Written by Brad Keene, based on characters created by Takashi Shimizu. Cast: Matthew Knight, Shawnee Smith, Mike Straub, Aiko Horiuchi, Shimba Tsuchiya, Emi Ikehata, Takatsuna Mukai, Johanna Braddy, Marina Sirtis.
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Laserblast DVD & Blu-ray: Underworld 3, Star Trek, Galaxy Quest, The Grudge 3, Passengers

Numerous science fiction, fantasy, and horror films of all shapes and sizes are arriving on DVD and Blu-ray this week. Most of them are repackagings of older titles hauled out of the vaults one more time, either to celebrate an anniversary (GALAXY QUEST) or to tie in with the release of a feature film (STAR TREK); fortunately, there are one or two new titles as well, including the latest installment of the UNDERWORLD franchise.

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UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is the third film in a trilogy as far as release dates, but in a sense it’s the first – being a prequel that tells the back story of the previous films. This was originally announced as a direct-to-video film but made its way into theatres earlier this year. Kate Beckinsale, who starred in UNDERWORLD and UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, passed on reprising her role, but Rhona Mitra (DOOMSDAY) can do the sexy, sophisticated British act just as well. In any case, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is available in four different versions: a DVD, a UMD for PSP, a stand-alone Blu-ray disc,and a Blu-ray box set that combines it with the previous two UNDERWORLD titles. (Is it just me, or do you get the feeling that most of these Part 3 titles were begat simply to create the opportunity for a trilogy box set?) DVD bonus features on the are:

  • Underworld Rise of the Lycans – From Script to Screen Featurette
  • The Origin of the Feud Featurette
  • Re-Creating the Dark Ages: The Look of Underworld Rise of the Lycans
  • Filmmaker Audio Commentary
  • Music Video

The Blu-ray disc duplicates all of the DVD bonus features and adds these extras:

  • Digital Copy of the film for PC, PSP, Mac or iPod
  • Cinechat: Send on-screen instant messages to yoru friends around the world while you watch the movie together
  • Behind the Castle Walls: Picture in Picture
  • Interactive Map of Werewolf Sightings around the World.

As all good Trekkies know, there is a new STAR TREK feature film currently with its phasers set on massive ticket sales; inevitably, this means that Paramount has dipped into the vault for old titles to reissue. This week sees several new box sets reassembling the films and television episodes into new permutations:

  • A Blu-ray box set of “Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection” (containing all the feature films starring the original cast)
  • Blu-ray and DVD box sets of “Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy” (containing STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME)
  • A DVD set of “The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series” (containing “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Amok Time,” “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and “Balance of Terror”)
  • A DVD box set of “The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation” (containing “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and “The Measure of a Man.”

GALAXY QUEST returns to home video stores in honor of its 10th anniversary. In addition to the deleted scenes and other goodies from the old DVD release, the New DVD includes half a dozen new bonus features: Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest; Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector; By Grabthar’s Hammer, What Amazing Effects; Alien School: Creating the Thermian Race; Actors in Space; Sigourney Weaver Raps. You can read the details here.
Speaking of trilogies (as I was a couple of paragraphs ago), this week sees the direct-to-video release of THE GRUDGE 3, an arrival that should surprise no one, as the disappointing THE GRUDGE 2seemed pretty much designed to take what could have been a successful theatrical franchise and grind it into the DTV dirt. Following from the conclusion of that sequel, which shifted the action from Japan to America, GRUDGE 3 was made with an American director replacing franchise creator Takashi Shimizu, who has hopefully moved on to better things. Also out today is a Blu-ray release of THE GRUDGE, which was previously released on DVD in two versions: the PG-13 theatrical cut and the unrated director’s cut (each containing different bonus features).
PASSENGERS is a direct-to-video title from writer-director that seems to have more than enough star power to have warranted a theatrical release: Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway and Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest. Hathaway stars as a counselor helping survivors of a plane crash cope with the trauma; her patients begin mysteriously disappearing, and one of them seems to have developed psychic abilities. It all sounds a bit like a high-class version of FINAL DESTINATION (not that the idea was original there). The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Bonus features include a director-and-cast audio commentary, deleted scenes, a making of featurette, and an “Anatomy of a Plane Crash” featurette.
Other DTV titles this week include PLAGUE TOWN (available on DVD and Blu-ray), B.T.K. (starring former Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder), and S DARKO: A DONNIE DARKO TALE (available on DVD, Blu-ray, and in a 2-pack with the original DONNIE DARKO).
As for the rest:

  • THE FOG (John Carpenter’s 1980 original) gets a Blu-ray release.
  • A new DVD double bills two Bruce Campbell titles: MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN and ALIEN APOCALYPSE.
  • THE ANATOMIST – a 1961 television take on real-life body-snatchers Burke and Hare, starring Alistair Sim (SCROOGE) – makes its debut on DVD.
  • Paramount re-releases a few old titles as part of its “Paramount Valu” line: CORE, VIRTUOSITY, and D.A.R.Y.L.

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Hollywood's Scariest Haunted Houses

Yes, the housing bubble has burst; home sales are down. The news sounds bad, but there is a silver lining: namely, it’s a buyer’s market! With the world’s latest haunted house movie,  THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, opening today, what better time for interested shoppers to investigate the possibility of purchasing their very own haunted house? With that in mind, Cinefantastique Online offers this catalogue of the finest spooky manses, decaying domiciles, awful apartments, murderous mansions, and cob-webbed castles ever imagined by demented writers and constructed by the Hollywood art department for your haunting pleasure. You want the Top Ten Haunted Houses? We have more than twice that many listings. These properties may not have always appeared in the best movies, but each has its own particular selling points.
A word of explanation: Ghosts and haunted houses are considered to be synonymous, and they do often go hand in hand; however, there is a distinction to be made. Most viewers understand that RING, although a ghost story, is about a cursed videotape, not a haunted house; however, a number of reference sources list THE SIXTH SENSE among haunted house movies – even though the ghosts are not limited to a particular location. All of the houses in our listings feature localized phenomena; the ghosts, ghoulies, and long-leggedly beasties that go bump in the night may make an occasional excursion to the outside world, but they are permanent residents whose ethereal existence seems somehow tied to their haunted homesteads.


CASTLES

Looking for something suitably grand and top-of-the-line? Castles tend to be more the province of vampires and/or evil aristocracy in the Gothic tradition, but there are a few that feature genuine ghosts.
Blackwood Castle in DANSE MACABRE (a.k.a. CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
Lord Blackwood has listed his English family estate with us (a fine old Gothic ruin that perfectly embodies the archetype of a haunted house); however, it is not for sale or even, precisely speaking, for rent. Interested parties, however, are invited to spend the night, alone, free of charge – free, that is, except for a wager that you will not live to see the sunrise. Unlike the Allardyce House and the Belasco House (see below), Blackwood Castleis not haunted because of anything intrinsic to its nature; rather, it is merely been the scene of much murder and mayhem that results in the death of the body but not of the spirit, resulting in an impressive haunting. The castle features numerous amenities and selling points:

  • Crypt (conveniently located in the cellar)
  • Hypnotic painting (subject appears to be alive, eventually manifests in person)
  • At least seven ghosts (as of last count). These are vampiric in nature, requiring the blood of the living in order to sustain themselves. They vary in appearance from perfectly normal to hideously corpse-like; in some cases, they are so beautiful and alluring that you might not mind never leaving.
  • Pets: at least one black cat on premises
  • Selling points: Visited (or at least glimpsed) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Known fatalities: 8

Buyer beware: Survival rate of previous guests who have accepted Lord Blackwood’s wager is zero.
Asking price: not for sale. Market value difficult to determine due to Lord Blackwood understandable reluctance to have the property appraised (the last attempt ended in disaster). Since the value derives from the ghosts, who could easily be dispatched bywithholding the annual victim, we would estimate its value to haunt-seekers at $4-million.

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Noble Johnson as one of the undead inhabitants of Windward Castle
Noble Johnson as one of the undead (or is he?)inhabitants of Windward Castle

Castillo Maldito in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940).
This crumbling Cuban Castle, located on a small island off the coast, is reportedly haunted by several phantoms – and a zombie! Some of these selling points may be a bit exaggerated; we have not been able to authenticate all phenomena as genuine, but then, that was typical of the many spooky mansions constructed during this era. Seen in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (1930), THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939, these dilapidated dwellings feature creaking floor boards, whistling winds, secret panels, and hidden chambers – not to mention oddball residents as scary as any ghost. We avoid listing these properties in our catalogue, because most of them turn out not to be haunted. Yet Castle Maldito is an exception.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Hidden treasure
  • One authenticated (or at least not debunked) ghost. Although superficially similar to the decaying family mansion in CAT AND THE CANARY (which also starred Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard), Castle Maldito leaves at least one ghost unexplained at the end. This gives the castle claim to being Hollywood’s first truly haunted house. This historical importance does not come cheap.

Asking price: $1.5-million.


COUNTRY HOMES AND MANSIONS

Perhaps the most likely place to find a ghost is an an old mansion or country house. Haunting is especially prevalant in England, where the houses are older and have had more opportunity to aquire ghosts, but there are a few good ones in America, too.

The Allardyce House in BURNT OFFERINGS (1976).
This large Victorian mansion in the California countryside looks like a bit of a dump at first – run down, with paint chipped and boards peeling – but if you give it a chance, it’s  a real fixer-upper that requires amazingly little effort on the part of its (human) renters. This is one of those rare haunted houses that seems to be malevolent in its own right: there are no signs of surviving personalities; the house itself is the haunt.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The house comes equipped with a pool, but swimmers are advised to beware of unexpected waves.
  • Self-reparing home. Just move in, and in no time at all the house will almost literally grow on you, shedding its old shingles like a snake shedding its skin, to reveal the glossy appearance hiding beneath the old facade.
  • Known fatalies: 3

Buyer Beware:

  • The upper chimney may not be stable, so keep your eyes open for falling bricks.
  • The upper window (to Mrs. Allardyces’ room) probably needs to be replaced.
  • The rent is reasonable, but there are strings attached, such as having to leave food outside an upper room for old Mrs. Allardyce, an apparent (and unseen) agoraphobic who insists on remaining at home, even when strangers have rented the place.

Asking price: not for sale. Market value varies, most recently appraised at $750,000.

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The Belasco House in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1974).
This is one of the premiere properties in our catalogue, the so called “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Lovingly designed by original owner Emeric Belasco in 1919, this extensive mansion features ornate quarters, spacious living areas, and its own chapel.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Unlike most of the houses in our catalogue, this English mansion was deliberately constructed to be a “haunted house”: it features an innner sanctum sheathed in lead to create a sort of battery containing psychic energy.
  • This power source fuels a wide range of psychic phenomena, both mental and physical: ectoplasm, shaking tables, self-igniting fireplaces.
  • Guests may also enjoy the amorous attention of an unseen visitor at no extra cost.
  • Number of ghosts: one (but appears to be more)
  • Confirmed fatalies: 40
  • Pets: There is a sort of house mascot in the form of a black cat, who gives new meaning to the phrase “bad kitty!”

Buyer Beware:

  • Those with repressed sexual desires and/or a naive faith in their own ability to exorcise the house are advised to say away.
  • Watch out for spinal and/or leg injuries.

Asking price: $9-million

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Bly House in THE INNOCENTS (1960).
This excellent English country mansion is one of the jewels in our crown, a beautiful property with high turrets, large rooms, a lake, and expansive grounds (although the surrounding terrain is a bit treacherous, especially if you have tipped one too many at the local pub). As with Blackwood Castle, there is nothing inherent in the structure of Bly that makes it haunted; it simply happens to be inhabited by ghosts.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Number of ghosts: 2, Quint and Miss Jessel. These are a rather quiet, incommunicative, and diffident pair, given to appearing at unexpected moments, more for the sake of causing mental unease than for actually doing anything overtly malevolent. However, presence can be quite disconcerting when they make the effort, with shadows and voices combining for a nightmarish effect in the wee hours of the morning.

Buyer Beware:

  • Several residents have claimed not to see any ghosts at all in Bly.
  • Please be advised that we do not recommend this property for families with children, who seem to be peculiarly susceptible to the influence of Quint and Jessel.
  • If you require servants, try to hire a governess who is (1) can swim and (2) is not a neurotic spinster given to doing more harm than good while trying to defend her charges against a supernatural conspiracy.

Asking price: $3-million

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The Dutch Colonial House in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979 & 2005).
This lovely home on Ocean Avenue on the South Shore of Long Beach, New York is one of the most famous properties in our catalogue, but it no longer attracts the attention of most serious shoppers. It was quite popular back in 1979, but since then the value has dropped precipitously, thanks to scurilous rumors that it may not actually be haunted; in fact, there are some who say that the whole thing was made up. Nevertheless, the property’s lovely facade, with upper front windows that suggest menacing eyes, is quite an attractive selling point for buyers who require only that their house look haunted.
Asking price: $500,000.

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Fort Marmorus in THE BLACK CAT(1934).
Or more precisely, the house built by Satanic architect Hjalmar Poelzig upon the remains of the fort. Unlike most of the houses listed in our catalogue, this one has a distinctly modern look – bright, with clean lines and wide open spaces; fortunately, there are some dark corridors, for tradition’s sake. Whether or not the house is, strictly speaking, haunted, is another matter. Rather like our other Poe-inspired property, the House of Usher (see below), Poelzig’s manor seems embued with psychic influences, in this case the result of the many hundreds of souls who perished on the battlefield during the first world war; the skeptical may consider this to be “supernatural baloney,” but some visitors have succumbed to the uneasy atmosphere, turning temporarily “mediumistic” under its palpable influence.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Located conveniently close to a cemetery (see picture)
  • Numerous glass cases displaying the preserved bodies of former wives.
  • Dynamite in basement for easy self-destruct
  • Confirmed fatalies: 100s – or even thousands – if one counts those who died on the surrounding battliefields.

Buyer Beware:

  • Even the phone is dead.
  • While this house may not be for everyone, it is an unusual find for just the right purchaser, one who doesn’t require howling banshees and clanking chains, but prefers a more subtle shade of psychic influence.

Asking price: $1-million.

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Gull Cottage in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).
Other realtors may hesitate to show this house, for fear of its haunted reputation, but we are more than eager to go the extra mile on your behalf, assuming that you will not be intimidate by the ghost of a brusque British sea captain. The cottage is a quaint, comfy abode witha nautical theme to its decor, and the view of the ocean is beautiful. Quiet, serene, and beautiful, it is a perfect seaside home for a widow raising a child. If not for an unfortunate accident with a gas lamp, it would not be haunted at all; fortunately, Captain Gregg is one of the most interesting and accommodating of ghosts – if you can get on his good side. If you are concerned about the propriety of living under the same room with a man to whom you are not married, just remember: he’s a ghost, so he doesn’t have a body.
Amenities:

  • Number of ghosts: 1 (or 2)
  • Captain Gregg is very effective at removing unwanted guests

Asking price: $1-million

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The Haunted Mansion in THE HAUNTED MANSION (2003).
This is another property we are eager to unload. The house itself looks great, and its name is certainly promising, but the ghosts inside just don’t cut it. They try their best, but they’ve got no real spirit. They’re less like phantoms from the beyond than like…recycled gags from a theme park attraction.
Asking price: $300,000

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Hill House in THE HAUNTING (1963). Built by Hugh Crain for his young wife (who died on the way to seeing it) this certainly the jewel in our crown, our most prized and coveted listing. Why? Because of all the haunted houss in this catalogue, this is the one that appears to be self-haunting. Many have died there, and indeed some may have remained in spirit form, but Hill House appears to have been born bad – a malign place before the first resident ever set foot in it – and those who perished within are more victim than ghosts. In short, there is little chance that whatever walks there will be exorcised as long as the house itself remains standing, which it has done for 80 years and might do for 80 more. It is an expert if eccentric piece of architecture, with no right angles; although the tiny variations are individually imperceptible to the eye, they add up to a virtual maze, wherein one can never be sure what lurks beyond each new door. The construction is superb: walls are upright; bricks meet neatly; floors are firm. Current owner has considered reconverting the building into a nightclub, but no plans are in the works.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The avid psychic investigator will be pleased to find that the house offers a distinctive “cold spot” (the heart of the haunting).
  • Musical instruments do not quite play themselves but they do resonate with ambient tones.
  • Doors close by themselves when not watched; when they are watched, these closed doors bend inward as if pressed by some sinister unseen force from outside.
  • Loud pouding noises at night
  • Confirmed fatalities: 5
  • Number of ghosts: the haunt does not manifest surviving, invididual personalities

Buyer Beware:

  • Staircase in need of repair.
  • Treacherous driveway
  • Look out for the writing on the walls
  • If you feel a hand holding yours in the night, for god’s sake, turn on a light to confirm whether it is indeed your fellow investigator, frightened into silence, or…something else.

Asking price: $10-million

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The House of Usher in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960).
This ancient family mansion might not appeal to the average avid haunt fan, but it would be the perfect purchase for a buyer with the proper aesthetic appreciation. The problem is that it is not, technically, a haunted house; rather, it seems to be imbued witha miasma of intangible atmosphere. Even Hill House, by the end, appears to contain at least one genuine ghost, but the House of Usher really is its own monster – a vessel for the accumulated decadence of the family that has inhabited it for so long. This manifests in the occasional balustrade giving way (was the wood rotted, or was the housetrying to dispose of an unwanted guest?) and in the general decline of the two surviving family members, one of whom suffers from catalepsy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Family crypt conveniently located in basement
  • Confirmed fatalies: the entire Usher family
  • Number of ghosts: none (unless you count their appearance in a dream)
  • The house is the monster

Buyer Beware:

  • The house is in need of some repair; in particular, that big crack running through the outside wall needs to be fixed before the entire structure splits in two and sinks into the tarn.
  • If you bury someone in the crypt, make sure the door is locked – so they can’t get out!

Asking price: $1-million.

* * *

The Old Country House in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970).
We have just about given up on this one. The previous retailer assured us that this house was some kind of karmic balance adjuster, dishing out just deserts to its inhabitants according to what they deserved. But on further investigation, we discovered that the house – despite its notorious name – had little or no blood on its…er, hand? (No – well how about no blood on its window panes?) The victims either died in other locations (like a wax museum), were felled by problems that pre-dated their residency, or brought into the house outside objects that were the real culprit (like a mysterious vampire’s cloak). It’s not a bad piece of property, but haunted?
Confirmed fatalities: 5 (not counting those who died outside the house)
Asking price: We’d like to unload it for $250,000.

* * *

The Remote Country House in THE OTHERS (2001).
This graceful estate on the isle of Jersey is somewhat in the style of Bly House. In the manner of haunted houses, it is big and dark and beautiful. It features the traditional fog-bound atmosphere, but with an interesting distinction: the fog seems to be literally impenetrable, as if the house were shrouded from the outside world, cut off in some kind of limbo land all its own.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A piano plays itself in an empty room.
  • A figure that initially presents as an innocent child turns out to be a hideous hag
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3 (not counting a husband who died overseas in the war)
  • Number of ghosts: 3, 6, or 7 (depending on the occasion)

Buyer Beware: Residents may expect to experience different phenomena, depending on their point of view.
Asking price: $1.5-million.

* * *

The Winward House in THE UNINVITED (1944). Like Gull Cottage, this is a lovely seaside residence located conveniently close to the ocean. It does not provide the outward appearance of being haunted; consequently, it has no trouble aquiring residents unprepared for the phenomena within. Up until 1944, most old dark houses turned out not to be haunted after all; following the comedic THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), this is probably the first Hollywood movie to present a genuine haunted house seriously. This lends the property, with its muted thrills and subtle suggestions of horror, an almost inestimable historical value.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Cold spots
  • Flowers that wilt in the blink of an eye
  • The melancholy sobbing of an unseen woman
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware: that seaside cliff is treacherous!
Asking price: $5-million.


HOTELS

Perhaps you are not looking for a permanent residence but only a place for a pleasantly haunted stay? Or maybe you are looking to get into the haunt business yourself – purchase a property and rent it out to others? Here are some prime properties that should interest you.
The Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING (1980).
This is another one of the great haunted properties, one that dwarfs most of the competition. Built on the remains of an old Indian burial ground, the Overlook features high ceilings and brighlty lit rooms that are virtually the opposite of traditional haunted house decor, and yet the atmosphere is all the more effective because of it. The isolated location adds to the allure, and residents may rest assured that it is inhabited by enough ghosts to fill a dozen other haunted houses. Of particular note are the mysterious woman in Room 237 and the mysterious set of playful twins in the corridor. There is also a lovely band playing old-fashioned dance music, a helpful butler, and – best of all – a bartender named Lloyd who likes to offer drinks on the house. It is hard to say whether the Overlook was born bad or became bad as the result of the people who died there; it’s a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question. However, it got that way, it is safe to say that this Hotel is one of the most haunted places on the planet.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A hedge maze. If you have some time on your hands, you might try your skills and finding your way in and out, but try to pick a day without snow.
  • A convenient elevator service for those not frightened by the sight of enough blood to fill a dozen Dario Argento movies
  • Long corridors great for riding your big wheel
  • Confirmed fatalies: 6 (but obviously many more, judging from the number of ghosts)
  • Number of ghosts: too numerous to count
  • Your money’s no good here – which means more than enough free phantom booze to intoxicate a recovering alcoholic

Buyer Beware: The location is extremely isolated in the snowy winter season, so take care that nothing happens to the battery in the snow mobile.
Asking price: $8-million.

* * *

Seven Doors Hotel in THE BEYOND (1981).
Outwardly, this Louisiana hotel is no match for the Overlook, but it does have one unbeatable thing going for it: it’s built on one of the Seven Gateways to Hell! This puts the hotel in that special category of properties that will always be haunted, regardless of who died there. Yes, the ghosts of the dead are restless within its walls, but that gateway is responsible for a far more apocalyptic form of supernatural mayhem.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 3(not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: Only a few are identifiable, but there appear to be many more – perhaps infinite
  • The gateway to hell not only revives dead souls and reanimates bodies into zombies; it also bends the very fabric of reality, teleporting unsuspecting victims literally to Hell and Gone – also known as the Sea of Eternal Darkness. You don’t get amenities like that in the Overlook!

Asking price: $5-million.


SUBURBS AND APARTMENT LIVING

City ghosts were once an anomaly; spirits used to keep to isolated locations: mansions and castles or at least houses set well apart from the neighbors. In the modern era, however (perhaps due to the population explosion), phantoms have been forced to seek residence in more highly populated areas. This is a great advantage to haunt enthusiasts who would like to purchase a ghost-invested property without givng up the benefits of city life.
The Freeling House in POLTERGEIST (1982).
This is definitely one for bargain hunters – we are slashing prices way, way, way down! It turns out that it wasn’t really the house that was haunted; it was the damn television that acted as a portal to the afterlife, allowing all manner of spirits to enter the land of the living. Now the TV’s gone, and so are the ghost.
Asking price: $250,000

* * *

The House in HOUSE (1986).
This is a model that was quite popular in its day, but the market value has fallen more than average for this kind of property. Buyers want something new, or they want the classics. These mid-level haunted houses are all right for brief visits, but no one much wants to live there, especially when the haunting seemed so specific to the previous owner, rather than a part of the house’s nature.
Asking price: $250,000

* * *

The Rundown Apartment House in DARK WATER (2001 & 2005).
One of the small, dingy rooms in this building would be a terrible place for a divorced mother to raise her child – even if the place were not haunted. Unfortunately, a little girl died there a while back, and though not outright malevolent, she is downright scary in her supernatural quest to secure a surrogate mommy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 2
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware:

  • Watch out for leaky faucets, bathtubs, etc.
  • Don’t let your kids play on the roof, and especially don’t let them climb up on the water tank!

Asking price: not for sale, but rent is cheap – even if not haunted, this place should be condemned.

* * *

The Saeki Residence in THE GRUDGE (2004).
Externally inauspicious, this is in fact one of the most intensely haunted properties in our catalogue, thanks to three malevolent  yūrei residing there: Kayako, Takeo, and Toshio. The death of the three familiy members (a murder-suicide perpetrated by father Takeo) left a curse on the property, resulting in an extremely high fatalities among subseqeunt residents, besting many of the more elaborate models; just about everyone who passes into its portal succumbs. Despite its conventional appearance, this haunted house engenders intense feelings of dread and apprehension at the mere thought of crossing its thresshold. The house has been seen in four Japanse JU-ON movies and two American GRUDGE films. Of these, THE GRUDGE implicity suggests that the curse falls only on people who have entered the Saeki House, raising the property’s importance to the haunting – and thus its value – over the Japanese predecessors.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A lovely staircase, perfect for making a memorable entrance (especially if you like crawling on your hands and knees)
  • Pets: one black ghost cat
  • Confirmed fatlities: 8 (not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: 3
  • Like the Seven Doors Hotel, the Saeki House can bend reality – in this case time, creating weird anomalies in which characters from the present can view the past and perhaps be viewed (or at least sensed) in return

Asking Price: $7-million

* * *

The Changeling (1980)The Victorian Mansion in THE CHANGELING (1981).
This lovely old structure perfectly conforms to everyone’s idea of what a haunted house should be: it’s big, imposing, old, and spooky, with more than enough room for plenty of ghosts. In point of fact it is not a particularly evil place, and the haunting is limited to the ghost of a single murdered child – a troubled but not particularly malevolent spirit of the type that cannot rest peacefully until justice has been rendered. Whatever the ghost’s intentions, the effect is suitably unnerving, creating an effective haunting that should please those who enjoy their ghosts that raise the hair on the back of their necks rather than jumping out and screeching “Boo!”
Asking price: $2-million.

Scaredy Cats: The Grudge (2004)

Toshio's ghost cat from THE GRUDGE

Cats are the perfect international horror movie stars. Like the genre itself, they make their impact with visuals, not dialogue, which is why horror travels well from country to country. A unique example of this is THE GRUDGE, an American remake of the 2003 Japanese production JU-ON: THE GRUDGE. Remaking a Japanese horror film had previously been successfully accomplished with 2002’s THE RING, but in this case the American version retained the original director, some of the actors, the Japanese setting – and of course the memorable cat-and-ghost-boy combo that sent shivers down so many spines. Read More

Ju-on, The Grudge (2003) – Film & DVD Review

Recall your worst nightmares as a child: your fear of the dark, of being alone in bed at night, of shadows without substance lurking in corners, beneath the bed, outside your door, or in your closet. Remember the creaking floorboards, the rustle of wind or the moan of some animal – a cat, perhaps? – which led you to believe that you were no longer alone, that something tangible was there with you, about to manifest itself before your frightened senses. Now imagine this fear captured on celluloid and presented to you with all the evocative power of your childhood nightmares – only now the nightmare seems utterly convincing, because you know you are awake, and utterly inescapable, because it can follow you anywhere: in attics, down stairs, along corridors, through doors, even into that one place you felt absolutely safe as a child – beneath the bed covers. This is the essence of horror captured in JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, Read More

A Day to Celebrate Malicious Mothers of the Movies

We all know a boy’s best friend is his mother, but mom and apple pie do not always equate with wholesome goodness when it comes to cinefantastique. In movies, the old cliche about the female of the species being as deadly as the male usually refers to a luscious femme fatale, but there are also many memorable examples of malicious, malevolent, and monstrous mothers. Of course, the very concept of malignant motherhood is disturbing; it violates our deepest, most cherished expectations of the nurturing caregivers who raise helpless babes to become frolicking children and eventually well-adjusted adults. This inversion of expectations is what gives these monstrous mothers the nasty little kick that makes their wickedness all the more horrible; after all, fairy tales have taught us to expect wickedness from step-mothers, but real mother? No, never…


Mrs. Rand in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943).

I Walked with a Zombie edith_barret

This apparently benevolent matriarch has a little secret: in order to dispense medicine to the superstitious locals, she poses as a voodoo priestess. Near the end, it turns out she has an even bigger secret: enraged by a love triangle between her two sons and a woman, she joined one of the voodoo ceremonies and put a curse upon the woman, turning her into a zombie. The result is tragedy and sorrow for all concerned, including the eventual death of one of her sons. Way to go, Mom!


Mrs. Bates in PSYCHO (1960).

The mother of all monstrous mothers is Norman Bates’s alter ego in Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological horror. One might argue that the real Norma gets a bum rap (after all, we never see her, only her psycho son’s re-enactment of her), but the very fact that her son is so screwed up leads us to believe she must have been just as terrible as we can possibly imagine. In any case, whatever the reality of her as a character, the film uses her as a symbol of debased motherhood, destroying the old-fashioned schism of classic horror films, in which horror was something outside the home that attacked the goodness and purity inside. Here, home is the house of horror, thanks to the domineering matriarch.


Baroness Meinster in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).
Brides of Dracula
The Baroness claims the lives of no victims directly, but she has much to answer for. Her indulgent ways led her son, Baron Meinster, into a life of wickedness that eventually turned him into a vampire. Now she keeps him locked up on a chain, but she procures occasional female victims, to appease his bloodlust. The implication, as in PSYCHO, is that the horror proceeds from the mother-son relationship, in this case with the mother vicariously enjoying the dissolute ways of her son.


Gorgo’s Mom in GORGO (1961).

Mother Love expands to monstrous – and destructive – proportions in this English movie about a giant prehistoric beast run amok. Gorgo’s Mom is not really malicious; she’s just looking for her off-spring, but her effect on London is pretty dire, including the destruction of London Bridge.


The Horta in “Devil in the Dark” (Star Trek)
Star Trek Devil in the Dark Horta with eggs
Like Gorgo, the Horta is not truly malicious – unless provoked. Initially presented as a mindless monster, this silicon-based life form on the planet Janus VI racks up an impressive body count (over 50 victims). Like The Blob, she  dissolves her victims (with corrosive acid), and no obstacles stands in her way – she is capable of appearing anywhere. However, a mind meld with Mr. Spock reveals a startling truth: the Horta is an inoffensive creature, the only member of her species left alive, destined to mother the next generation of her race, when they hatch from the silicon eggs that human miners have thoughtlessly been destroying in their quest to find new deposits of valuable minerals. The poor Horta has merely been fighting back to protect her children and ensure the future survival of her kind. In the episode’s remarkable climax, the vengeful human miners try to attack the alien Horta, but Captain Kirk stops the lynch mob by threatening to kill anyone who harms the creature – siding with the “monster” instead of his fellow Earthlings (a moment that eerily prefigures Hugh Thompson Jr.’s actions at the My Lai Massacre a year later). Alone among the mothers in this list, the Horta survives to happily co-exist with her one-time enemies.


The Older Woman in ONIBABA (1964)
Onibaba02
This Japanese horror flick features a metaphoric if not literal Onibaba (“Demon Woman”), a mother whose son has died in a feudal war. Teamed up with her daughter-in-law, she makes a living by killing off stray samurai and selling their armor. When her son’s friend returns from the war and starts an affair with the young woman, the Mother-in-Law resorts to rather heinous method to break them up, filling her daughter-in-law’s head with superstitious fears – that seem to come true when a demon appears in the rice fields. Whether real or imagined, the supernatural horrors pale in comparison to the ruthless efficiency with which the two women dispatch their victims.


Carlo’s Mother in DEEP RED (1975)
Deep Red 1975
This Dario Argento thriller, one of his best, plays a wicked game, leading the audience to believe that self-pitying drunk Carlo is the murderer, but it turns out to be his eccentric mother, who previously seemed like nothing more than a comic relief supporting player (she cannot remember that the hero is a jazz pianist, not an engineer). Martha is one mean bitch, with a body count to her credit that would put Mrs. Voorhees to shame: axing a woman and shoving her head-first through a glass window; drowning another woman in scalding hot water; bashing another’s teeth in and impaling him through the neck with a blade that pins him to a table; and best of all, murdering her husband on Christmas by stabbing him in the back while Carlo (then a toddler) looks in soul-shattering shock (which may explain why he becomes a pathetic alcoholic).


Mrs. White in CARRIE (1976)
Carrie Piper Laurie
The deranged parent certainly gives Mrs. Bates a run for her money in the malevolent mother sweepstakes (a point underlined by director Brian DePalma, who renamed the high school “Bates High,” a name not used in the Stephen King novel). Mrs. White is a whacked out religious loony who sadistically mistreats her telekinetic daughter Carrie, acting out the kind of scenes we could only imagine took place in PSYCHO. No wonder the poor teenage girl eventually goes postal on the entire high school and eventually her mother.


Nola Carveth in THE BROOD (1979).
The Brood Nola Carveth
In this film, writer-director David Cronenberg turns the very act of motherhood into a miasma of horror. Nola is a psychotic undergoing treatment that allows her to manifest her inner demons somatically, which she does by giving birth to deformed children that act out her homicidal wishes. She claims only a few victims; the real horror is watching her birth one of her babies, biting open the external sack in which it grows and licking it clean. You won’t want to eat for a week.


Mother in ALIEN (1979).
Alien Mother computer
This Nostromo’s onboard computer does precious little to help the human crew against the marauding alien that has infiltrated the spaceship. Worse yet, after Ripley has reversed the ship’s self-destruct sequence, Mother refuses to acknowledge the override and insists on nuking the Nostromo anyway. Mother does not have enough personality to be a real character (she is no HAL 9000), but she seems to be one cold-hearted bitch.


Mrs. Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980).
Friday the 13th Mrs. Voorhees
Like Martha in DEEP RED, Mrs. Voorhees is revealed as the killer only in the final reel, so we have to retroactively credit her for the film’s high body count. She is one wacked-out woman, speaking in a childish voice that is supposed to represent her drowned son Jason. Speaking of retroactive reassessment, the revelation in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 – that Jason is alive – makes Mrs. Voorhees seem even nuttier: she kills off a bunch of camp counselors to avenge her son, but it turns out he survived. So, did she just imagine the drowning? Has she been psychologically blind to his existence since then? Whatever the case, this is another bad example of the poisonous effects of Mother Love.


Anna in POSSESSION (1981)
Possession Isabelle Adjani
This weird story of marital discord features a woman (Isabell Adjani) whose deteriorating relationship with her husband somehow leads to her giving birth to a slimy monster with tentacles. As if this were not bad enough, she has a sexual relationship with Junior, who eventually starts to resemble her husband. None of it makes sense on a literal plot level, but the film is interesting if you read its outre elements as externalizations of the characters’ inner turmoils.


Sil in SPECIES(1995)
Species Sil
Her appearance and actions (seducing and killing her male victims) seems to put her into the femme fatale category, but the true horror of Sil is that she is capable of mothering a new alien race capable of overrunning the world and wiping out humanity. To give her credit, we have to assume that, as malicious as she acts toward humanity, she probably would have made a good mother to her own children.


Grace Stewart in THE OTHERS (2001)
The-Others-Nicole-Kidman-1999
Grace appears to be the very definition of a protective, loving mother as this ghost story follows her attempts to shield her children from a supernatural force lurking in their isolated English mansion. However, a last-reel twist casts a new light on her behavior…


Kayako in JU-ON: THE GRUDE (2003).

Kayako is both victim and villain: murdered by her husband, she comes back as a malevolent ghost, along with her ghostly son Toshio, wrecking death and destruction for years afterwards. Over the course of six films, she tallies up an awesomely impressive kill count, but what is most memorable about her is not mere numbers; it is the spooky, inexplicable, and almost random way she manifests, following no clear rules that would allow potential victims to avoid her. The American remake, THE GRUDGE, makes it clear that Kayako’s husband killed both her and Toshio. The Japanese original shows Toshio escaping his father’s rampage, leaving it up to the audience to figure out how he died. The only possible conclusion is that he was the first victim of his mother’s vengeful spirit.


Mater Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum, and Mater Lachrymarum in the “Three Mothers Trilogy:” SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980), and THE MOTHER OF TEARS (2007)

Inspired by Thomas DeQuincey’s essay “Lavana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,” Dario Argento created this trio of witches whose names translate as Mother of Sighs, Mother of Darkness, and Mother of Tears. Despite their names, they are actually “wicked step-mothers, incapable of creating life, who rule the world with sorrow, tears, and darkness.” Collectively, they are responsible for some of the most brutal and graphic murders ever perpetrated on screen (although, technically, the killings are usually carried out by underlings).
In each of the first two films, the atrocities are centered mostly around an ancient dwelling place housing one of the witches; THE THIRD MOTHER ups the ante, with Mater Lachrymarum’s evil influence spreading throughout the streets of Rome with almost apocalyptic effects. Never has the power of Motherhood been so explicity alligned with supernatural – not psychological – evil, creating a disturbing sense of an innocent world at the mercy of forces so powerful they almost defy comprehension.

Remaking Asian Horror – A Brief History

THE GRUDGE: Kayako (Takako Fuji) performs her infamous downstairs crawl in the American remake.

THE EYE (based on the 2002 film by the Pang Brothers) is the lastest in a series of remakes inspired by horror films from Japan, Korea, and China. American audiences first became aware of this trend in 2002, when THE RING (a remake of Japan’s 1998 gem RING) was released to blockbuster success – nearly $130-million at the U.S. box office alone. This led to THE GRUDGE two years later (based on JU-ON: THE GRUDGE), which was almost as big a success as THE RING, earning in excess of $110-million on American screens. Of course, this kind of success inspires repetition, and it seems as if American cinema has been drowning in remakes of Asian horror films ever since (a fact spoofed in the tagline for HATCHET, which proclaimed, “It’s not a sequel, it’s not a remake, and it’s not based on a Japanese one”).
As one might expect from a trend based entirely on mercenary motives, the critical reaction has been mostly negative. After all, few of these films cry out to be remade; most of the originals are superior; and the main stumbling block to U.S. distribution is the language barrier (American audiences do not like to read subtitles, and dubbing often sounds silly). American filmmakers look to Asia less for inspiration than for ready-made templates that can be used to punch out duplicates; besides language and loctation, the major “improvements” usually consist of pumping up the pacing with a few more jump-scares and enhancing the special effects with computer-generated imagery.
What is perhaps a little more surprising in the face of the on-going trend is that, since THE GRUDGE, none of these films has become a blockbuster. In 2005, THE RING 2 topped out at $76-million; a year later, THE GRUDGE 2 fared even worse, falling shy of the $40-million mark. At this point, an Asian-inspired horror film that could crack $30-million would be an anamoly, yet Hollywood keeps churning them out ( apparently the rational is that the film can still be profitable because they can be made cheaply).
This is a sad statement about the lack of originality in the American horror genre. One can hardly blame filmmakers for chasing after the big bucks, but when it becomes an accounting game (“After  tallying in DVD sales and ancillary markets, we’re out of the red”), one has to wonder how the mercenary motivation can be strong enough to justify the continuing artistic hackery.
With this preamble in mind, below the fold we offer a rundown of remakes and spin-offs inspired by great Asian horror films. We had originally considered calling this a “Best of” list, until the absurdity of using “best” in this context reduced us to gales of derisive laughter. Read on, if you dare…

* * *

RING (a.k.a. “Ringu,” 1998).

RING (998) proves that television is bad for you: Sadako emerges from the cursed video tape

Our first entry is a bit of a joke: the film that started it all is a remake! Koji Suzuki’s novel had previously been adapted as a 1995 Japanese television mini-series that hewed closer to the source material. The feature film version made several significant changes: the lead character became a single woman with a child (as in Suzuki’s short story “Dark Water”); the virus metaphor (with references to small pox and DNA providing a hint of a scientific explanation for the cursed video) was downplayed in favor of the supernatural; and in a nod to David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME, the memorable conclusion featured the ghostly Sadako emerging from the television set. The rest is horror history.

*

RING 2 (a.k.a. “Ringu 2,” 1999).
This sequel to RING is in a sense a remake, although we may be stretching the definition a bit. The first sequel, RASEN (a.k.a. “Spiral,” 1998, based on Suzuki’s novel), was shot simultaneously with RING, but it turned out to be a box office flop. One year later, the producers went back and made a new sequel. Although RING 2 is officially not a remake of RASEN, it does hit many of the same story points: Takano Mai (Nakatanii Miki) is searching to unravel the mystery of math professor Ryuji Takayama’s death in the first film; the parents of Reiko Asakawa (the reporter from the first film) choose to burn the videotape and die rather than spread Sadako’s curse; and Asakawa dies in a car accident. RING 2 is a bit of a rehash (“let’s take what worked before and do it again”), but it captures a little bit of the mood from its predecessor, and fans may find it diverting.

*

THE RING VIRUS (2000).
Before the Americans got ahold of RING, South Korea delivered this  remake (which takes its title from a phrase used in Spiral, Susuki’s sci-fi sequel to his original novel). This film contains several elements from the novel that were abandoned in the Japanese film; in his book The Ring Companion, Denis Meikle goes so far as to insist that RING VIRUS is too different to be considered a genuine remake. Nevertheless, this film retains the essential changes wrought by RING: the protagonist is a woman reporter with a child, and the film ends with the evil ghost (here called Eun-Su) crawling out of a television set. RING VIRUS has little to offer that was not done better in RING, but it does feature a few ideas/images that were borrowed in the later American remake, so the Korean film has had an impact on the trend that followed.

*

THE RING (2002).
Here is where the remake trend really took off at the box office. When producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes saw RING, instead of simply purchasing the distribution rights, the opted to remake it for American audiences. Their version borrows not only from its namesake but also from RING 2  and THE RING VIRUS (and possibly even DARK WATER). It is pretty much a soulless, mechanical affair, “distinguished” by the addition of a few gratuitous shocks (a suicide by electrocution in the bath tub and the goring of a horse by a ship’s propeller) and by some crazy foreshadowing (long before Samara [this film’s version of Sadako, played by Daveigh Chase], a fly magically emerges from a TV screen showing the cursed videotape, but our crack reporter does not sense a front page story at this miracle). The film is not exactly bad, but it is lacking in inspiration and atmosphere, creating some dull passages (unlike the original, which was tense even when nothing was happening). In any case, it was a huge hit, with a worldwide gross of nearly $250-million.

*

THE GRUDGE (2004).
Uniquely, this remake of JU-ONE: THE GRUDGE was directed by the same man who helmed the original, Takashi Shimizu; not only that, it is set in Tokyo instead of being relocated to America, and Takako Fuji returns as the malevolent ghost Kayako. The American production company, Ghost House, was created by Sam Raimi (director of SPIDER-MAN) specifically to remake foreign horror films for the American market. Raimi wisely realized that, in the horror genre, execution can be more important than story; hence the hiring of Shimizu. The screenplay by Stephen Susco incorporates elements from all four Japanese JU-ON movies and forefronts the leading lady (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), turning her into a more traditional protagonist and diminishing the fragmented narrative structure of the original. Despite the changes, this is easily the best of the American remakes, the only one that stands on its own. It’s a bit like hearing a recording artist redo one of his own hits: Working with Hollywood resources, Shimizu not only recreates his patented scares; he sometimes exceeds them. For example, check out the wonderful elevator scene, in which cat-ghost boy Toshio is seen on every floor: unlike the original, which relied on editing to fake the illusion, the American remake achieves the effect in a single, continuous take. The result was another box office hit, with worldwide reveneues of over $188-million.

*

THE RING TWO (2005).

Samara climbs out of the well in THE RING TWO

This time, the American producers followed the example of Sam Raimi and hired the director of the Japanese original to helm their film. Although not officially a remake of RING 2, this American sequel to the 2002 hit takes a similar tack, destroying the cursed videotape right off the bat, instead of following up on the implications of THE RING’s ending (which suggested that copies of the tape would spread like a virus). Having nipped the curse in the bud, the screenplay by Ehren Kruger has to come up with a new story, which it does, but only feebly. Now, Samara seems to want a mother figure to replace the one she lost while alive, and she turns her attention on harassing the son of reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts). With this storyline, and plenty of water imagery, THE RING TWO feels like more of a remake of DARK WATER. Hideo Nagata, director of RING, got a chance to helm this sequel, but he brings little of the atmosphere and intensity he achieved in his Japanese horror films; the film just coasts along, searching for scares like a tourist on a lonely road, desperate for a roadside attraction to break the tedium. The film showed a steep decline at the box office from THE RING, but it was still a big hit worldwide, earning nearly $162-million.

*

DARK WATER (2005).
This is not a particularly bad film, but it succumbs to the all-too-common “it’s not really a horror film” syndrome. Following the plot of the 2001 Japanese film, this remake stars Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly as a woman going through a painful divorce, who moves into a rundown building with her daughter. The dingy, deteriorating setting becomes an externalization of her declining mental state, and to top it all off, the place is haunted by a little ghost girl looking for a surrogate mother. The film was a box office disappointment, perhaps predictably; after all, its basic  had been stolen by THE RING TWO, so audiences were left feeling as if they had seen it all before. Consequently, this is the first evidence that remaking a J-Horror film is not the equivalent of minting gold. Worldwide box office returns fell shy of $50-million.

*

THE GRUDGE 2 (2006).
After the success of THE GRUDGE, this sequel turned out to be a massive disappointment. Like THE RING TWO, this is not an official remake of its Japanese namesake, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2; instead, we get an original story that finds screenwriter Stephen Susco (like Ehren Kruger before him) fumbling about when he does not have a pre-written story to copy. Judgin from the behind-the-scenes features on the DVD, there were major disagreements between the American production company and the Japanese filmmakers over what direction to take; the result is a compromised effort that plays out like a weak duplication of its predecessor. Director Takashi Shimizu utilizes his patented scare techniques, but they are undermined by a convoluted structure that delays the pay-offs past the point of audience patience. The film is also hampered by a rather obvious studio injunction to get the story headed toward America, presumably so that subsequent sequels can abandon the Tokyo connection altogether. One gets the feeling that the strategy was to set the franchise up to make less expensive sequels, possibly for the DVD market (a suspicion enhanced by the “Tales from the Grudge” Internet webisodes released before the film, which looked like resume builders for a potential future director). The box office result was a big drop from THE GRUDGE, with worldwide total not quite reaching $69-million.

*

PULSE (2006).
This remake of the enigmatic KAIRO (2001) sat on a shelf for a long time while the Hollywood filmmakers re-tooled it. They might as well have not bothered: when it finally came out, it barely earned $20-million in the U.S., with overseas totals boosting the worldwide total to a meagre $29.8-million.

*

ONE MISSED CALL (2008).
Arriving earlier this year, this remake proved once and for all that Hollywood just does not get it. The 2004 Japanese original (directed by Takasha Miike) was a virtual parody of the cliches that had proliferated in the six years since RING. Ingoring the satirical intent of the original, the American remake treats the material with a straight face, as if it had never been seen before, and the result is decidedly dull, even though the running time is nearly a half-hour shorter. Not only that, director Eric Valette botches the two big set pieces: the death of one victim in a television recording studio, and the resurrection of a corpse in a hospital. As of this writing, the film’s U.S. gross stands at $26.2-million, with overseas revenues yet to kick in. Final tallies should be somewhere in the neighborhood of DARK WATER.

* * *

When a horror sub-genre is so depleted that it cannot deliver even basic scares, it is time to call it quits. Unfortunately, Hollywood refuses to learn its lesson. Not only is THE EYE opening today; A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (remade from the well regarded Korean film) is scheduled for later this year. Oh well, at least the continuing trend of Asian remakes is no worse than TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, THE HITCHER, and FRIDAY THE 13TH.

Film Interview: Takashi Shimizu on Holding a Grudge

“IT NEVER FORGIVES. IT NEVER FORGETS.”

That’s the tag-line for THE GRUDGE, the horror film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as an American social worker in Tokyo who is exposed to a mysterious curse that spreads like a virus as it claims new victims. What many mainstream Western audiences may not realize is that THE GRUDGE is based on an excellent series of Japanese horror films that have revitalized the genre with a kind of intensity seldom seen on the movie screen. The four previous films that make up the “Grudge” series (titled “Ju-On” in Japanese) are filled with a barrage of imagery that is nightmarish, surreal, and at times confusing, but the style should not be completely unfamiliar to non-Japanese viewers. Some of supernatural manifestations (female ghosts with long, dark scraggly hair obscuring their faces) are reminiscent of the 1998 Japanese horror hit Ring, which was remade in American in 2002 as The Ring. The Ju-On films up the ante, however; whereas Ring featured a strong narrative, laced with unseen menace, that built slowly to its terrifying climax, Ju-On and its sequels eschew traditional plot structure in favor of an episodic approach that shifts point of view as each new character comes in contact with the “curse” that will doom them. With no clearly identified protagonist, the films spend little time on characterization and back story; the running time is devoted almost totally to staging the hauntings. Read More