Halloween Top 13: The Remake- #7: The Ring (2002)

Hello everyone. If I can get serious with you folks for just a moment. There is a very real and important reason that I put this film, The Ring, the one and only remake of a Japanese film that appears on this list, in the number seven position. First and foremost is that it belongs there. I’ve never been a massive fan of Japanese style horror no matter if remakes or originals were the subject at hand, but The Ring was the first of its kind to hit the States. It contained a very creepy and atmospheric ghost story without all the double jointed, pale, Japanese girls with flippancy for the laws of gravity that so plagued later entries in the genre. The second reason The Ring comes in at number 7 is that since I saw it I must only have seven days to live, and that will give me just enough time to finish this countdown. I realize I’ve seen the film before and didn’t die, and I don’t know how I got away with it. Maybe someone else was watching it at the same time and I got lucky, but no matter the reason, I’m a man on a schedule now so let’s get into this one, shall we?

The Ring and the Japanese original film Ringu from 1998 have many similarities. They were based on the same book, Ring by Koji Suzuki, both features killer videotapes, and keep to the same basic storyline. A journalist, Rachel (Naomi Watts), is drawn into investigating the mysterious death of her niece who was very close to her young son Aiden (David Dorfman). From all accounts, the seventeen year old girl’s heart just stopped, but when Rachel hears about a cursed videotape that kills, she begins searching for it. It all leads her to a group of cabins in the woods, and there she finds the tape. After watching the bizarre collection of images, just as she has been warned, the phone rings and a voice whispers “seven days”. Rachel, being none too happy with having an expiration, throws herself fully into the investigation with a little help from baby daddy and audio visual expert Noah (Martin Henderson). The closer she gets to finding answers, the weirder her life becomes, but when Aiden watches the tape, Rachel knows she must find some way to stop the forces at work.

Anyone who had watched Ringu knows that there are also a lot of differences between it and its American counterpart. First and foremost is the tape. In Ringu it  is a short, almost cogent, series of images, but American director Gore Verbinski beefs up The Ring's footage considerably while still taking the notes from the original film. The result gave Verbinski more mystery to unfold, but also the film’s biggest stumbling block. While Ringu is easier with answers and running time, Verbinski’s film runs almost thirty minutes longer and most of that is spent uncovering the extra layers of mystery that the director and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, Reindeer Games) piled onto the original plot. That being said, Verbinski saturates the film with a sense of dread that permeates every frame. Verbinski, who is not a well loved director thanks to his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, worked with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who is making his second appearance on the countdown (the first was #8 Body Snatchers), and really crafted a film that relied on some pretty tame imagery (The Ring was PG-13) to scare its audience. For my money, it worked.

While I know the Japanese series of films (and TV shows) has gone into a massive amount of detail regarding how the specter, Samara, was able to imprint herself on the VHS as well as her other powers, The Ring unfolds the mystery of her life without really delving into how she did what she did after she died. As an avid watcher of ghost hunting shows, The Ring always brought to mind the “stone tape” theory to which many paranormal investigators subscribe. It basically states that inanimate objects have electromagnetic fields, and just like how a VCR records a program onto a tape, a traumatic or harrowing event in a person’s life (or death) could cause their personal electromagnetic field to be absorbed by the object making a “recording”. While never explored in the film, this makes as much sense to me as to how Samara got her curse imprinted on the tape. I can’t really go further into my theory without spoiling major portions of the film, but I find that interesting to think about anytime I watch The Ring.

Though there are a small number of main characters, really only three unless you count the ghostly Samara, what really sell the film are the performances. Naomi Watts (King Kong, I Heart Huckabees) has been criticized as lacking a defined character, but I am hard pressed to see that. To me, she seemed like a determined and resourceful career woman who feels a great deal of guilt for the near abandonment of her son Aiden. Speaking of Aiden, plenty of people have given him grief for being the “creepy kid” a la “The Sixth Sense”. To those people I say, “Bah”. Creepy kids had been around long before Haley Joel Osment, and they will be in horror flicks long after everyone forgets who he hell Osment is anyway. I thought David Dorfman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Drillbit Taylor) gave a beautifully strange performance which didn’t even disturb my limited tolerance for child actors. Noah (Martin Henderson) has the least screen time of the three leads, but I found him both to be an affable character and the source of some badly needed lightheartedness in the film. However, if you want to go for best and shortest performance in The Ring, that honor has to go to veteran actor Brian Cox for his brief role as Samara’s father. In total, I doubt he has more than five or six minutes of screen time, but she surely knew how to make an impact in that allotted space.

The Ring was certainly the film that brought the J-horror invasion to American soil, but more than that, it was easily, by far, the best. (When the appearance of Sarah Michelle Geller can’t save The Grudge then nothing can.) Its success brought two other things with it, a weak sequel helmed by the original Japanese director and a myriad of imitators hoping for the same box office magic. Neither of which did anything to enhance the reputation of The Ring. With some years between the J-horror boom and now, I can finally take the film as an entity unto itself, but I think I also might be cursed now. So maybe since I gave The Ring a good review Samara will spare my life or perhaps if I could just get someone else to watch it. Anyone need a copy?

Bugg Rating

Hey, hey, today’s reader list is from the second soul to have braved The Halloween Top 13, The Halloween Top 13: The Sequel, and The Halloween Top 13: The Remake. I’m talking about my good friend Ryan from The Realm of Ryan and frequent contributor to The Black Gate. Ryan is a great fellow with excellent taste in movies, books, and music, and I am pleased as hell that he’s contributing to this event for the third time. So take it away, Ryan……

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005) I know some folks find Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic a bit too extreme and over-the-top. For me, that’s the only way this could have possibly worked. Jackson is essentially saluting his favorite movie of all time by restaging it and minutely examining everything about it that he loves. The result: nonstop 1930s adventure with dinosaurs and gore and mass destruction. Nothing will beat the 1933 original, but the 2005 version is one helluva great giant monster ride. (The 1976 version is astonishing awful. Forget I mentioned it. You already have? Good. Uh, what were we talking about?)

The Return of Godzilla (Koji Hasimoto, 1984) Released in the U.S. as a hacked-up monstrosity called Godzilla 1985, this supposed sequel to the classic 1954 Gojira is really a re-make/re-boot, and it was the first Godzilla film to appear in nine years. The film has many problems—no monster-on-monster action, very pedestrian human interaction, a quick-fix for the climax—but it restores the Big-G to being a furious icon of destruction instead of lightweight kid’s matinee fluff. This carried on to some amazing later films in the 1990s and 2000s, and for that I thank it.

One Million Years B.C. (Don Chaffey, 1966) Here’s a remake a million years better than it’s original. The 1940 film One Million B.C. is a true turkey, with a few bad-suit dinosaurs and a pig in a Triceratops outfit. The re-make has Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch. ‘Nuff said.

Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982) The Val Lewton 1942 film is one of my favorite horror movies ever, but I have to give credit to Schrader for crafting a film that goes the opposite direction of the original for the sake of exploration. Schrader can more overtly explore the sexual overtones, which makes up somewhat for the film’s big lack: it isn’t anywhere near as scary as the first. Still, it taught me to put out fires with gasoline, if you know what I mean.

Mark of the Vampire (Tod Browning, 1935) I’m cheating here. I haven’t seen the original. In fact, almost nobody alive has seen the original, London after Midnight, the silent 1927 movie starring Lon Chaney Sr. and also directed by Browning. It’s one of the most famous of all “lost” films, but to judge from the memories of those who saw it, it isn’t as great as the mystery around it would make it seem. But Browning tackled the material in the sound era and came up with this atmospheric masterpiece, which I think is far better than his more famous Dracula. I don’t even find the ending a disappointment—it only makes the whole film more interesting.

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) I imagine this is on everyone’s list, so I’ll shut up now.

The Wolfman (Joe Johnston, 2010) Yeah, I liked it. Honestly. It surprised me. But it feels like a good-old-fashioned creature show, has respect for its material, and contains some awesome wolf-attack scenes. So there.

You’re right, Ryan. The Thing is on just about everyone’s list, but you know what’s not? Just about everything else on yours,and I love ya for it. Thanks for all the great picks, Ryan, and I might just have to give The Wolfman a chance after all! That about wraps it up for today, but I’ll be back tomorrow (and for the next 6 days at least) with more remakes and more Halloween fun!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with most of your points here. Watts is terrific in this film-just because a character isn't traditionally likable doesn't mean the actor is giving a bad performance. The kid's fine, and Cox can pretty much make any movie he's in. He is the man.


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