As you can probably tell from my lists, I like a horror with a good story; I like to be drawn in and hopefully suffocated by horror. I do love the stalk and slash films, don’t get me wrong, but to me, they are harmless fun, a beer movie, if you will. They are easy to understand, you can miss a bit and come back to it and pick up the story from pretty much any point. You can pretty much guess how it’s going to pan out, so, to be fair, the stalk and slash films don’t require too much attention (most of them, not all). Now, where i get REALLY excited is the horrors that require some effort on your part. If you give some effort back, and also the amount of effort you give back, will determine how good the film is. Ringu requires you to pay attention, to think, to do some work for yourself, add the fact your reading the subtitles, this means the film has got your undivided attention and you will be drawn in. Now, when i say the level of attention given will determine how good the film is, that is true, however, with Ringu, if you put in too much (like i did) and you end up in the film, in the zone, so to speak, then you are gonna wish you hadn’t. If you’re there, on the level i was on when I first watched this masterpiece, and you are not shaking like a leaf in a feckin tornado at the end, then either you didn’t watch Ringu, or you are, in fact, Sadako!
The story sounded (i will admit) a bit daft, a cursed video tape, please, whatever next, cursed hair (oh, wait???). Anyway, i saw this film advertised in our video store owners and trade magazines, the ones we, as buyers would get delivered to help us make our choices. There was a very black double page spread about this new and terrifying horror from Japan. It had this truly horrific picture of an eye hidden behind straight black hair. Ringu had arrived, granted a few years after its proper released in Japan, but it arrived all the same. Following hot on the heels of the Blair Witch Project, Ringu, and the soon to become J-Horror was the new horror sensation. Many have come and gone since, many have copied, and the bloody Americans jumped all over it, but Ringu still remains THE J-Horror film, it is without question the best example there is.
Anyway, the story, once you get into the film is actually, in an odd way, a bit believable. The great thing about it being Japanese is the fact you just never know, if it was American you could play it off as a daft story, silly in fact, but the seriousness, the stories and Japanese folklore involved here made it possible. We are introduced into the film by two young, playful schoolgirls (good ol’ Japs!) who talk about a cursed video tape, and how if you see it, you will receive a phone call and then die exactly a week later. Brilliantly built up, the phone rings and i think the viewer is possibly more terrified than the girls! It’s the not knowing that scares you, the fact that you don’t actually know what will happen when they pick up the phone. This style of horror is new territory for us. Anyway, it’s the girl’s parents; however, a sense of panic has struck before the films even ten minutes in! Then, the TV turns on, a weird sound that can only be described as the strings from a mandolin being strangled fills the background, the girl turns around to see some unseen presence that literally scares her to death! Welcome to Ringu!!
Reiko is a journalist who is investigating the sudden deaths of students from apparently watching a “cursed video”. The trail leads to a holiday cabin some miles away. This is where the first group of students viewed the tape. Reiko goes to the cabin and finds the tape and watches it. Knowing the tapes mysterious power makes all the bizarre images and strange editing seem all the more frightening. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s clear some evil magic is at work. The tape is unsettling, and no sooner than it starts, it finishes leaving you puzzled. Almost instantly after the phone rings, and while a ghostly image of a woman with long dark hair wearing a white gown appears in the reflection on the TV. Reiko is cursed. Requesting the help of her ex-husband (odd) he too views the tape and they try to piece together exactly what it means. Reiko is not ready to believe in this curse, however, at her Dads, her son stumbles upon the tape and gets cursed. Reiko is now in a race against time to find the meaning of the curse and lift it. So, with the help of her ex-husband they head off to an island where it all began and learn the true story of Sadako.
So far, so bloody brilliant. The story and build up are perfect and very tense; the whole film has a claustrophobic, dark tone to it. You feel like you are watching the work of a real evil force. It’s a sinister film, unsettling, cold and mysterious but even tho you are literally shitting your pants, you have to know more and the film delivers. We learn Sadako’s (what a great name by the way!) history, and about her abilities to wish people dead, we also learn about her poor sister and her parents. I won’t spoil the story, but we learn that there is something really nasty about Sadako and she’s not to be messed with. To say any more of the story now would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it (seriously tho, has anyone NOT seen it??). All I can say is we go through a relentless ending as times runs out for poor Reiko, with the story staying first and foremost the most important thing. The story we learn is both disturbing and tragic and its delivered in a way only suited to its Japanese roots. The American version did not work because it had no edge, no mystery, and no believability like this proper version. And the quality on offer here, not just as a horror, but as a film itself, it astonishing, helped along the way with music and sound effects more disturbing than anything most of the Western world could ever dream of creating. Even Argento should feel threatened by how impressive it is!
Things eventually lead to an ending of awesome power, and ending that is so scary, that is so unexpected and is so brilliantly calculated you actually believe that it just might be happening to you. Never, ever in my life have i seen anything like this. Videodrome, I suppose is the closest, but sorry Cronenberg, this makes your scene look tame and childish (bit harsh, but it’s to emphasise the point) The ending is the most brilliant, unnerving and incredibly scariest scene of the nineties, it’s so well planned to scare you to death (much like the poor characters who die in the film), it is nothing short of genius and deserves its place as one of the truly great horror moments of all time!! If you’ve seen the end, you know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t and your about to watch this classic for the first time, on boy be prepared. The American remake ruined it; they jazzed it up with special effects and made it look shit. What makes this so good is its simplicity, it really does look real! So there you have it, Ringu, one of the most intriguing horrors of the nineties, certainly one of the most unsettling, its deeply disturbing, it makes you think, draws you in to its darkness and cursed ways, you feel like you’ve been there. It will stay with you for a long long time, haunt you, it will keep being seen in many many horrors in the future, people will attempt to out-do it, but they never will. It did spawn a sequel and a prequel, both of which are very very good and well worth seeing if you haven’t already. Stay away from the American remakes, and don’t bother with the Ring Virus. Stick with this original, if you’re brave enough!!!