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The Grudge (2004)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/12/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/25/2009

Ju-on is one of my favorite Asian horror films, so much that I bought an import copy just to what all of the fuss was about and immediately fell in love with the movie. When an American remake was announced, I had mixed feelings.

I liked the idea that Takashi Shimizu would once again be directing and the fact that the great Sam Raimi was involved was nothing but a blessing. However, I couldn't help but think of all of the bad remakes that we've seen recently and the odd fact that Shimizu had in fact already remade Ju-on, when he adapted his TV movie into a feature film. I'm glad to say that I didn't hate The Grudge and that it works well as a companion piece to the original.

As with the other films in the Ju-on series, The Grudge focuses on a certain house in Tokyo. As the film opens, a social worker, Yoko (Yoko Maki) goes to the house and finds only an older women (Grace Zabriskie) home by herself. While cleaning the house, which is a mess, something bad happens to Yoko. We then meet Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an exchange student living in Tokyo with her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr). Karen volunteers at the Community Care Center, where Yoko had worked. Her supervisor, Alex (Ted Raimi), sends her to the house, as Yoko hasn't been heard from. When Karen reaches the house, she not only finds the old woman, but a strange young boy named Toshio (Yuya Ozeki). The worst comes when Karen sees a ghostly image. From this point, The Grudge begins to tell the story of the horrible events which occurred in the house, the family who most recently inhabited the home, and the way that the house's curse effects everyone who enters it.

From here, the review for The Grudge must go in two directions; for those who have seen the original(s) and for those who have not. Those of you who have not seen Ju-on (in any of its incarnations) are in for a real treat with The Grudge . The film takes our idea of a haunted house story and turns it on its ear, as the power of the house and the ghosts which dwell within, can reach outside of the structure and effect people's lives. Series creator Takashi Shimizu fills the movie with very creepy images which tap into the subconscious of the viewer. The film also has some nice "jump" scares, but it's the morbid images which stick with you. Also, Shimizu isn't afraid to tinker with chronology, ala Pulp Fiction, and the way that the film leaps around may be confusing to some viewers, but will pay off for astute audience members.

Now, for those of you who have seen the original films. The Grudge overall isn't as good as its Ju-on predecessors, but it's still worth seeing. Shimizu and screenwriter Stephen Susco have tweeked the original story and added just enough new material to offer some surprises for the initiated. The first hour of the movie is very similar to Ju-on with only a few minor changes. Most of these center around Sarah Michelle Gellar's character, with her indoctrination into Japanese culture and the way that she is placed into the story. However, the third act is quite different. To be honest, I've never enjoyed the huge time-jump which occurs in the latter-half of Ju-on, and I prefer the more streamlined approach in The Grudge . Shimizu also seems to be bringing us a "greatest hits" package with The Grudge, as much of the film follows Ju-on, but there is at least one moment, featuring a violent injury, which is taken from the first shot-on-video Ju-on.

While The Grudge is certainly watchable, it isn't perfect. The movie has the requisite characters and creepy images from the Ju-on films, but for some reason, it simply isn't as disturbing as those earlier films. I don't know if it has to do with the Hollywood polish the film carries or the fact that the PG-13 rating dampened the tone of the film, but it simply isn't as scary. No, The Grudge isn't perfect, but as far as needless remakes go, it isn't bad. It's certainly much, much better than The Ring, which took a great Japanese film and turned it into a horse-laden mess.

The Blu-ray Disc also contains the Director's Cut of The Grudge, which runs some 7 minutes longer. While it was impossible for me to do a complete side-by-side comparison of the two cuts of the movie, I did manage to pin-point some of the major differences.

-- 24:15 mark -- There is additional footage of Suasan (KaDee Strickland) exploring the house and examining a closet. This runs about 1 minute.

-- Chapter 11 -- The camera lingers on the jawbone for about 6 seconds, compared to about 2 in the PG-13. It's now possible to tell exactly what we're looking at.

-- Chapter 17 -- The camera stays on the face which is missing the jawbone for some 7 seconds, compared to about 2 seconds in the theatrical cut.

-- Chapter 26 -- The reveal of Kayako's (Takako Fuji) corpse is longer and more graphic.

-- Chapter 27 -- When Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) "sees" the murders which occurred in the house, the images are longer and more graphic -- 76 seconds vs. 42 seconds. We get to see how Kayako was murdered. And my favorite shot from Ju-on 2 is re-created here in a new scene. Following that, we get a completely new flashback (28 seconds) in which Karen witnesses more carnage in the house.

This new director's cut isn't very different from the PG-13 version, as the story remains the same. And yet, with the inclusion of a few "human" touches and the increased gore and violence, this version feels more honest. This cut comes much closer to capturing the feel of the original Japanese films, as it shows that Shimizu doesn't pull any punches. Not to imply that gore equals higher quality, but the film becomes more intense with the added visceral edge. No matter what, The Grudge is still a pale imitation of Ju-on, but it is proof that remakes can be enjoyable.

The Grudge does a freaky crawl down the stairs on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no obstructive grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, but the image is slightly dark at times. The exterior daytime scenes show a great amount of depth and most shots display notable detail. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track, as the stereo effects are nicely detailed, as well are the surround effects. This is a film where sounds are constantly occurring off-screen and the powerful sound mix here really helps to elevate the movie. The subwoofer effects are well done, helping to add emphasis to the "shock" scenes.

This Blu-ray Disc contains all of the extras which were available on the two previous DVD releases of The Grudge. We start with an audio commentary with features actor Ted Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, actor Sarah Michelle Gellar, actor Clea Duvall, producer Sam Raimi, actor KaDee Strickland, actor Jason Behr, and screenwriter Stephen Susco. This is a fun chat, as the group constantly cracks jokes, but it may be disappointing for those who want in-depth info about the film. The actors spend most of the commentary talking about their experiences living and working in Japan, peppering this topic with comments about the production of the film. Also, Ted and Sam sound very much alike, so it's hard to tell which one of them is speaking. Next, we have an audio commentary from director Takashi Shimizu, producer Taka Ichise, and actress Takako Fuji. The commentary is in Japanese and features nice, yellow subtitles. This is an amusing commentary, as Shimizu makes many remarks comparing Hollywood to the Japanese style of filmmaking and pointing out things that he was asked to change or alter. The speakers do a good job of relating tales about the making of the film and commenting on which facets of the movie were influenced by the American producers. "A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge" is a 48-minute featurette which has been divided into 5 sub-sections. (There is a PLAY ALL feature.) "The Birth of The Grudge" focuses on the original film (but shows clips from only The Grudge) and looks at how the remake came about. "Myth of the Ju-On" examines ghost stories in Japan and the elements of the haunting in The Grudge. "Culture Shock: The American Cast in Japan" features the actors talking about their on-set experiences working through a translator and what it was like to explore Tokyo. "Designing The Grudge House" gives us an in-depth look at the set. And finally, the actors discuss the director in "A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu". "Under the Skin" (12 minutes) is an odd featurette in which Joseph Le Doux, PhD discusses the effects of fear and horror films. There are 15 "Deleted Scenes" which run for nearly 30 minutes. Some of these scenes are completely new, but most are parts of existing scenes. Many focus on character development or incidentals (it is interesting to note that we learn the realtor who sold the house died), but there are three new "horror" scenes which are quite nice. There are five more featurettes, none of which are that great. "The 'Grudge' House: An Insider's Tour" (4 minutes) is merely footage from the set (shot with a video camera) which is intercut with clips from the film to remind us which scenes occurred in that particular room. "Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu" (3 minutes) is simply a look at the storyboards for the finale with the audio from that scene playing simultaneously. "Production Designer's Notebook: The Sketches of Iwao Saito" (2 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like -- nicely drawn pictures of the sets and locations. In "Sarah Michelle Gellar's Video Diary" (9 minutes), SMG wanders around a train station interviewing members of the crew. This is followed by behind-the-scenes footage of Gellar shooting a scene on a train. "KaDee Strickland's Video Diary" (13 minutes) is different in that someone follows Strickland around Tokyo with a video camera, as she takes a tour of the city. The extras are finished off with two short films from Shimizu, "4444444444" (3 minutes) and "In a Corner" (3 1/2 minutes). Both are clearly connected to The Grudge universe, but we are not told why these were made, or where they were shown.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long