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Ju-On: The Curse   B-

Toei Video / Kadokawa Shoten Publishing

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writer: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Yûrei Yanagi, Takako Fuji, Ryôta Koyama, Chiaki Kuriyama.

Review by Jim Harper

Initially released in two parts, Ju-On: The Curse is the first full-length installment in the lucrative Japanese horror franchise that has recently yielded The Grudge, a Sam Raimi-produced U.S. remake. I've chosen to consider both parts together since they were shot at the same time and the second part includes some 35 minutes of material from the first.

The plot is the same as each of the Ju-On films. After a brutal murder a powerful curse is created, spreading like a disease through everyone who comes into contact with the crime: the investigating policemen, the family that moves into the house where the murder occurred, the family's friends, the children's school teachers, and so on. The film is divided into short segments, each one describing the spread of the curse and detailing the demise of a particular character.

Such a format does not lend itself to characterization and complex plot developments, but neither is particularly necessary here, since Shimizu's aim is solely to present a series of increasingly disturbing vignettes. This seems to be the make-or-break feature for most viewers; either you'll appreciate the shocks coming thick and fast or you'll find yourself yearning to go back to the more calculated and ominous build-up found in Ringu. Certainly there is nothing here to rival Ringu's nerve-shredding climax, but there are several moments that should have most horror fans grinning with ghoulish delight.

The Curse is shot on video and clearly on a low budget. At times the amateurish nature of the makeup in particular threatens to undermine some of the scares, but for the most part Shimizu's talent and enthusiasm comes through clear and strong. The murky video images enhance the well-orchestrated shocks and add an element of realism that can't be found in the bigger-budget movies. The decision to release it in two parts was a definite mistake however. It implies a resolution to the story that simply isn't present; unlike Ringu, there is no way to avoid the curse. Padding out the second installment with an excess of earlier footage seems like a shabby attempt to con people into buying two DVDs. Since the two halves together are around two and a half hours long, it would perhaps have been more logical to issue them as one film.

The later theatrical versions have the edge in terms of production values, but they lack the raw intensity of Ju-On: The Curse. Obviously familiarity is a key element -- as with the Ring remake, it very much depends on what you see first -- but these early films are definitely the most satisfying to watch.

Review published 10.30.2004.

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