“Ju-On” (a.k.a. “Ju-On: The Grudge”) – Betty Jo Tucker

The first movie I remember seeing was a horror film — the classic Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. It frightened me so much, I viewed most of the movie from under a theater seat. Of course, I was too fascinated not to peek at the terrifying things happening on the big screen. Ju-On, a Japanese film written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, had much the same impact on me. No scary monster appears, but those creepy ghosts haunting a seemingly normal house made me yearn for covers to hide under until they disappeared. Still, as in Frankenstein, the horrific events held me spellbound.

What is it about horror films that make them so appealing to most movie fans? A character in one of mystery writer Anne Perry’s books says, “What is life if we can’t be frightened now and then — at least about things that don’t matter at all? Takes one’s mind off what is really awful.” She was speaking of a séance, but the same goes for films and ghost stories. I also think it’s because we enjoy seeing our deepest fears played out while we’re in a safe place. In Ju-On, Shimizu exploits our fear of the supernatural with exquisite dramatic suspense — strange noises at the top of the stairs, a ghostly child hiding in a closet, an old lady too frightened to utter a word.

Subtitled The Grudge, this movie takes place in the house where a family has been brutally murdered during the rage of one of its members. And, as every horror fan should know, when such an unspeakable act happens, an evil spirit is left behind to terrorize people who enter that home. A volunteer social worker (Megumi Okina) is the first person we encounter as she makes a care-giver visit to the house in question — with extremely disturbing results.

Later, we see what happens to other key people in the haunted abode, and it’s scary stuff, indeed. But the same thing seems to occur over and over again, which is my only complaint about Ju-On. That’s probably why I can’t agree with filmmaker Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) when he calls this movie the most frightening film he’s ever seen. However, it’s certainly the most frightening one I’ve watched since The Others.

Ju-On is the third movie in a series of Ju-On tales, the first two of which went straight to video. A U.S. remake, titled The Grudge, was released during fall of 2004, but I recommend this ultra-scary Japanese original instead.

Rating: ★★★½

-Betty Jo Tucker

Betty Jo is lead film critic at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, as well as the host of weekly movie talk radio show Movie Addict Headquarters.

Read Chris Luedtke’s Ju-On review here.

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