THE GRUDGE (2004) dir. Takashi Shimizu

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Producers: Taka Ichise, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert
Writers: Takashi Shimizu, Stephen Susco
Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Takako Fuji, Bill Pullman, Yuya Ozeki

THE GRUDGE (2004)

When it comes to contemporary classics, THE GRUDGE is a perennial favorite. The telltale crooooooooooak of Kayako as she slowly and jerkily makes her way down the stairs was a significant part of my childhood, delightedly uttered to scare the wimpy. Although she isn’t the first to come to mind when one considers horror’s most famous faces, distant from the notoriety of the Michaels and Jasons of all-American slashers, the monster in this American reboot of Japanese hit JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002) is no less an icon.

In case you’re sufficiently older or younger than I am to the point that THE GRUDGE phenomenon missed you, here’s the skinny:

A young nurse, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, the period’s quintessential scream queen) travels overseas with her boyfriend (Jason Behr) to study abroad in Tokyo. Between studying and staring dreamily into said boyfriend’s eyes, she manages to land a substitute in-home nursing role for an older American woman, Emma Williams (Grace Zabriskie, who, it must be said, bears an unsettling resemblance to the emaciated Ellen Burstyn of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM a few years prior in 2000). Karen is surprised to find that Emma is almost always silent, tight-lipped and all eyes staring straight ahead. Emma’s reticence is only the first surprise in store . . . unfortunately, poor Karen is not informed in advance of the house’s two other residents, Kayako (Takako Fuji, the actress who portrayed the same character in the Japanese original) and her son, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki, also from the original portrayal) . . . unwelcome and undead.

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The basis of THE GRUDGE is the idea, originating in Japanese folklore, that a powerful event leaves an emotional stain on the physical setting, often in the form of a supernatural entity, as in this case. (Image courtesy of Takashi Shimizu and Hideo Yamamoto.)

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LIGHTS OUT (2016) dir. David F. Sandberg

Director: David F. Sandberg
Producers: James Wan, Lawrence Grey, Eric Heisserer
Writers: Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman

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LIGHTS OUT (2016)

In the past two or three years, there has been a rash of Mommy Issues in horror.  Satan overtakes Carolyn Perron in THE CONJURING (2013), Amelia morphs into Mommie Dearest in THE BABADOOK (2014), and Lukas and Elias face identity crises when their mother is rendered unrecognizable in GOODNIGHT MOMMY (ICH SEH ICH SEH) (2014). Of course, this is nothing new: no matter how far horror progresses from its origins, Mrs. Bates of PSYCHO (1960) is never far behind in our collective imagination. The newest addition to the bunch is LIGHTS OUT (2016), a story which is about far more than it seems at surface level. From the trailer, viewers can glean themes of the uncanny—light and darkness—a haunting and, of course, a disruption to the American family. But LIGHTS OUT—much like THE BABADOOK, in fact—is an allegory of mental illness, one with a decidedly less easily discerned ending.

For our protagonists, something lurks in the shadows. When the pre-credits scene opens, Paul (Billy Burke) is Facetiming his son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) from the textile factory, where he is working late. Martin is clearly distressed, hedging and glancing off-screen. His father reassures him that he will be home soon. His son hesitates, then says: “It’s just … she’s talking to herself.”

This is our introduction to Sophie (Maria Bello), the family matriarch and Paul’s wife. Perhaps she is schizophrenic—or just quirky—but Paul’s weary response indicates that such behavior is nothing new. Later in the scene, we overhear him talking seriously on the phone, mentioning an “intervention.” He is interrupted. “Paul,” whispers Esther, the only other employee still at work. “I saw something in the stockroom.”

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