— by Shawn Adler, with reporting by Stephen Totilo and Matt Sunbulli
A bottomless rage fuels a legendary curse in Takashi Shimizu's "The Grudge," killing each victim in a seemingly never-ending chain of horror.
The film and its upcoming sequel, "The Grudge 2," may focus on powerful anger, but if you want something to really get furious over, you can start with the fact that if you're an American film lover, you're getting the shaft. Well, that's according to star Sarah Michelle Gellar, anyway.
"I think that one of the problems about American cinema is that we're very, very limited because we really don't get foreign films the way other countries do," Gellar insisted. "I have to admit, I'm not the [biggest] horror fan — especially American horror films. I don't really enjoy them. When someone first sat me down to watch [Japan's] 'Ringu' and 'Ju-on,' and forcibly so because I really didn't want to, I was amazed at how different and intriguing they were."
That interest for Japanese horror translated into more than $110 million at the domestic box office for 2004's "The Grudge," spurring studio execs to greenlight a sequel within three days of the movie's release.
Directed by Takashi Shimizu, the haunted-house flick was a remake of his 2003 Japanese original, "Ju-on: The Grudge," a film that garnered the interest of "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi. Gellar speculated that it takes a name as revered and influential as Raimi's to give a foreign film a chance at an American crossover.
"I had seen [Jet Li's] 'Hero' maybe three years before it came out in America, and I couldn't figure out why this movie was not getting a wide release," the former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star said. "It had even been nominated for an Oscar and it still didn't get distribution. It was only when Quentin Tarantino brought it out and opened it as a Quentin Tarantino [film] that it got out here. It makes me so sad."
This aversion to foreign films may be as much based on cultural considerations as it is on financial ones. "The Grudge" and its sequel follow a grand tradition of foreign films remade for American audiences, from "The Birdcage" to "The Departed." For Gellar, the difference may boil down to one of respect.
"The whole [Japanese] culture is based on respecting your elders, respecting your neighbors and community, and in America everything we want is bigger, faster, newer, more," Gellar said. "We live in a very disposable society."
There was nothing disposable about Gellar's performance as Karen, the screaming, shaking protagonist in the first movie. While Gellar returns for the sequel, it's Amber Tamblyn, as Karen's sister Aubrey, who becomes the flick's nominal hero. From one actress to another, it would seem that the torch has been passed.
"It's more like a clammy, cold, dead hand, in a certain way, that's being passed. A torch sounds so, like, gladiator or something," Tamblyn contended. "Sarah did a kick-ass job on the first film. She had a lot to do with why it was so scary, and I'm just happy to be a part of this one. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Along with that guaranteed heaping of fun, Tamblyn promised that "The Grudge 2" will contain more than its share of thrills and frights. It's a recipe for horror that Tamblyn believes isn't that complex.
"They always say, you know, 'What do you want an audience to get out of this movie?' And I'm like, 'To be scared. Like, totally terrified.' It's just as simple as that," the 23-year-old actress said. "The formula is that easy. If you can make a really terrifying film, you've done your job. I just think, with a horror film, if I can just deeply disturb somebody for two hours, or however long, good. I am a happy person."
So basic is the horror formula, Tamblyn admitted to not doing much preparation for the role — needing more time to adjust to Tokyo than the demands of the project.
"I actually didn't prepare that much, which is funny, because I got cast fairly shortly before they started filming the movie," she divulged. "I had just gotten back from shooting another movie, so it was a very fast transition for me. It was actually different getting used to Tokyo itself than getting used to the film, because, you know, it's a horror film — you have fun with it. You run around, you scream, you cry, you get totally scared."
Nevertheless, Tamblyn cautioned that "getting totally scared" isn't as easy as it may look, especially in a ghost story.
"Being scared in a horror film is a lot different than being emotional, or sad, or something else where you feel like you can really draw from certain experiences or something you understand," Tamblyn said. "Because this is a realm of the unknown, stuff that we really don't understand at all. So you kind of have to use your imagination a little bit."
In the end, Tamblyn said, it was seeing the underlying metaphor to "The Grudge" that enabled her to fully explore her character's fears.
" 'The Grudge' is really about domestic violence, I mean, in the purest, simplest form of it," she declared. "And that is something that human beings can relate to — maybe not necessarily on a personal level, but they understand it. So, in that sense, I tried to think [about] women who have been abused, what that sort of does to your spirit in an afterlife."