Scary urban legend Rings true

Preview by Jack Foley

URBAN myths are the stuff of nightmares; the stories people tell to spook each other, such as the two lovers in a remote lane, at a time when an escaped mental patient is on the loose. The boy gets out the car and is gone for a while, then the girl hears a knock on the roof....

Well, try this one for size. There's a video tape. Whoever watches it receives a phone call straight away. The caller, a girl, informs them that they have seven days. Sure enough, one week later, they die. Sound familiar?

The story is the inspiration behind cult Japanese horror flick, Ringu, written by Kôji Suzuki (affectionately referred to as 'the Stephen King of Japan') and brought to the screen by Japanese director, Hideo Nakata.

Released in January 1998, The Ring quickly became a phenomenon, spawning the most successful horror film franchise in the history of Japanese cinema, as well as a television series, and Manga, a kind of Japanese comic book or graphic novel.

It also spawned a new genre of Japanese films, or J-horror as it's often called, such as Audition or The Eye. Whether or not it actually had its origins in an urban legend, as its author claims, 'Ringu' resulted in one that transfixed readers and moviegoers alike in Japan and much of Southeast Asia, quickly developing a cult following in the West.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find Hollywood attempting to jump on the bandwagon and remake it. What is a surprise, however, is how good the remake is.

Directed by Gore (The Mexican) Verbinski and starring Naomi (Mulholland Drive) Watts and Martin Henderson, The Ring (US version) is a genuinely scary, yet thought-provoking horror flick which engages the intellect, while also playing havoc with those little hairs on the back of your neck - there are times when they will stand on end!

According to Walter F Parkes, producer and co-head of DreamWorks Pictures: "The allure of good thrillers is to get that adrenaline rush, to be on the edge of your seat without actually being in danger.

"The best ones are equal parts intellectual exercise, emotional exercise and visceral experience. They engage your mind and involve you intellectually, but the payoff is the scare… the scream. I guess that's why, as filmmakers, we look for them, and as moviegoers, we can't wait to see them."

In order to achieve this effect, however, Parkes approached a select group of filmmakers with the sole intention of getting the remake right. Verbinski was top of the list, as 'he has the expertise and the artistry to create images that in and of themselves can involve you and truly scare you'.

The screenplay was updated by Ehren Kruger, the brains behind acclaimed thrillers Arlington Road and Scream 3, and then Australian actress, Watts, and New Zealander, Henderson, were cast. All agreed that they were involved in something that was really scary.

Or, as Laurie MacDonald, co-head of Dreamworks, puts it: "There are unmarked videos in everyone's house. There are always those unlabeled tapes where you can't remember what's on them; and the television is another thing that is part of everyone's life. The idea that these two everyday items could be at the centre of this, could lead you to your death, can really get under your skin."

Verbinski adds: "The first time I watched the original 'Ringu' was on a VHS tape that was probably seven generations down. It was really poor quality, but actually that added to the mystique, especially when I realized that this was a movie about a videotape.

"There is something about that image of a seemingly innocuous videotape… just sitting there… unlabeled. If you are aware of the myth, the object itself becomes both tempting and haunting."

The question is, therefore, will you be tempted to go and see it? We, at Indielondon, reckon you should. Read our full review when the film opens in the UK in January.

Alternatively, scroll down to find out what the US critics had to say...

Given that this is a remake, critics in America were mostly positive in their assessment of The Ring. Entertainment Weekly awarded it a B and said 'the twists keep on coming, and Verbinski shows a fine-tuned gift for calibrating and manipulating viewer expectations', while Film Threat referred to it as 'by far the coolest film made by a major studio since Fight Club', and awarded it four out of five.

The Boston Phoenix described it as 'a haunting, pure and simple, and it's downright scary', while Hollywood Reporter felt that it was 'an undeniably creepy, unnerving experience'.

Given that it was released in October, it is JoBlo's Movie Emporium wasn't being sarcastic when it referred to The Ring as 'definitely the scariest movie that I've seen so far this year' (awarding it eight out of ten), while Planet Sick-Boy felt it was 'the best fright flick since The Blair Witch Project'.

Salon warned that it '[will] crawl under your skin and live in your nervous system for a while if you give it half a chance', while TV Guide referred to it as 'a pleasantly shivery surprise'.

Less impressed, was LA Weekly, which concluded that it 'devolves into a banal, conventional ghost story', while Variety felt that the 'uninvolving characters and lack of genuine excitement or fright creat[e] a second-rate, second-hand feel'. More scathing still was the New York Times, which said that 'this impassive and cold feature fails, in a spectacular fashion, to deliver the thrills'.

But the final word goes to Rolling Stone, which stated, simply, that The Ring 'creeps you out in high style, even if Nakata did it better'.

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