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Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Review: Ringu


Ringu. The film begins with a young girl, haunted and scared for her life, having just watched a strange video almost a week ago that rumors say is cursed. A video that unleashes on the viewer a series of weird inexplicable images, and after watching it your phone will ring, with a sinister voice telling you that in one week you shall die. She is found, her heart stopped, her face distorted with fear. Then we cut to a reporter named Reiko investigating the strange occurrences surrounding the rumors of a cursed videotape, now circulating as a kind of urban legend among school children. Her investigations lead her to actually watch the cursed tape, putting her and her young son, inadvertently, in danger. She recruits her ex-husband, Ryuji, who has psychic gifts, to help her try to escape the deadly fate the VHS tape has put on her. He willingly subjects himself to a viewing of the tape, not believing in the curse, to try to find clues to help Reiko. They discover that the tape has connections with a woman named Shizuko, who was vilified for her ability to predict disasters, and her young daughter. The daughter, named Sadako, was said to have strange powers, the ability to kill with a thought, and was the offspring of the psychic woman and, if whispered rumors are true, something that came from the ocean, something that may not have been human. They find out that the young girl was murdered and buried in a well, killed by an ESP researcher who was studying the family and decided to make an attempt to stop her from unleashing her dark powers. Figuring that finding Sadako’s body and releasing it from the well where it has lain for decades would release the curse, they race against time to find where the well is and end the curse. They find the body, and Reiko cradles the skeletal remains, a child tragically long dead and forgotten, in a motherly embrace. They return home, the child given a proper burial. Reiko is safe now that the curse is broken, the week has passed. Except they are all wrong. Sadako comes for Ryuji, crawling out of his television set and completing her curse upon him. Reiko wonders why she was saved from the curse and he was not. Then she releases the only way to escape the curse, is to perpetuate the curse. So the film ends with Reiko, to save her son, willingly spreading the cursed video, thereby keeping the video virus circulating.

One of the all-time great filmic expressions of sheer dread, Ringu was a huge and unexpected international hit when it was first released out into the world in 1998. Almost singlehandedly resuscitating horror cinema which was in a steep decline in the 1990's and also influencing horror films for decades to come. From art-house horrors like Hereditary and It Follows to big-budget Hollywood horror like Insidious and Sinister, Ringu changed the map of horror cinema forever. Drawing influence from such different sources as Japanese horror films like Onibaba and Jigoku with their use of folklore and imagery, classic American and English horror films like The Haunting and Night of the Demon with their slow pacing and carefully curated sense of dread, and more modern films like Videodrome and They Live, with their critiques of technology and society. 

Sadako is the buried secret that modern society would prefer to pretend not to exist. She brings visions of ruin and decay, visions that she must have endured while starving to death deep down in the darkness of the well. She brings a foretold doom, the same doom she felt as the light dwindled into black as she slowly died in the wet earth. Her curse spirals outward, seething from a black hole in the dark soil. These videocassette transmissions were sent out, infused with some kind of black magic of the earth. She emerges a week after exposure to stop your heart. She is shrouded in mystery, her black hair concealing her face. A large deformed bulbous eye is revealed, scanning you like a video camera. The background static of the television roaring in your ears, or is that the sound of the never-ending ocean waves? There is some hidden, unknowable force behind this. Is it her father, inhuman, something that may come from the sunless depths of the ocean? Or is there some force behind the video transmissions, some kind of occult technological demon, shaping humanity with its corrupting media? Sadako is media as contagion, the fleshy corpse behind the seemingly sterile image of the television screen.  

Does video technology, unfathomably, come from the ocean? Does the drive of technological innovation have a darker origin than we are aware of? Who is Sadako’s father? Just what abysmal intelligences lurk in the alien depths of the Earth? And what dark purpose has she unleashed upon the world? The incessant waves can drive someone mad. And the intrusion of video media has completely taken over every sphere of human life. Ringu is a film that is shrouded in mystery. It hints at horrible secrets but never explains the nature of the dark heart beating at its core. To watch Ringu is to continue its infectious agenda. To talk about it is to ensnare others in its bleak orbit. What is the end goal of Ringu? Maybe we are doomed to find out as Sadako’s curse continues growing and spreading like a dark mold on the underbelly of our media-driven society.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Erotic Nights and Nightmare Cities: An Ode to Late Night Cult Film Fans.


           Staying up all night even though you have to work in the morning, watching Erotic Nights of the Living Dead for the fifth time. Life has not been kind to you. But the strange synthesizers and bone-thin zombie hordes coming down the beach after George Eastman give you some kind of meaning. The strange atmospherics of weird horror films and sleazy sex films become a reason to keep going, you work like someone already dead, but when you get a new movie to watch in the mail, the promise of transgression and perversion keeps you going. Then you continue on with Porno Holocaust and then A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Something in these films makes sense to you. They present the world in a way that refuses to lie. Seedy, sex-driven, brutal, selfish, like you know the world to actually be. This isn’t bland sterile fucking like in the mainstream pornos, and this isn’t boring funhouse hack and slash like in the Hollywood slasher films. This is perverse and bizarre. A decayed dream world that is both alluring and degraded at the same time. Alone at night when the world is sleeping outside your windows. The flicker of the television set in your dark room. You will scour through hours of garbage to find that one scene, that scene of poetic perversion, that will live inside your head for the rest of your life. Films from Italy, Spain, and Japan stack up to form a mini barricade around your television keeping out the banal sadness of the outside world. The smell of weed and cheap snack food fills the air. 

Work, doing the same meaningless tasks over and over for a boss who controls your life. The only solace you get is from the strange visions of some poor quality, blurry, low-grade horror film played out on your irises at three in the morning. Watching the maid get her hand stabbed to the wall and her head chopped off by a crowd of ravenous zombies in Burial Ground. Watching a vagina open up in a man’s head as he is taken over by an alien in Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell. Watching young lovers run down and mutilated by undead templars riding dead horses in Tombs of the Blind Dead. These dark, sometimes surreally campy, sometimes deliciously malevolent, visions keep you going through your banal and slowly crushing life. These films offer you something you can not find in your daytime life. A real transcendence. The grittiness, the sweaty flesh, the ramshackle sets, offer a vision of real life that makes the bigger budget mainstream films feel like lies, like purposeful deception. We are born into some rotten and fallen world. We grow and we change. We fuck and we strive. We wither and we die. And these films show this in a way that Hollywood never could. 

            The characters who live to fuck. Debutantes and libertines walking straight into some abysmal nightmare. The strange creatures emerging from old forgotten graveyards, dark underground tunnels, unexplored islands, old abandoned gothic castles, among dozens of other locations. Creatures who are a mix of cheap makeup and ingenuous prosthetics. Like some ramshackle monster straight out of some deeply disturbing fever dream, they have a mix of the grimy and the surreal. And the naked flesh of the stars of the films, poked and prodded, stroked and inflamed. These films offer an intoxicating mix of occult mystery and sexual luridness. In Anthropophagus, set on a sweltering, sun-bleached island off the coast of Greece, we follow a group of tourists stalked and eaten by a maniac cannibal. The atmosphere is drenched in sweat, abandoned buildings, hidden catacombs, and a strange pulsing synth score. Anthropophagus is committed to pushing the limits of onscreen violence, offering sights that will shock and absolutely scar themselves in your psyche. In Nightmare City, hordes of atomic zombies burst out of airplanes, into television studios, through amusement parks. It is a film of an unrelenting madness, exploding out into the world. In Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, mushroom monsters attack a group of shipwrecked survivors. Hallucinogenic terror and long past midnight camp humor converge into a singular viewing experience. There is something pleasurable in having your comfort levels pushed by these films, in the delicate scars they leave on you, the strange sights, and the weird ideas you return to again and again.

            The films unfold through the night. The night is quiet with everyone asleep. Just you and your stack of films. Sometimes wide awake soaking everything in, sometimes half asleep fading in and out through the movies, your dreams and the movie intertwining. Undead hordes descending on fleeing lovers, alien doppelgangers infiltrating a family home, a curse visited upon a town, creatures emerging from long-forgotten crypts, radioactive mutants invading an apartment complex. These are the visions you live for. In a world of disappointment and failure, these visions give you a reason to live. No one you talk to has any idea about the films you watch. They have never heard of them and they don’t care to. They yap on about movies sure, the boring big-budget action films and the oh so important dramas that they will forget about a month from now. But your films you will cherish for your entire life. You will watch and rewatch them. Learning every line, thinking about every camera angle, delving into every idea the film presents you with, memorizing each curve of flesh. Until they become a part of you.