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I have a great fondness for East Asian cinema. The works of the great auteur/actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano are some of the best films in my collection, and I have had the opportunity to review various good movies, not least Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 and the visual extravaganza Casshern. In terms of horror, the fantastic Ring trilogy spawned a great deal of Japanese copies and subsequent remakes, and still stands as some of the best new horror around. Following on from it we got Dark Water, The Grudge and The Eye movies, and most of them have been remade—quite successfully, even if not up to the standard of the originals.

Cursed is an extremely low budget Japanese horror. When I say low budget, I mean that I could afford to produce the movie. That in itself does not mean it has to be bad—most of the horrors that I mentioned were not especially big in budget—but it does not help that it is quite so cheap. Shot with what looks like a camcorder—or at least a low-quality digital camera—it centres on a small shop that appears to be haunted. I’m not entirely sure that there is a plot as such, but basically we follow the daily occurrences in the store, mainly focussing on a part-time worker at the store who starts to see weird things happening in it, nominally involving a big black crow. The only other person to share these experiences is a woman who comes to inspect the store with a view to buying it up as part of her company’s franchise. However, neither of them actually does a great deal about these things, instead just fretting about it from time to time. The shop’s current owners are a weird pair who act strangely but don’t seem to notice anything wrong with the joint—or themselves.

Starting with a somewhat random bus accident, which is never explained other than ‘it’s something to do with the shop’—we see increasingly weird things happen involving random high pitched noises, strangers lurking in hoods, clocks not working, demented fridges and kamikaze birds. None of them are in the least bit original, and none of them are in the least bit scary. Although the two female leads are not horrendous actresses—nor are they particularly harsh on the eye—they do have some tough material to contend with here and I give them credit for keeping a straight face at times.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is the fact that the subtitles are so poorly done. I don’t think that there was a single coherent sentence over the entire ninety-minute duration. Words were misused, misspelled or simply made up. ‘Worryness’ is not a word. The translation is actually so bad that you have to laugh—otherwise you would just cry. And laughing in a straight horror is seldom intended. The end result is that any possible enjoyment that you could gleam from this movie is largely sapped by your irritation at having to translate the translations into sensible English. As it is, I am not sure that there is much good that I can talk about in respect to this movie, which I find a real shame when doing a review. Japanese horrors are renowned for their originality, whereas this film had very little original about it—one scene in particular looked like it was taken straight from a well-known zombie movie—and a low-budget film lacking in originality simply has nothing going for it.

Cursed is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that is reasonable if far from exemplary. Sure most of the criticisms can be levelled more at the footage shot rather than the way it has been presented, but it is difficult to judge one without looking at the other. The picture is relatively solid, with reasonable clarity but sharpness that lapses into softness more often than you would like. There is a light sheen of grain that occasionally graces the print, but largely the transfer remains grain-free. Similarly we somehow manage to avoid most print damage—there is no sign of dirt, dust or other damage here. It is not a particularly bad transfer, but it can only be as good as the quality of the movie it is representing and in this case, the low budget footage leaves a lot to be desired.

We get a whole myriad of audio tracks with this release, three of them in the original language—Japanese. The DTS track is obviously the best, but that does not really mean a great deal as the film has not got the best material to present here. The score is simple enough, and presented adequately, and the vocals are always clear and comprehensible, mainly coming from the fronts. I noted little bass, which is a bit of a shame for a DTS track, but there were a few nice effects that made a bit more of the six-speaker surround sound. The Dolby 5.1 track is a pretty-much standard affair, only marginally different from the DTS offering, but both are leagues ahead of the rather limited Dolby 2.0 track. In addition we get a dubbed Dolby 5.1 Chinese track.

There are two extras: a ten-minute collection of interviews with the main cast and crew (oddly enough given slightly better subtitling than the main feature) and a trailer for the companion feature, Tokyo Horror.

I have read other reviews of this film and they generally appear to see a completely different side of the movie that I just did not reach. From my perspective it is a below-budget tawdry affair that plays on the popularity of the much more decent genre originators like The Ring trilogy, but devout fans of said genre might excuse any cheapness in production or content just to sate their appetite. From a technical standpoint, the disc has loads to offer but—more often than not—fails to deliver, with an average presentation generally let down by the material, several lacklustre audio tracks and a few measly interviews that, I supposed, are better than nothing. I can’t really recommend the movie, but if you’ve simply run dry of other Tokyo horrors to watch then I guess you could give it a rental.

You can purchase Cursed for $10.90 from top retailer Play-Asia.