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The Grudge, the first film from Sam Raimi’s newly established Ghost House Pictures finally arrives on R2 DVD. There have been a great many genuine horror films over the years, but sadly the twenty-first century has yet to pull off an Exorcist or even a Sixth Sense. Written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, who also, incidentally, penned and helmed the original Japanese version Ju-On, unfolds the book of oldschool chills in this hugely successful box office smash.

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Film
Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) is a lovable American nurse living and working in Tokyo with her boyfriend. When she agrees to stand in for somebody who never showed for work, Karen finds herself in a strange, dishevelled house caring for an elderly woman. Whilst tending to the woman, odd things begin to happen, and sooner or later Karen is faced with horrifying supernatural odds and a devastating evil is unleashed. Helplessly, and without warning, Karen unveils the secrets of the house and learns of a curse she realises she must stop before it’s too late.

Think of The Grudge as a kind of twisted, screwed up and downright horrifying retelling of Lost in Translation. The subtle mood is there, so is the busyness of Tokyo. All you need to do is remove Bill Murray, replace him with Sarah Michelle Gellar, throw in some pale-looking Japanese zombies and a few death scenes and away you go.

Actually, this remake of the cult Japanese favourite happens to be pretty good. Perhaps this is in part down to the inspired choice of roping back Ju-On writer/director Takashi Shimizu instead of hiring some crazy untalented Hollywood youth. Let us also not forget who produced this movie, the master of gore himself, Mr. Sam Raimi. Rest assured, if you thought he was way too bogged down in affairs of spider-like proportions to care for his loyal horror fans, you are gravely mistaken. His dedication and esteem can almost be scented throughout the entire film in fact.

I also found the acting to be good, especially from Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, as always, gave a smart performance. She needed a film like this, a film where her undisputed talents were given plenty of room to grow. Seeing her in both Scooby Doo flicks was painful, but The Grudge really allowed her to stretch her wings, amongst other things.

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In all, The Grudge is a good and often scary film that, while flawed and probably not quite as good as it Japanese counterpart, was good enough. In an era dry of a decent scare, Takashi Shimizu and Sam Raimi have given us a nice taste of what horror should be; atmospheric and full of legitimate scares. In this, they almost certainly succeeded.

Video
Presented in anamorphic widescreen at its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, The Grudge looks modestly good. Being a very stylistic film, and shot by a Japanese director, I found the colour palette to be pretty drained, which is fine. The washed-out look really adds to the mood of the film, it somehow gives it that cold edge.

Technically however, the print is lacking the tender loving care it perhaps needed. There are heavy amounts of grain for example, and the odd blemish on the print doesn’t go unnoticed. Still, my philosophy remains intact; a gritty film like this can get away with a dirty image, so long as other aspects are strong; sharpness for example. The Grudge succeeds all around in that respect.

Audio
The disc only contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but the audio is great. Dialogue is sharp and the morbid soundtrack explodes throughout the front channels with a force to be reckoned with. LFE signals did have an avid presence but never overwhelmed the overall sound-field. Though everything was certainly good, I really would have liked an optional DTS soundtrack for this film.

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Extras
First up, we have a feature length audio commentary with producer Sam Raimi and his brother Ted Raimi. Lead actress Sarah Michelle Gellar also lends her voice to the feature. I must confess that I liked this commentary track; both Sam Raimi and Sarah Michelle Gellar were pleasant to listen to and are very good talkers.

‘A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge’ is a five part feature that can be viewed in part or in whole. The chapter breakdown follows: ‘The Birth of The Grudge’, ‘Myth of the Ju-On’, ‘Culture Shock: The American cast in Japan’, ‘Designing The Grudge house’ and ‘A new direction: understanding Takashi Shimizu’. Each of these lasts for roughly ten minutes and are admittedly pretty decent. Sam Raimi and various cast/crew members lend themselves to each of these features.

'Under The Skin' is a twelve minute insight into the realm of fear, from a medical perspective. Not the best feature, but it does sports some nice explanatory segments. So, as you can see, The Grudge isn’t packed to the gills with features, but what has been proved does at least have some weight.

Overall
I don’t begrudge giving the film as high a rating as I have awarded it, I genuinely feel the film was actually a pretty solid horror flick, though it is absolutely no classic. In saying that however, I do place it amongst the best horror films this decade, but then, I don’t think that is a treasured compliment all things considered.

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The Grudge is a great start for Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures, and with several more films in the works including this film’s sequel, I am beginning to see a ray of light within the gloomy darkness of modern horror. Perhaps horror will in some small way return to its glorious 70s and 80s roots. Here’s hoping.

The DVD is pretty good overall. The transfer is actually fairly decent and the audio soundtrack made for a pleasant listening experience. Feature-wise however, the disc does show signs of frayed edges. With that said, the audio commentary and provided features were insightful enough.


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