Firstly, a shout-out to my Brotha'z in the NH Hood. Within the rustic pines of Keene, New Hampshire there was recently held the annual Keene PumpkinFest. For more than a decade, Keene has been making and breaking the Guinness Book of World Records entry for "The Most Jack O' Lanterns In One Place." It all began, I believe, as the small city's attempt to build up tourism, stimulate local identity and economy and to give the children and families a sweet, wholesome holiday occasion to share in and savor for their lifetimes. Anyone who's ever attended the PumpkinFest has will likely never forget the New Englandy beauty of the occassion. The main street is closed off to auto traffic, bleacher-like shelves are erected all over town on every sidewalk and street corner, food vendors and performing artists peddle their wares in a carnival like setting, and the creativity of thousands of kids (and grownups, too) is proudly displayed for all to see as the carved pumpkins cover nearly every square foot of shelving for two or three square blocks. It's one of those timeless, classical events you typically associate with times gone by and scenes from Norman Rockwell paintings. And this occurs every year. And it's wonderful.
Unfortunately, the city of Boston chose to get into the act this year. One can debate the fairness of such a move -- having a major American city of close to one million people going up against such a small-town flavored event. It seems Beantown was only too happy to "go Wal-Mart" on us in it's attempt to take this year's record, and television news reports delighted in showing Boston companies proudly trucking in their pumpkins as if they were Bush's forces invading the Middle East. Like a bully making the rounds with a group of thugs in tow, the city took the record this year. I may live in the Boston area, but Keene is just as much my home as my neighborhood is... and I'm sorry but while I'm local to the Bay State, I've gotta side with my Neighbors From the North on this one. Besides, you damn well know that once New York gets wind of this they'll get into the act and next year we'll probably see something like a million Jack O'Lanterns lighting up Central Park like it was another Times Square... which would be kind of cool, come to think of it. But don't forget, People of the Cities: before it your record, it was ours...
And speaking of New Hampshire, those aforementioned Brotha'z of mine up there are enjoying a bit of success with a community television series called Saturday Fright Special. Hosted by the frightening (but exceedingly well-dressed) Scarewolf and produced by my fellow KSC alumni Isaac Kennell, Mark Nelson, Rick Trottier and Tim Hulsizer, the show is a throwback to the classic "movie shows" of our youths like USA's Night Flight, WLVI 56's Creature Double Feature with Dale Dorman and the Horror Host likes of Elvira and such. Scarewolf -- the knowledgable and film-savvy lycan draped in fashionable cape and top hat and rumored to be "possibly a bigfoot, possibly Episcopalian" -- presents public domain movies pepperred with old fashined PSA's, classic interstitials and animations. Anyone interested in catching the show can tune-in to Cheshire TV in New Hampshire or visit the show's official site and MySpace pages here...
As a fan of Japanese film, I just caught a matinee of the recently-released ghost story The Grudge 2. SPOILERS FOLLOW....
Directed by Takashi Shimizu, this film is (follow me, now...) a sequel to his remake of his original film (called Ju-On), which itself was a remake of his direct-to-video film back in Japan... So that makes it the second chapter in the third series of films regarding the now-legendary haunted house in a suburban Japanese neighborhood. I mention this because it's important to point out that after making six films covering pretty much the same ground, it might be time for Shimizu to change things up, a bit.
Last year's The Grudge featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as an American social worker in Japan who gets caught in the web of evil surrounding a mother ("Kayako") and child ("Toshi") who were brutally killed by their patriarch in their family home. The legends state that "if someone dies in a horrible rage, a curse is born that will consume all who encounter it." In this current chapter, Gellar's sister (played by Amber Tamblyn) arrives in Japan to find out what happened while a parallel narrative shows similar events unfolding in Chicago, USA.
The Grudge films are known for being told out-of-sequence and not everything is spelled out clearly for the audiences, so the films are a challenge to view and decipher, which is always welcome. The Grudge 2 is no different, though the filmmakers do attempt to inject an "origin" story into the narrative and outright explain a few things. The film also stars Hong Kong actor Edison Chan and American goddess Jennifer Beals.
On a technical level, I think the visual methods Shimuzu employed in shooting the film were perhaps wrongly chosen. The film features that "slightly drained of color tone" look that so many so-called suspense movies are shot in these days, and I much prefer the more clean and realistic cinematography used in homegrown Japanese films.
As far as the origin story, I have to agree that it's somewhat unnecessary. Your average Asian film fan might be more attuned to such open-to-interpretation storylines than the average teenaged moviegoer to whom these American incarnations are so tailored to. For the most part, it could be said that your typical "Joe Suburban" catching The Grudge 2 at the strip-mall cineplex might desire a little more understanding of how and why the curse might actually operate -- and one can see why the filmmakers put it in there, even though the additions actually sort of dispel a bit of the mystery surrounding it all. I thought it was most interesting that Kayako's mother even went so far as to state that what she did to her daughter during the exorcism rituals as a child had "nothing to do" with the exponentially-expanding curse -- as if director Shimuzu were trying to play both sides of the fence, adding exposition for the newbies while trying to retain the ambigiousness for the longtime fans.
And about the seeming intention to now "move" the Grudge, itself, to the United States (Chicago)... I think that's a mistake. Again, I much prefer the ending of the Japanese Ju-On 2 -- where the entire neighborhood of the Cursed House seems abandoned, hinting that eventually all of Japan were falling prey to the Evil and then slowly the rest of the planet -- as well as the apparent rebirth of the Evil Spirits within a newly born girl. I thought that ending was great and it really gets me psyched up for the final chapter in the Japanese Ju-On Trilogy, which is now in production. I'm not sure I feel the same wonderous expectation for a further chapter of the American Grudge Trilogy.
All that said, I thought Tamblyn did decently with what she was given to do, and Edison Chen was fine. The standouts by far, though, are Arielle Kebbel, who's victim role gets a bit much even though her character remains the most identifiable, and Jennifer Beals. (I soooo loved her in that little "goodbye" shot.) In fact, the best material in The Grudge 2 comes in its final 20 minutes, so if you're in the audience and beginning to tire of everyone's favorite long-haired and bleached-white ghosties, stick around and maybe you'll get something out of the film, as I did.
Overall, The Grudge 2 lacks the punch of it's homegrown counterparts. But it's still got a few tricks up its sleeve. I'd easily want to see more of this kind of old-school, haunted-house thriller than any more Texas Chainsaw or Freddy/Jason flicks. But here's hoping Shimizu-san remembers to really give the ghosts their due on any futher installments. They've been creeping around croaking and meowing long enough. Now let's see what they can reallllllllly do. :)
And with that (and the usual reviews below), have a safe and Happy Halloween! Mwooo hooo haaaaaaa!!
The Grudge 2 **1/2
The Maltese Falcon (1941) ****
Dragon Tiger Gate (Hong Kong) ***
Smallville: Season Five ***