For many, it may feel like only yesterday that the Japanese horror craze had a foothold in the business of frightening audiences with raven-haired evil forces. Shockingly though, we are closing in on 20 years since the heyday of the original Japanese films and subsequent American remakes of The Ring and The Grudge. Now Sam Raimi (of The Evil Dead and classic Spider-Man movies) is back again with his Ghost House Pictures production company to produce an all-new The Grudge that will kick 2020 off in style. With Director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother, Piercing) and stars Andrea Risebourough, Lin Shaye, and GLOW‘s Betty Gilpin by his side, Raimi bought the first taste of this new R-rated Grudge revival to New York Comic Con.
The first big takeaway is that we shouldn’t be mistaken, this new film is not necessarily a reboot and it isn’t necessarily a sequel. Instead it is another tale from the same universe as the Japanese films, as well as the American ones. “The Grudge is an anthology series,” Pesce explains. “The movies are [about] different characters, different stories, different locations, different ghosts. Aside from the second and third American remakes, it’s all been very contained to Japan.”
While the characters from the original American remake were primarily foreigners living in and around Tokyo, this new version will take place wholly in the U.S. Pesce says, “The Grudge is like a virus; it’s super-contagious. So the fact that it would stay in the tiny city of Tokyo is unrealistic. It exists in Asia, Europe, Africa, in America, because it has spread. I know a lot of people think this is a remake of a remake, which is isn’t… this movie exists in the same world as the Japense movie, we’re just adding a chapter.”
Even though it is not technically a remake, there are still a few signature choices that might confuse fans. At the NYCC panel, exclusive footage showed John Cho in the shower, which is reminiscent of the now famous hand-in-the-washed-hair set-piece from the 2002 and 2004 films. This time though, the hand comes jetting out of the hair, fingers outstretched, reaching toward the audience in a display of some lovely practical special effects. There might be only a few specific callbacks like this, but the filmmakers insist that this will be no retreading.
During the panel, Raimi said, “Sometimes you need to destroy the original and move on. You have to move on while paying tribute to it, and nod to the audience while paving a new way, which is what Nicolas has done with this film.”
From the small amount footage shown to those in attendance, the film certainly has earned its R-rating. The first bit of footage shows Riseborough’s police detective visit the home of Shaye’s Mrs. Mathison, seemingly to follow-up on a previous matter. From step one, nothing seems right, and soon the detective is sent screaming from the distraught Mathison’s home. This occurs after finding the rotting corpse of her husband sitting in front of a TV. While it is as unsettling as the bloody drool and dirt all over Shaye’s face and clothes, the real hard R-material came in the second screened clip: We flashback to the circumstances that led to that moment where Shaye’s Mrs. Mathison very calmly, but oh, so gruesomely, chops her hand to bits with kitchen knives. It’s in your face, bloody, and once again, all very practical.
It is almost funny to think that we are so used to horror films under a PG-13 banner. Of course after the success of Deadpool and Logan, studios are more open to allow big budget, audience-drawing films to take on the R. With that approval, Raimi knew he had the right man when he hired Pesce.
“The reason it was okay to tell this story now is because of Nicolas Pesce,” Raimi said. “He’s so talented. When I saw The Eyes of My Mother, I thought it was brilliant and painted an original space in the horror genre. It was really powerful, and he’s a really original director. He can make it with an R-rating. He can let this spirit really terrorize us without censors. He can show that The Grudge is in the hands of a madman.”
Of course every film has to be more than just a good story, and horror needs to scratch at something deeper beneath the surface if it is to conjure real nightmares. That’s as true for actors as it is audiences. For Shaye, her character battles with dementia even before the Grudge gets a hold of her and her home. But there were other real world parallels of the fictional curse that creates a wonderful balancing act for the actor to explore.
Says Shaye, “I think it is all about infection. The Grudge itself is not a person, although Nicolas tried to make it more human; not just a whipsy ghost coming in through the window… There may be a big political discussion to have here, but I think politics feed into humanity. I think humanity has been damaged terribly. I think we’re becoming vicious again, and that is really upsetting. To me, the Grudge represents some of that.”
With more information still to come down the pipeline, it does seem that Pesce has set out to create a Grudge film that does very much play off the everyday issues we deal with.
“We start the film in a very grounded way,” the director explains during a roundtable interview. “All the characters are dealing with very human struggles before the supernatural elements come into play. As the movie progresses, we kind of devolve into a more horrifying world, because the movie is so much about the characters’ physiology and what this curse is doing to them.”
The Grudge is heading our way on Jan. 3, but what else might Raimi be planning for us? We know Bruce Campbell is done playing Ash Williams, but is The Evil Dead on a permanent stand still? Before closing out the panel, Raimi did give us some updates on other projects he has in the works.
“What’s next is I’m writing a horror movie with my brother Ivan,” Raimi said. But when it came time to talk about The Evil Dead, he added, “I really want more [Evil Dead], but Bruce Campbell has said, ‘No!’ He’s tired of being kicked around by me and having me throw blood in his face… He wants to still work together but he just doesn’t want to play that role now. But you know what? We’re working on a new Evil Dead story with a new director, and Bruce will be one of the producers and will be very much involved with it, so in some sense, he will very much be back with The Evil Dead.” So be ready, because between The Grudge, the movie he is writing with Ivan, and a new Evil Dead story on the way, Raimi plans to cover us all in blood for some time to come.