With the newest installment to The Grudge (as well as 2017’s Rings) it seems that these two seemingly forgotten Japanese remake franchise still have some life (or death) left in them. While both left something to be desired in terms of reception and box office performance, both of these series were at the forefront of the Asian-Horror remake phase that was ever prevalent in the 2000’s.
But none were so prominent as The Ring or The Grudge. So, in the interest pure fandom, let’s take a ghostly look into both of these franchises and determine which one reigns truly supreme.
Just to be clear, we’re only looking at the American remake series of both. As awesome as the Japanese originals of both are, they deserve their own comparison, and here we’re more focused on how successfully these stories were retold for Western audiences.
Round 1 – Story
Both Samara and Kayako are tragic villains, who suffered greatly before becoming the deadly supernatural forces they would go on to be. The Ring sees an ambitous reporter Rachel, going to whatever lengths necessary to uncover the truth. In doing so, she discovers a grisly tale of tragic child abuse, and disturbed couple that should never have had children.
While this is all creepy and unsettling, The Grudge truly shines in its use of story and narrative. Turning the traditional “ghost story” on its head, it takes the story aspect very seriously. We learn the brutal truth that Kayako was murdered by her husband (who also killed their son Toshio, and himself) in a horrific murder-suicide, all over his jealousy for her fawning over another man.
However, the sequels reveal far more about Kayako’s back story that actually help the overall plot make more sense. Given the way that her curse spreads, the victims could very well reach the hundreds in a matter of years. And if a curse of this magnitude were to erupt from every house where tragedy struck, it would inevitably lead to an epidemic of these and the whole world being affected.
So why then is it just Kayako who seems to do this? The sequel explains that her mother was a sort of exorcist, who took evil spirits from innocent afflicted victims and fed them to her young daughter, believing them to be dormant in there.
They remained so until Kayako’s brutal death, in which having so many evil spirits inside her gave her these powers, elevating her to the unstoppable demonic force that she is. Both of these are very close in quality of story, but The Grudge adds to its own mythology, which gives it the advantage.
Round 2 – Scares
One is a classic tale on a haunted house, but with a twist the follows you, and the other takes a simple piece of (now antiquated) technology and makes it absolutely terrifying. The Grudge elevates typical ghost story tropes, particularly in the sense that Kayako and her curse can follow people across countries and continents.
One of the first things audiences always bring up is why the characters simply don’t leave the haunted dwelling to avoid further supernatural disturbances, and Takashi Shimizu’s brilliant horror masterpiece demonstrates in disturbing fashion why that simply isn’t an option.
The Ring however, deals with a much simply base anxiety, the inevitability of death. Once watching Samara’s cursed tape, the viewer knows they have but seven days to live. Yet the frightening truth is that any of us may only have seven days to live at any time, as accidents happen all the time, and we never truly know when the grim reaper will come for us.
But somehow knowing the exact date and time makes death all the more terrifying. While Kayako and Toshio are incredibly creepy and can pop up anywhere, The Ring simply taps in a deeper fear that we all fear, and thus it gets the slight edge in scares!
Round 3 – Sequels/Reboots
While both films quickly became modern horror staples, they were both sadly followed by incredibly subpar sequels, as well as a much later sequel that acted more as a soft reboot. As previously mentioned, The Grudge 2 does offer more to the overall mythos of the franchise.
But other than that, it’s just the curse continuing to spread, even to America. The Grudge 3 then does exactly the same thing, only with much worse writing and cheaper production design. It attempts to give the series something of an ending, but it’s nowhere near as climactic as the franchise deserves.
And don’t even start with the 2020 version (see our full review here), which essentially just does everything the 2004 film did, but in America. Aside from one detail in The Grudge 2, its sequels really offer nothing to advance or enhance the series. To be fair, The Ring Two and Rings aren’t exactly much better.
But they at least both try new ideas and explore new themes. The Ring Two pulls Rachel into Samara’s world where they have a legitimately cool and creepy race to the top of the well. And Rings even updates the VHS tape to digital video files, thus making Samara ever more threatening in modern times. And ultimately, that’s the deciding factor.
Both of these franchises are still a great deal of fun, and their Japanse originals are certainly worth checking out. Which one is your favorite?! Let us know in the comments below! For more reviews, rankings, and other fun horror content, follow Halloween Year-Round on Facebook and Twitter!