When you look at enduring horror movie franchises, the majority of them revolve around a menacing man massacring people (and there’s your bonus alliteration points for the day). The very idea of a horror movie franchise based around a girl – a juvenile girl – seems unlikely. Heck, not even The Exorcist made it past two films that people actually saw. And for those of you playing at home, The Exorcist‘s tally currently sits at five films.
Yet in just a few days we will get the fourth American installment in the Ring franchise – uncreatively titled Rings – which is the THIRTEENTH film all up since the first debuted as a Japanese telemovie in 1995. 13 films in 22 years is a pace no other horror franchise has been able to maintain and the appetite for stories about the videotape that kills you in seven days is insatiable. There’s also arguably more global demand for the Rings franchise than any other in modern macabre movie history. Japanese audiences are hungry for it, Western audiences are hungry for it, heck, even South Korea had their own Ring movie in 1999 (The Ring Virus).
So what is it about the Ring universe that has continued to capture the minds – and fears – of millions? Based on a trilogy of novels by Koji Suzuki in the Nineties, the tales tapped into the subconscious dread of an entire culture that had mechanised itself super quickly throughout the preceding two decades. It pioneered hallmarks of what would become Japanese horror – dubbed J-horror – such as water, dead children, and malevolent spirits. Sure, The Grudge had these too – as well as Dark Water and A Tale Of Two Sisters – but The Ring did it first and best. Weirdly, the story penetrated beyond the culture it was born from and into the mainstream when seven years after the Japanese original, Gore Verbinski’s American remake terrified audiences in 2002.
Things were a lot different in 2002, though. VCRs and the very concept of the ‘video store’ were already shuffling towards the grave by then. In the mid-’90s in Japan it was in its prime, but the early noughts in America? Not so much. And yet, it still crushed, taking $250M at the global box-office. People who saw the movie in theatres around then would likely remember the spate of prank calls you got in the months following its release. A friend would attempt the creepy voice, whisper “seven days” down the phone line at you and you’d chuckle, laughing at the joke but also simultaneously hoping it was your pal Sandra and not Samara.
In the age of on-demand streaming services and viral videos, you’d think the scare factor of the Ring franchise or at least the audience for it would have decreased. But in 2016, it reached that milestone of horror franchises with a crossover – Sadako Vs Kayako – where the two supernatural slayers from the Ring franchise and the Grudge movies went head-to-head (or well-to-attic, if you will). God bless the Japanese for taking two of their horror icons and giving them a Hello Kitty licensing deal and Instagram accounts. Now, less than a year later Western audiences are lining up for Rings with Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden and Johnny Galecki joining the group of unfortunates as Samara spreads her message in the digital age. Yet will it have the same impact the first and, heck, even the second American version of the Ring films did? Or has the internet well and truly killed the video star? We’ll find out in seven days …
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author who can be seen on The Feed, weeknights on SBS Viceland. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz.