This is the kind of nonsense that the die hard horror fan lives for. Since the days of Universal there have been monster match ups and battles, mostly between Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein‘s monster with varying degrees of success. More recently the biggest battles have between Aliens and Predators, twice. Neither battle was worthwhile. Then there was Freddy Vs Jason which you either love or hate but at least it was better than either of the remakes of their respective franchises.
I can’t say I was expecting a battle royale between Japan’s premiere long haired ghouls to exist, let alone be any good but here it is. Both franchises have been dead for a number of years and only The Ring has shown any sign of returning, and that’s with a sequel to the American remakes which is forever being pushed back in the release schedules. So this team up comes as a surprise, in more ways than one.
The first thing that grabs you is how seriously the whole affair is taken. We begin with a social worker discovering the scared-to-death corpse of her elderly charge, before she sees The Ring video tape and the long haired Sadako appears behind her. Jumping forward a couple of days and she is dead too, her mouth all twisted in fear. A couple of students end up seeing the tape and are next on the hit list. Meanwhile a teenage girl move a next door to The Grudge house where various people see that weird little naked boy and Kayako who is one freaky creation. I’m not sure I saw much more than one Grudge movie (and not sure if it was the original or Sarah Michelle Gellar remake) but I certainly don’t remember what Kayako looked like. Flipped over on her back but walking on all fours, her head twisted around with blood pouring out of her eyes and mouth, she is all kinds of wrong. The nasty little clicking sound she makes just adds to her unhinged presence.
I guess as this is a verses movie we, as the baying crowd around the edges of the ring (rather than The Ring), are meant to pick a side. Certainly I would always have been more of a Sadako fan I guess if I had ever given it any thought. She’s completely terrifying and always gets her man (unless you get someone else to watch the tape in time), and the scene at the end of the original film where she climbs out of the television in one shot is one of the great moments in horror cinema. Kayako on the other hand clearly left no impression on me at all, as I couldn’t remember seeing her before. She does have a small boy sidekick, which is always a bonus, but then movement seems difficult at the best of times, which can’t be good in a fight.
However both Sadako and Kayako are terribly evil and frightening ghouls from beyond. You don’t end up so much taking sides as hoping that they’ll both destroy each other so that the human characters don’t have to suffer any more. That’s the thing with both these creations, they are so horrifying that even the most awful of their victims (for example the three bullies who get nabbed in The Grudge house) have your sympathy. No one deserves their dreaded fate, especially as these boys are only about eight years old, and even the kid they were bullying gets his head pulled off.
Fortunately the mechanics of how Sadako gets into a showdown with Kayako works a treat. The two teenage girls get the help of some demonic expert and his own child sidekick: a blind girl who dresses in red and is smarter than Yoda. He figures out that if they are cursed by Sadako by watching the video tape and then by Kayako (by entering the house, which apparently is all it takes with her – obviously has personal space issues) then the two of them will fight it out over who is who’s cursed victim. Its a great idea and a much simpler one than the convoluted nonsense Freddy Vs Jason had to come up with.
This great premise helps build up the tension brilliantly and I couldn’t wait to get to the big face off. Unfortunately that is what I had to do: wait. It is a long, long time before we get to the climactic battle, too long some would say, me being one of them. The film is only just over an hour and half and the two fiends don’t meet until the last ten minutes at the most. I mean really, what was I expecting? There’s not a hell of a lot they can do to each other anyway is there? Mostly they just scare their victims to death and so its unlikely that they could scare each other. So maybe a very short showdown is all we could expect. Despite its brevity it is fairly satisfying though with an extra twist at the end for good measure.
I guess by default this is the best horror-icon-verses movie as the rest of them aren’t up to much anyway (I’ll always have time for Freddy Vs Jason though). Even if you ignore the external franchises Sadako Vs Kayako works as a good horror movie in its own right. The characters and crew take the whole thing seriously enough to make it as creepy and unsettling as the best of J-Horror without descending into the jokiness that you would probably expect of this kind of thing. Add in the fact that both Sadako and Kayako are brilliant creations which retain all of the characteristics which made them so memorable in the first place* and what we have is one of the better horror movies out of Japan in a while.
*Okay maybe not Kayako as I can’t remember her. However I’m beginning to think that when I saw The Grudge it was one of those too late at night, too much wine scenarios, so probably fell asleep before she showed up.