The “Ju-On” movies are among the most influential and prolific horror franchises of the last 30 years, but good luck trying to watch them all. Created by Takashi Shimizu, they tell the story of a murder so horrendously violent and hateful that it leaves a house horrifically cursed, so that anyone who enters it takes the evil with them, like a supernatural virus. What began as a couple of short films and TV movies eventually became a full-blown feature film franchise, which then led to a hit American remake franchise, and recently a showdown spin-off in which the ghosts from “The Grudge” fight the little girl from the original “The Ring.”
But since most of the “Ju-On” movies are currently hard to find in America, the remakes are holding down the fort for the series. With a new "The Grudge" in theaters, let’s see how the American films rank up against each other.
4. "The Grudge" (2020)
Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge” takes place in the same continuity as the other American films in the series, but this time it’s dreary and dull. The curse has taken hold in a suburban house in Pennsylvania, and an impressive ensemble of actors find themselves tormented by its evil spirits. But although “The Grudge” boasts the best cast in the series -- Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, Jacki Weaver, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Frankie Faison -- it’s got only one mood: depressive. The ghosts are merely a perfunctory addition to a series of drab melodramas, neither scary nor particularly meaningful. Just kinda there.
3. "The Grudge 3" (2009)
The majority of the “Grudge” movies are told in a nonlinear fashion, with a series of interconnected stories from different times. “The Grudge 3” is the exception that proves why the rule is the rule. The ghosts from the first two “Grudges” are back and haunting an apartment complex in Chicago, but the ghosts never want anything other than to spread death and pain, so there's not much for “The Grudge 3” to build to. Cutting between multiple storylines gives the “Grudge” films a sense of omnipresent terror. Sticking with just one family whose fate is already sealed makes “The Grudge 3” play like just some unremarkable ghost story.
2. "The Grudge" (2004)
Not only did Takashi Shimizu direct the American remake of his own horror franchise, but he also kept the action entirely in Japan, even though almost all the characters are American (including lead Sarah Michelle Gellar). The result is a film that repeats many of the same beats that fans of the Japanese series were familiar with -- mostly from “Ju-On: The Grudge,” but a few from other installments as well -- but instead of playing like a modern tragedy about a haunted house, it plays like a cautionary tale about Americans running afoul of local superstitions. Whether that’s scarier or not may depend on which version you see first. Shimizu’s remake is creepy and effective, regardless.
1. "The Grudge 2" (2006)
Call us crazy, but although both of Takeshi Shimizu’s American “Grudge” films are covering familiar territory, in the sequel his direction seems even more assured. The curse is back, of course, and hunting down teenage girls who entered the haunted house on a dare, and following them all the way back to the U.S., while the sister of the previous film’s protagonist learns firsthand just what horrors set this whole bizarre chain of events in motion. The shocks are most efficient and frequently more inventive, and Amber Tamblyn is a more emotionally invested protagonist.