Spawning sequels, spin-offs, remakes and soon a restoration and re-releases, Ringu and its following series has become a horror trailblazer for all things grungy, supernatural and long-black-haired. Centred around a mystical VHS tape which carries the curse of a young, bedevilled girl and the dark promise of death after seven days, the film birthed a new fear of technology and was, for many western audiences, their first taste of Asian horror. Its influence has been evident ever since.
It would be difficult to imagine the existence of Sinister’s otherworldly goth ‘Bughuul’, who if looks are anything to go by, could be the father of Ringu’s ‘Sadako’. Or even the mysterious land of the ‘further’ seen throughout the Insidious franchise, hereditary demons and cursed ghosts that inhabit a land which defies physics.
Laced with ancient curses, rules and historic misdemeanours, Japanese horror punishes its characters with the crimes of their ancestors, linking the past with the present. Bad deeds never go unpunished.
Whilst ghosts and curses used to inhabit spaces of the home, spaces of particular objects and even the spaces of one’s own mind, Ringu suggested that it might exist in the questionable realm of television and marvellous new technologies. The film was a cultural questioning of how trustworthy technology truly was, and in-particularly television. The same could be said for 2003s One Missed Call’, or 2001 effort Pulse, both rather accurately act as a question mark to the fears of telephones and the internet respectively.
During this period of time, consumer technology was going through a cataclysmic change and at a rate previously unprecedented. DVD would soon revolutionise home entertainment. Cell phones would soon find themselves in the pockets of nearly every citizen and, of course, the internet was destined to change the way we lived our lives. These films, and many others like them, were ghostly premonitions of future dangers, fear of the truly unknown. At their current state, however, technology was ugly and unfinished, slow and messy. White noise, the dull monotone of the phone, the screeching start-up of the dial-up tone. What were these strange noises, spaces and visuals that would foretell our future? Like messages from an alien race, or warnings from a cursed past.
It’s likely the reason why the 2016 effort Rings failed to capture the fear inherent in the original. When TV is so crisp, so clear and so HD-ready, it doesn’t seem to be as frightening. The lack of any quality in a VHS’ audio makes you question every syllable of conversation. The inconsistent image makes you question every visual blip. Even the act of going to a video-store and collecting a tape passed through multiple hands and places. One could imagine the utter horror of watching the VHS of Ringu, for, what if it was your video that was cursed? The existence of a spirit inhabiting the space of your ‘unfinished’ technology is quite fathomable, lurking in every mistake of the image.
Contemporary horror tends not to look forward, but instead focus on the fears of the present and the frights of a past without the comforts of connectivity. 2014 film Unfriended reminds us of the dangers of social media and constant sharing. A spiritual successor to Ringu where the ghost of a damaged soul returns to haunt his tormentors through modern technology. Or consider if Sinisters’ Bughuul had left a box of DVD’s in the attic of his unsuspecting victims it would have just felt a bit underwhelming. Who knows how much time he could’ve put into editing one of those videos, or how much he might have underpaid a poor intern to edit them for him. Super-8 on the other hand? Almost un-tamperable, unfinished, prone to error and extremely flammable.
It helps that we are now very familiar with these devices, we can see their future, and their past is well defined. They are no longer alien technologies. The static of TV’s, however, does remain an unsettling sight. Almost a ghostly presence of unplaceable shapes, radiating nothing but black and white solitude. No talking heads, no conversation, no people, no company. In a world where screens have become our best friends and objects of converse, the sight of white noise drops the facade of the image. You are, after all, only looking at a box.