The Grudge: Unrated Extended Director's Cut(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 5.17.2005)
In recent years, studios have frequently released raunchier, unrated versions of PG-13 comedies on DVD, but The Grudge: Unrated Extended Director's Cut uses the technique to its best effect, releasing an emasculated horror movie from the MPAA's shackles. Takashi Shimuzu's The Grudge could just as easily be titled Ghost House, name of the production company Sam Raimi and producer pal Robert Tapert christened for this film and, in future, to provide a forum for other young horror directors like the 32 year-old Shimuzu.
But those expecting Raimi's brand of Three Stooges horror will be disappointed. From the shocking opening sequence, this film swan dives into a persistently dour tone (although, like Raimi's Evil Dead 2, this is essentially a remake of Shimuzu's original: Ju-On). What they will find, though, is an atmospheric haunted house yarn about a curse interweaving the lives of (mostly) American expats that's better than its rote script (think The Amityville Horror with a touch of Lost in Translation).
The director's cut isn't an earthshattering re-imagining of the film but it does allow Shimuzu to punctuate several scenes with extended gore -- especially the final act's reveals -- and accentuate two areas he monitored closely. First, in this cut, frequent Miguel Artera editor Jeff Betancourt's ability to wring creepy tension seems even more transferable from indie flicks like Chuck & Buck to the horror genre. Second, the tone established by cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto's lensing of twilight reflections and shadowy staircases recalls his work in the disturbing Audition, still the best Japanese horror film I've seen.
The 1:85 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks decent considering the film's sub-$10 million budget and Dolby Digital 5.1 emboldens horror soundtrack maestro Christopher Young's (Hellraiser) stringy crescendoes. The subtitled Japanese language commentary by Shimuzu, producer Taka Ichise, and actress Takako Fuji is essential for fans of Japanese horror. They combine detailed production, filmmaking, and East vs. West notes with enjoyable self-deprecation in the John Carpenter vein. It's even better than the track with Raimi(s) and friends on the theatrical cut's DVD.
Most of the 15 deleted scenes, according to Shimuzu himself in optional commentary, consist of needless exposition and character (under)development added by novice American screenwriter Stephen Susco. But a few tingling scares are included. The free-form short films 4444444444 and In a Corner display Shimuzu sharply cutting his horror teeth and, along with "Sights and Sounds: The Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimuzu," serve as templates for the movie. A brief featurette on Iwao Saito's (Ringu) production design showcases set development, unlike the worthless "The Grudge House: An Insider's Tour."
Sarah Michelle Gellar and KaDee Strickland contribute video diaries but only the latter, a breezy Tokyo tour, merits a spin. The same might be said of this Director's Cut, a significant improvement over the theatrical cut. -- Colin Miller