Pop quiz, horror fans: what do you do if you encounter a bloodcurdlingly evil ghost? Do you: a) call an exorcist; b) ask Bill Murray to get ghostbusting; or c) jump into bed and pull the duvet over your head? If your answer is c), then you'll probably enjoy Ju-On, a spooky-but-silly Asian chiller packed full of dunderheaded characters who make the teenagers in American slasher movies look like Mensa candidates.
An Eastern take on the classic haunted-house story, Ju-On: The Grudge heavily resembles Hideo Nakata's techno-panic flick Ringu. It's not just the hand-me-down curse, either. Several of the film's scarier images are more than a little familiar, director Shimizu Takashi employing crackly TV screens and haunting (haunted?) CCTV footage to capable, if all-too-recognisable, effect.
Split into different segments following each of the characters vaguely connected to the hexed house, it quickly becomes repetitive. Every segment follows the same faintly tedious pattern: a one-dimensional character wanders into the property, annoys the cranky spirits and gets spooked to their grisly deaths.
Still, at least the ghosts are distinctive, taking the form of either a blood-spattered girl with a demented hairdo (she obviously uses the same netherworld hairdresser as Ringu's Sadako) or a wide-eyed six-year-old boy named Toshio (Ozeki Yuya), who appears underneath restaurant tables when you least expect him. It may not sound like bed-wetting stuff, but there are several effective moments: a trio of zombified schoolgirls caked in pallid makeup; a TV picture that twists and distorts until the presenter looks freakily monstrous; a woman waking up in bed surrounded by 20 mewing black cats...
It's these carefully crafted set-pieces you remember, though there aren't nearly enough of them to account for the film's preceding reputation as a Class-A bladder loosener. Instead, Ju-On reveals itself to be a solid addition to Asia's growing horror catalogue, the kind of scare fare you can imagine Hollywood not just remaking but improving. Until you remember Sarah Michelle Gellar takes lead duties in The Grudge, currently in post-production.
Low on plot but intermittently scary, Sam Raimi calls Ju-On "one of the most frightening films I've ever seen." But then he is producing the remake...