Today's Topic: Why do the Japanese do it Better?
I actually don't have a solid answer for this one, but rather just want to sort of mull over it. When you don't take into account the American-made sequels, movies like The Ring, The Grudge, and Pulse are all fantastically made and creative to boot. It also happens that the American renditions of such movies (even the Spanish-made Darkness), tend to stay true to form and keep their scare-factor. And I think I may have hit on why it is they're so terrifying—they reinvent old stories.
Okay, so I'm not saying that a dead girl crawling through a television is unoriginal or that a ghost child that screams like a cat when it opens its mouth is overdone. Those are just details, accessories to the story of the child that's still looking for its parent and of the revenge tragedy plot. These are the kinds of stories that strike an unconscious chord of sympathy with us because we all got lost in the grocery store at one point, or were so mad we nearly lost control of what we could say or do, or were totally freaked out by waking up in the middle of the night to a snowy television (Poltergeist did this too). That's also why clowns and dolls are frightening. It's all familiar. We recognize the feeling at the core of Samara's motivations; we're familiar with the fear of death; we all know love, in its varying degrees. So when these common place things become extraordinarily out of place, that's when the fear comes. When we can recognize the eyes of a monster as the eyes that were once a dear friend (I wasn't exactly thinking of Resident Evil: Apocalypse when I wrote this originally, because that movie was funny more than it was frightening, but it works pretty well nonetheless).
You may be saying, "But Dani, the Revenge Tragedy is a genre from the English Renaissance stage. How could that apply to the Japanese?" First of all, the Japanese are infamous for the way they suck up Western culture. And that's not just a Japanese trait. Greece, Venice, Korea, India, the Nile Delta—these are all places that historically take on aspects of other cultures because they are huge trading ports and therefore mingle with a lot of different kinds of people. At the moment, Japan is such a one as these others have been. And since its the Information Age, ideas are just as tradeable as goods and services. What was once Western/Eastern is becoming less identifiably so. Such as horror. In the past decades, it's been the clear domain of Hollywood producers wanting to make a quick buck off a cheap thrill. But the Japanese seem to have taken parts of it and turned it into artful storytelling unlike anything seen in film since Hitchcock.